The fleeting gift of childhood is gone in a heartbeat.

It’s hard to believe that this gorgeous photo of my daughter was taken 18 years ago. We were at her baby music class and the professional photographer that was hired for the day perfectly captured the concentration on her face as she listened in rapt attention to instructions for the next activity.

Memories from the years that I took my three children to baby and toddler music classes will be with me forever. Those days are a precious, everlasting gift to me in particular because the children do not remember them as vividly as I do. Nevertheless, they associate their fleeting memories of those sessions with great fondness and happiness. And that matters. A lot.

The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. In a paper published in November 2018, they found that people who have fond memories of childhood, specifically their relationships with their parents, tend to have better health, less depression and fewer chronic illnesses as adults – and that this remained true even for people in middle and older adulthood.

It turns out that being intentional about building loving relationships with your children pays off in the long run, and like all relationships, the more time you spend having quality shared experiences, the stronger the bond. Think of how much time you spent wooing your crush for instance. The same way, your baby or toddler needs your undivided attention on a regular basis. 

When my children were younger, our weekly music playdates gave me both an opportunity and an excuse to bond with each of them in a distraction-free environment.  The classes were away from home so I could not be tempted by never ending chores. I also scheduled them in my diary, so I could legitimately decline meetings or engagements that fell in that time slot.

In those sessions, I caught glimpses into each child’s character in ways that I would have missed at home, as they interacted with other children and adults in the room.  I was able to gently coach them on how to behave in a structured, public environment; to patiently wait their turn to be given the next musical instrument or prop. To learn to respect and follow instructions from another person of authority outside our home. To be proud of themselves when they were able to tap that rhythm or sing that new song (almost) word perfect. To negotiate with a fellow toddler who wanted the same toy without hitting, biting, spitting or crying. All of these dynamics were happening even while we were singing “The Wheels on the Bus” for the hundreth time.  It was a chaotic, yet beautiful and magical experience all at once.

In whichever way you choose to bond with your baby, protect it. Ring-fence it. Schedule it to happen as frequently as possible. And when it does, be fully present. Turn off your phone or leave it in another room or in your car. Because before long, you too will be sharing your children’s photo, like the one above, reminiscing about the days gone by, never to return, when they were still small enough to sit in your lap.

Childhood is a gift, not so much to the children, but to the adults in their lives. Cherish it.

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