January 2008
Happy New (Gap) Year

by Annie Fox, M.Ed

What might happen if you regularly found gap moments in which you saw and appreciated your children in new ways? How might your experience of parenting change?
Mind the Gap

The boy and his father stood in the middle of our quiet street.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Throwing buckeyes!” the kid beamed as he and Dad playfully launched two more down the hill.

I watched them in the Saturday sun and fell into a gap.

The world is full of gaps. Gender gaps. Generation gaps. Credibility gaps. Some shouldn’t be missed, like Ireland’s fantastic Gap of Dunloe. And some, like the one in the London Tube, must be avoided. (Mind the Gap – lest you find yourself floundering between train and platform!)

Gap of Dunloe - photo by David FoxEver hear of the term gap year? It usually refers to a break taken by high school or college grads that defers enrollment in the next phase of life. Ideally, one uses a gap year to do something completely out of the box: work, volunteer, intern, apprentice, self-study, travel… or any “real world” offering. The implicit goal is to figure out what you really want or don’t want to do with your life.

As this new year begins, our two children start a gap year of sorts. With college, grad school, and 5 years in the work world behind them, our daughter and son-in-law head off this week for a long-term travel adventure in SE Asia and beyond. Totally by coincidence, our son and his girlfriend, college grads (‘07), also head to SE Asia this week, having received Fulbright Fellowships to teach English there. They all have plans for after… but who knows? Gaps have a habit of transforming those who venture into them. And that’s the whole point.

Now you know what our kids are up to. New year. New chapter. Since those two are frequently my best teachers, I’m using their leaving to ask, “Where can I find some gaps to give me more of what I need this year?”

Most parents and kids I talk to feel weighed down by non-stop demands on their time. Adults and teens alike say they want to do more of what they really enjoy and less of what they feel forced to do. Sounds like a worthy New Year’s Resolution, but where’s the plan of action? Instead wishing for life to slow down, is there something you and your family could actually do to have more unstressed time? I think so, and that’s where the gaps come in.

Right here, at your computer, fall into a gap.
Go ahead, no one’s watching.

Backpacking gap - photo by Annie FoxI’m not talking about major gaps that require buying a serious backpack and chucking your “real” life for a year. I’m talking about the tiny gaps we continuously overlook despite their fluttering, glowing, and vibrating all around us. Gaps in the kitchen, in the car… in between gulping your coffee and thinking about the next six things you have to do. The doorway into a gap might be the taste of the coffee, the curl of your son’s hair, a bird flying over the freeway.

In the spirit of the new year, I’m offering you a challenge. Right here, at your computer, fall into a gap. Go ahead, no one’s watching. As you read these words, stop for a minute. Breathe in… and notice yourself breathing in. Breathe out… and focus on breathing out. (C’mon, play along with me.) Look at your hands, front and back. Really see what you’re looking at. Now slowly look around the room. Notice something. Notice something about that thing which you’ve never noticed before. Appreciate something about it. Take it in. Smile.

What’s happening as you consciously turn off autopilot and actually notice your surroundings? Life slows down and quiets down a bit, doesn’t it? What might happen if you regularly found gap moments in which you saw and appreciated your children in new ways? How might your experience of parenting change? How about the quality of your relationships? How about your perception of who you are and what matters to you as a parent and as an individual?

Just to set the record straight, I’m not advocating that you drop out and contemplate your cuticles 24/7. I’m simply suggesting that when it comes to living your life there are more options than just stress/productivity OR nirvana/slackerdom.

Another thing for the record, I am not knocking the power of getting things done. I’m one of the most productive people I know and proud of it. So believe me when I say that you can find gap moments and still be as productive, maybe even more so. It sounds counter-intuitive, but honestly, when I’m on autopilot, zipping around like a maniac, I am at my least productive and my most stressed. But when I fall into a gap, which I’ve been doing more frequently (I’m in one right now), I simultaneously become calmer and more energized. That opens me up creatively, intellectually, intuitively… and my productivity soars.

I can tell you from my email that teens need help dealing with stress. You can help them by finding gap moments in your own life. That can lower your stress levels, which will decrease the overall stress in your home. Talk to your kids about the concept of a gap… a momentary break from day-to-day busyness. Model it for them. The pay off? You’ll begin to savor your life on a deeper level. And with your leadership, your family will live in time, instead of just passing through.

Racing buckeyes - photo by David Fox

Happy New Year and watch out for flying buckeyes.

In friendship,
Annie

P.S. If you decide to take on my New Year’s Gap Challenge I’d love to hear from you. It doesn’t have to be anything cosmic, just a brief description of a moment when you slowed down and fell into a gap. I’ll be including gap stories in future Parent Forum newsletters as inspiration for all of us who could use a break.

Got a parent-teen problem you need help with?
Click here to Ask Annie


Find Annie Fox: Find Annie on Facebook Find Annie on Twitter Find Annie on Pinterest Find Annie on YouTube Find Annie on Google+ Find Annie on LinkedIn Find Annie on Goodreads Find Annie on Quora
What's New?
''The Girls Q&A Book on Friendship: 50 Ways to Fix a Friendship Without the DRAMA'' by Annie Fox, M.Ed., illustrated by Erica De Chavez ''Teaching Kids to Be Good People'' by Annie Fox, M.Ed. “People Are Like Lollipops” by Annie Fox, Illustrated by Brian Narelle
“People Are Like Lollipops” iBook by Annie Fox, Illustrated by Brian Narelle available on the iBookstore
Download ''Are We Lost?'' on Kindle
“People Are Like Lollipops” by Annie Fox, Illustrated by Brian Narelle, Print Edition available on CreateSpace
Books and Apps for Kids
''Are We Lost?'' by Annie Fox, Illustrated by Eli Noyes
Download ''Are We Lost?'' on Kindle
''Are We Lost?'' by Annie Fox, Illustrated by Eli Noyes, Print Edition available on CreateSpace
''Are You My Friend?'' by Annie Fox, Illustrated by Eli Noyes
''Are You My Friend?'' iBook by Annie Fox, Illustrated by Eli Noyes available on the iBookstore
''Are You My Friend?'' by Annie Fox, Illustrated by Eli Noyes, Print Edition available on CreateSpace
Books & Apps for Teens
''Middle School Confidential 3: What's Up With My Family?'' iOS app ''Middle School Confidential 2: Real Friends vs. the Other Kind'' iOS app ''Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are'' iOS app ''The Teen Survival Guide to Dating & Relating: Real-World Advice on Guys, Girls, Growing Up, and Getting Along'' by Annie Fox M.Ed.
''Middle School Confidential, Book 3: What's Up with My Family?'' by Annie Fox, Illustrated by Matt Kindt
''Middle School Confidential, Book 2: Real Friends vs. The Other Kind'' by Annie Fox M.Ed., Illustrated by Matt Kindt
''Middle School Confidential, Book 1: Be Confident in Who You Are'' by Annie Fox, Illustrated by Matt Kindt
''Too Stressed to Think? A Teen Guide to Staying Sane When Life Makes You CRAZY'' by Annie Fox, M.Ed. and Ruth Kirschner