How do you want your kids to remember you when they grow up?

Childhood flies by, especially for parents. So how should we approach this limited time while our kids are still kids?

When my daughters were little, I had two important realizations that changed the course of my parental life. I realized that their childhood was going to fly by like a flash of lightning in a summer sky. Before I knew it, they would be out of our nest. And I recognized that as a full-time working parent, my moments with them would be limited. Like most parents, I had to balance work, parenthood and household responsibilities — in other words, the laundry of life. How was I going to approach this time-limited opportunity?

After much reflection, I made several major parental decisions and stayed with them for their childhood.

1. I decided to be 100% present when I was with them. What did that mean? It meant that when I was reading Maya a goodnight story, I would strive to have 100% of my attention on what I was doing — not 10% on the story, 40% on what I was going to do tomorrow or 50% on what I was going to do next. When I spent those moments with them — no matter how mundane — I wanted to be fully present.

2. I decided to savor all their childhood moments. This was another very conscious decision. I wanted to drink deeply all of those everyday moments of their childhood, experience them and engrave them in my mind and my heart I wanted to focus on enjoying all of my limited time with them.

3. I decided to spend time with each child individually every week. I wanted to make sure that in addition to family time together, I had an opportunity to connect with each child individually. At first, I wasn’t sure how to do this. And then, I realized that I could arrange my life to take each daughter out for breakfast before I left for work. When they were little, I took Naomi out for a donut and cocoa before pre-school and I would take Maya out for a bagel on another weekday morning before elementary school. We did this until they went off to college. I did miss some weeks, but I made it a regular commitment.

Sometimes, during these brief encounters (kids don’t take long to eat), we just stared at each other, eyes still heavy from sleep. Other times, we had deep conversations about childhood’s important but passing challenges (Why won’t Sarah play with me anymore?). During their teen years, the conversations were often brief—and sometimes very long.

These early morning breakfasts together became a regular part of our routine. I looked forward to them every week and so did they.

PS: Comments from my youngest daughter after reading this column: “As the proud daughter of Dr. Schoenfeld, I can say that my father’s dedication make a significant difference in my life as a child, and now as an adult. Wednesday was our day, and throughout my childhood every Wednesday was filled with French Toast, bagels, hot chocolate and later…lattes. I valued this special time that he spent with me. While my father mentioned that he missed some breakfast dates, I don’t remember those ones. I remember him promising that he would be there and him being there—that is what mattered the most. Now that I’m a mom, I love to take my kids out for breakfast just like my dad did with me. “

As a parent, consider what you want your children to remember about you when they grow up.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. For more information, visit

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