One of my favorite ideas when working with people who are dealing with overwhelm is this: Every time you say yes to something in life, you are saying no to something else. The point is to be more aware in the moment of the choices you make. The same idea can make a difference in our desire to have more quality time at home.

Many years ago, I learned a lesson about making more thoughtful choices when at the end of a school year I reflected back and realized I had only attended four of Amy’s twenty-five field hockey games and a similar percentage of Jesse’s baseball games. Why? Well, basically my calendar was filled by work first, and family second. The next year, all of Amy’s and Jesse’s events went into my calendar first so that any work meetings or travel decisions were made with full knowledge of what I was passing up. I made it to most of their events!

These days, it is even more difficult for parents because of technology. You can actually go to your children’s events and not be there! You can be trying so hard to get a photo of your child that you miss the game. Or you can be checking your smart phone and miss your child’s line in the play. Or you can simply be engaged in the drama in your head instead of being attentive and present.

I love technology, but not unless we have the freedom to truly unplug.

Let’s play with this idea that we’re saying no to something when we say yes to something else—with respect to being aware in life—especially with our children.

  • When you say yes to that evening meeting at work, you are saying no to your daughter’s dance recital.
  • When you say yes to answering your phone while driving, you are saying no to defensive driving and providing safety to your kids in the back seat.
  • When you say yes to multitasking, you are saying no to being attentive to other family members and what they are doing or saying.
  • When you say yes to sending a happy birthday text message, you are saying no to a thoughtful letter.
  • When you say yes to working on your e-mail at home, you are saying no to listening to your kids tell you about their day.
  • When you say yes to criticizing how your kids played in the game, you are saying no to letting them know how much you love watching them play.
  • When you say yes to your iPad or television, you are saying no to listening to your kids read.
  • When you say yes to turning on the radio in the car, you are saying no to time with yourself or learning about your kids’ day, dreams, or fears.

People are always complaining about not having enough time at home, but the problem is that too often when they are home, they are not present. More actual home time may not be as easy to get as time spent being more attentive and less distracted.

The decisions will keep coming about what you give your attention to and where you spend your time. You can choose to devote the time to what really matters—if you are mindful.

One last point: Part of being wonderful at home is being attentive enough to notice when people are looking for your attention or inviting you to play or participate. In the beginning, small kids just ask you to play—almost demanding. Then they change to inviting you to play. Then over time they hint and hope and are surprised when you say yes. Given enough no’s, they give up and stop asking. Think of it this way: We train them into thinking we are too busy—and we need to let them know when we decide to change that pattern.

“To say you have no choice is to relieve yourself of responsibility.”
― Patrick Ness, Monsters of Men