“We are human beings, not human doings.” This phrase really resonates with me, especially around the holidays. A colleague introduced me to this concept a few months ago, and it popped up again in a book I was reading recently. I think I am being reminded of something. We human beings have many opportunities to choose how to spend our time every day. We can choose to use our time for people, technology, trips, exercise, sleep, TV, chores, work, errands, etc. As we all know very well, the list can go on and on. Thinking about this phrase reminds me that this is the point. The list does go on and on. There will always be another activity, chore, phone call to make, thing to buy, or meeting to attend. Our loved ones and friends, however, may not always be there waiting for us while we check things off of our to-do list. Knowing this is a gentle nudge to use our time wisely and make room for mindfully being with people in our community.
When I say community, I don’t just mean our neighborhood. I mean who is present in our personal community in our lives. This may include (not limited to) parents, children, siblings, grandparents, a spiritual being (e.g., God), friends, co-workers and neighbors.
As a psychologist working with children (and adults), I see families feeling so busy, stressed, and running from one activity to the next. Kids will tell me how they have such a busy week that they think about everything they need to do while they are in school- Soccer, gymnastics, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church, dance, HW, football, drama club, birthday parties, and, of course, their appointment with me. Parents will say they run from one appointment and activity to the next for themselves and for each of their kids.
For parents, it is so important to remember that you are a human being and not a human doing. Your children are yearning for your time. Some kids feels that their parents don’t spend enough time with them, and their parents don’t understand this because they are bringing them to all of these activities and are maybe coaching their team or leading their club. These are truly wonderful ways to spend time with your kids. But kids want more. They want special mommy or daddy time. They want special family time. This means choosing to spend time playing, reading, laughing, tickling, chasing, talking, listening, and relaxing rather than running, rushing, accomplishing, and achieving. This is the difference between being and doing.
I have seen many kids in my practice who are engaging in problem behaviors at home. These may include yelling, hitting, not following directions, and arguing. Mom and dad feel forced to attend to their kids when they are acting this way. But, it is important to remember that all behavior is communication. Some of these behaviors may be communicating that they want to spend more time with you and they don’t know how else to show it. When you attend to problem behaviors, you attend to the child as well.
I find it helpful to plan ahead and make a schedule for work and for family time. I also find that flexibility in your plan is just as important as having one. Part of cultivating community is being flexible, going with the flow, and accepting what comes up in your day. Sometimes you feel you have to be in three places at once, and sometimes you need to be with your kids if they are sick, sad, or need to talk. As this holiday season approaches, let us remember to take time to choose being and not doing all the time. If we are being, we may be able to actually accomplish more than if we are focused on doing. We will likely have more fun through the season as well.
How will you be a human being and not a human doing this holiday season?