What happens when we choose the “convenient” option? It saves us time, hassle, perhaps travel. It doesn’t interfere with our prescribed plans. And it usually costs more, right? But many people lose sight of the non-financial costs of convenience—and of just how high those costs can be.
What does it mean to be convenient? Some definitions of the word are:
• Fitting in well with a person’s needs, activities, and plans
• Involving little trouble or effort
• Situated so as to allow easy access to
We find convenient merchandise in a convenience store. That peanut butter cup I can pick up at the same time my car is being filled with fuel costs three times what it costs in a grocery store, but that’s OK. I’m not making a separate trip to the grocery store.
When it’s not convenient to drive across town to visit a sick friend, sometimes I’ll just call…or not get in touch at all. After all, it’s a busy day. And going out of my way to pick up what the administrative assistant forgot to pick up at the office supply store isn’t convenient. It’s her job.
Lots of elements of a convenient life seem appealing:
• It’s convenient to have someone mow my lawn and clean my home.
• It’s convenient to have two cars and running water and undisturbed electricity.
• It’s convenient to get my morning New York Times and to have unlimited Internet access.
But the more examples of convenience I write down, the more it sounds like privilege.
What are the results of choosing convenience at any cost? I can cause co-workers to lose enthusiasm as I fail to exhibit a “team player” attitude. I can damage relationships with others I fail to reach out to because I am busy and procrastinate. I can spend beyond my means by living out of the convenience store rather than shopping purposefully on a regular basis.
And perhaps most importantly, when I follow a pattern of interaction based on convenience, I can raise disenfranchised kids. When is it convenient to pay positive, nurturing attention to a noisy, rambunctious child? When is it convenient to put down my work and read to my four-year-old until he finally dozes off? When is it convenient to discipline a child when he runs outside the values I’m trying to instill?
Wait a minute. Raising my child only when it’s convenient for me leaves the rest of his life in other people’s hands. Is that what I really want?
I’m reminded of the story of an older gentleman who found his and his grown son’s diaries in an attic one day. This version is from To a Child, Love Is Spelled T-I-M-E:
As he opened his journal the old man’s eyes fell upon an inscription that stood out because it was so brief in comparison to other days. In his own neat handwriting were these words:
Wasted the whole day fishing with Jimmy. Didn’t catch a thing.
With a deep sigh and a shaking hand, he took Jimmy’s journal and found the boy’s entry for the same day, June 4. Large scrawling letters, pressed deeply into the paper, read:
Went fishing with my dad. Best day of my life.
For the most part, the way we raise our children is a constant negotiation with convenience. It’s easy to dismiss a child when there’s something more “important” that needs our attention. And convenience has a cousin—selfishness.
There’s no shortage of young adults who were raised (or not raised) at the convenience of their parents. Sociologists say the biggest challenge with inner-city culture is the lack of adequate parent involvement. And I don’t want to attribute that only to inner-city environments. The wealthiest parents can create similar nightmares in the swankiest of neighborhoods.
In the coming weeks, the children in our lives can and will become quite demanding. They may approach us at quite inconvenient times.
Hug them. Even when it’s not convenient.
Read to them. Even when it’s not convenient.
Take them for walks. Even when it’s not convenient.
Get on the floor with them and color. Even when it’s not convenient.
Make them feel special. Even when it’s not convenient. Because they are.
Spend time with them…lots of time. Even when it’s not convenient.
And don’t limit this attitude to children. Extend it to friends, co-workers, team members, dads, moms—anybody whose face will light up because you are in his or her life, and because you reached out. Even when it wasn’t convenient.