How focused attention, freely given, changes everything

I found this fun post I wrote when Ender was eight months old when I was struggling to explain the difference between offering attention freely versus diffused attention. I don’t achieve this very well, because this was when my brain was still leaking out through my nipples. But, there’s a valuable insight in there of what freely offered, fully focused attention is… and a hands-on demonstration of the sort of diffused attention our children and our lives usually get:

Crawling Baby Earthenware Olmec Culture 1200-9...

June 21, 2010. My eight month old–who’s just discovered crawling!–is giving me a hands-on demonstration of just unbabyproofed our house is, so of course I deal with this by sitting down for a moment and writing…

I find there’s a huge difference between offering attention freely, with full focus on the child, and giving diffuse or temporary attention. Most of the time, diffuse attention is great: the kids are there, doing their thing, the adults are there, doing their thing, the two intersect for a while, go their own way… but at some point–at different points of the day, at different points of life stages–children (and spouses! and friends! and grandparents, gosh-darn-it, them needy grandparents!) really crave focused, concentrated attention, and if it’s freely offered–given before it’s asked for–all the better.

My beautiful Flora, 5.6 going on 117, had [writing interrupted to change poopy bum, notice bum had washed the kitchen floor and himself with dog’s water dish, clean up water―hey, now I don’t have to mop the kitchen floor until the next mishap! what was I blathering on about before?] has been going through a rough couple of weeks. Sensitive always, she was uber-sensitive. People looked at her sideways and she burst into tears. [Crap forgot to put a new diaper on and the baby is now playing in his pee, hold on, break to wipe up pee] She was essentially waking up teetering on the edge of a breakdown. [oh, hell, the baby is trying to climb up the stairs… no, he’s backed off ]

Apart from being 5.5, a few disruptive things happening in her life, including chaos from the above mentioned 8 month old [gah, he’s back on the stairs…. ok safe], her best friends’ being sick and away, and her mother not well and not all there. There were so many things that I couldn’t do anything about… but I could do this:

I started sitting down and playing pets and Heart dolls with her. For what seemed like hours–but on the day on which I clocked it (because I’m that sort of anal retentive person), added up to a mere 45 minutes. It made all the difference. It gave her an anchor that was missing before.

OK, he’s determined to climb those stairs today I am done…


2012. I’m so glad I found and re-read this post now, because I needed a reminder that beautiful, sensitive Flora needs this freely offered, focused attention so much more than either of her brothers right now. Ender’s fully satisfied to be destroying the house somewhere in my wake; Cinder grabs a quick cuddle and a book reading when he needs to recharge (although I do see him shifting more and more into needing more one-on-one Dad time). Flora needs one-on-one Mama time a lot. She asks for Girls’ Days Out. Girls’ Movie Nights. “Just a Girls’ Hour Out, Mom?”

This is really hard to do when you have three kids. There are only so many nights, only so many days. But I need to make a concentrated effort to give Flora this time, this focused attention, because it anchors her. Fills her up. In Flora’s ideal world, she and I would have a weekly night out. I would love to give this to her―and one day, one day soon, I will. Maybe we’ll take an art class together. Or Spanish. Right now, I can’t give her that weekly night or that schedule. But I can do this:

Flora! I’m going to the library. Ender’s sleeping and Cinder’s going to stay with Daddy. Want to come?

I do this all the time now. Take her with me when I go to my physio training. We have 30 minutes in the car there and 30 minutes back to talk; she has 30 minutes of brother-free chill time while I go through my torture session. Ask her if she wants to run pick up milk from the market with me. Run to the drug store. She almost always says yes.

Now, these opportunities don’t arise, frankly, that often. I have three kids. I work, as does their dad. Most of the time, I’m taking all three of them to the library and the grocery store. But when the opportunities arise―when Cinder wants to stay and home and play Minecraft, when Ender is sleeping, when both boys are engaged with Daddy, when the stars align―I grab my Flora and we run.

I also try to grab her at home when the boys are occupied, and I notice that she’s lost. And I sit with her while she organizes her pets. Or takes me through her art. Or just tells me silly things, important things, weird things. When she wanders into the kitchen when I’m massacring vegetables, I know that she might be looking for a snack―or Mommy-time. I pull her into chopping or stirring with me. And listen.

I don’t do this, let me be clear, very well or naturally. My attention most of the time is diffused―between all three kids, the freakin’ dog who won’t stop peeing in the basement, the house-that-ever-teeters-on-the-edge-of-descending-into-utter-pigdom, the latest three writing projects that are all due yesterday, the committee meeting, the really interesting discussion happening on my Facebook, and the less-interesting professional one I’ve got going on LinkedIn.

But I try. And I know when I’ve done it well or consistently, because I have a much happier, more anchored Flora.

Photos (Crawling Baby Earthenware Olmec Culture 1200-900 BCE Mexico) by  mharrsch and (FLORA) by adafruit

11 thoughts on “How focused attention, freely given, changes everything

  1. Jane, I loved hearing how you have been able to give some much needed attention to Flora. I have to try to do this more often with Emma, because she is the more quiet of my two girls and could get lost int e shuffle if I let her. Thanks for sharing and so true about much of our attentions being diffused versus focused.

  2. Another thought provoking post! I have a little Flora at home too. She needs mommy time often. A bad case of mommy-itis.

    I try to find creative ways to sneak out with my Lolli. When I do it’s like you said, “grab your Flora and run.” But we can only do so much as mothers. Wish we could multiply ourselves in two! 🙂

    • Million-dollar-idea: “No more guilt pills for moms.” Did’ya ever imagine motherhood would be so full of feelings of guilt… even when you know you’re doing your best? Ah, well. C’est la vie, and that’s humanity.

  3. It is one of the toughest things of being a mom to three…balancing it all and giving attention to all three of the kids equally in the areas that they need it. Each of mine need something different right now in the stages in their life. My daughter just like yours just needs attention. My middle son is learning to read and needs extra focus on that. My youngest really doesn’t need me but I need the extra cuddling from him because he’s my last!!

    • There’s a great quote in one of Cinder and Flora’s currently favourite reads (The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan): “Equal is not everyone gets the same. Equal is everyone gets what they need.” I’m paraphrasing badly… but that’s the gist of it, right? To each what they need, when they need it.

      • Love the Kane Chronicles! Also, I really love your post. Wow, you really helped me to see that I have a “sesitive-Flora” too in my little Ava. She requires more one on one time than her sister. Very clingy and needs special attention from me. Thanks for helping me see that!

  4. I like your quote from Riordan. I often find my daughter saying “That’s not fair!” Geez, where do you start with that?

    I also try to carve out time with just one of the kids as much as possible. And, of course, it is a rare thing. We only have two so it’s definitely a bit easier. I took my daughter (9) to the spa and we got our nails done, went shopping, and ate dinner out. It was a very special time for both of us. They really do need that bonding time with Mom and I think it will be very beneficial when they are teenagers as well. I want to build that trust between us so when it’s just the two of us, it’s also a chance to ask her in private if there’s anything bothering her with school, friendships, and so on.

    I like how you incorporate that Mommy time in everyday things. It’s so true – – when they want to show us a piece of art, would it kill us to take two minutes to REALLY look at it? I think they can really feel the difference between us focusing on them and us really being somewhere else in our mind.

    I also like your million dollar idea – guilt-free pills.. lol

    BTW, thank you for including us in your Growing Tribe list – that is very sweet! Have a wonderful week! 🙂

  5. Love this post! My ‘Matilda’ is just like this: “when can we have Special Time, Mummy?” Love the idea of offering focussed attention before it’s demanded of me and often feel like my brain is leaking out through my nipples (best line ever!)

  6. Pingback: WILD THING: 7 ways to “attachment parent” the older child | Nothing By The Book

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