I’ve been thinking a lot about presence lately. No, not presents, but presence rather. With all the distractions we encounter daily, from the ding of texts to rushing to get the kids here or there to Facebook updates to checking email, it’s safe to say many of us have forgotten what it feels like to be fully present.
If a screen is in your hand, you are not present for yourself or for those around you. It is just not possible because our brains are not wired to work that way. And although it may seem harmless, perhaps it isn’t.
Some 30 plus years ago on this day I would be waking up to the smell of homemade biscuits, bacon frying, and eggs scrambling. If I close my eyes I can still smell that Southern breakfast cooking and hear the sounds coming from my grandmother’s kitchen. On mornings I would wake up early enough I would be involved in making those biscuits from the best seat in the house, my grandmother’s kitchen counter. A day at my grandmother’s would consist of making doll clothes, counting money in my piggy bank, looking through Encyclopedias at all the photos, cutting pages out of magazines of all the things I liked and making a scrapbook, baking tea cakes, and if the weather permitted, going on a nature walk down the fence row and into the forest behind her house. The day would usually end with us talking into the night about everything under the sun, and if I could not sleep a grilled cheese and bowl of warm vegetable soup would do the trick. There was nothing like it and to this day remains nothing like it. My grandmother had not a penny to her name and lived in a tiny cinderblock house in the country, but she gave the greatest gift of all – she was present for me. That presence let me know that I mattered. I mattered more than taking a phone call, more than posting on Facebook, more than her favorite TV program. That presence was pure love and that presence made me feel special. That presence let me know that I was loved.
Years later during what I like to call my ‘what’s next’ phase (those are the years from about 22-37 when life seemed to revolve around ‘what’s next?’ – when was the next car, the next house or home improvement, the next trip, the next social engagement), I sat at the top of an overlook in North Carolina with my grandmother, my daughter and my aunt with the sunroof rolled back looking at the stars. My grandmother went to grab my hand at about the same time my phone dinged, I reached for my phone to check it. What I wouldn’t give for that moment back, to give my presence to a woman whom had always given me hers.
Think about how it feels to be with someone who isn’t fully there. Maybe they are looking at their phone, maybe you can feel they are just half listening and thinking about what they will say next, or maybe they just seem to have ants in their pants and cannot sit still. It doesn’t feel great does it? In an underlying way it is saying, “I do not value this time.” Which of course doesn’t make you feel valued and it doesn’t make you feel like you are enough. Now think about a time when you felt fully heard, fully listened to – didn’t it feel great? Didn’t it make you feel like you were the most important thing in that moment? Well guess what, our children are just as intuitive as we are and they know when they have our presence and when they do not.
We talk a lot these days about our children being spoiled – getting the things they want, doing any activity they want – and of course many have known nothing but abundance since they were born. We can talk at length about whether this is healthy or not, but what we are missing in this debate is that while they may be spoiled in presents, most are not spoiled with presence.
For anyone who has ever been to watch their child in a school play or on the ball field or at a piano recital, what is they first thing your child does when they take the stage or field? Their eyes search the crowd for you. Perhaps this should let us know how important presence is for our children.
Before we were constantly distracted, before we told that being a parent wasn’t enough, before we were caught in this suffocating haze of busy, we were present and that’s the greatest gift we can give our children. As parents, giving our time, energy and love to our children is the most important thing we can do in raising functional, healthy, stable children. Maybe choosing to cook together over the 5th dance class or additional sport is just what our children need. Maybe choosing to have a family game night over a social engagement is medicine for the soul. Maybe filling our calendar with ‘free time with the family’ over appointments and scheduled activities is just what the doctored ordered for our ailing world.
At night when I would tuck my daughter in bed is when I first noticed what being fully present felt like. It was in these moments when the house was still and no screen was in sight that we would have the most tender moments and conversations. In these moments I noticed how even the tone of her voice sounded like sweet music to my ears. When we would go on walks together as family or hikes that presence was also felt. Then I began making an effort to not be on my phone around her, even in the car I would make a point to not be on a phone call if she was in the car. Slowly, God has taken away many of my distractions and for several years now I have actively practiced being present. I didn’t just want to feel that type of presence at night or on hikes (because it felt wonderful), I wanted to be able to feel it throughout the day and that takes practice. When you feel your mind drift or hear that ding of your phone, become of aware and bring your mind back to the present moment. Don’t regret the past, you can begin to be present at any moment. It’s a new year and what better time to start. Make 2020 one of focus, one of clarity, one of being present. Last night my daughter and I stayed up playing with each other’s hair and talking, there isn’t a better way on this planet I would want to spend my last night of 2019. Here are 8 ways we can be present for our children.
8 Ways To Be Present For Our Children
- Take Care of Yourself – First and foremost I know if we are not happy and healthy it is near impossible to give our fully present self to others. Practice self care however you can get it – daily exercise, an hour to yourself in the morning with coffee or hot tea, a monthly spa appointment, alone time for 30 minutes in a quiet place, and breathe deeply everyday throughout the day.
- Be Mindful With Your Choices – When you sign your child up for this activity or that one evaluate the time it will take and is it worth the sacrifice in family time. Because at the end of the day any activity your child does you will have to devote your time as well. Is it something they love or just something to keep them busy?
- Be Still With Your Child – We often think that we have to problem solve or have something to do with our children. What if we just were still with them? What if we just got in the floor and played with them? Do you ever notice how when you just sit with your child after several minutes they just start opening up? Isn’t that a beautiful feeling. Strive for those kind of moments everyday by just being with with your child.
- Listen – Just listen. Listen to what they say. Listen to each word coming out of their mouth. Really really listen, and when you do, you will find a connection deeper than you could have imagined.
- Be A Student Of Your Child – Think about a subject or hobby you were so passionate about that you wanted to soak up every bit of information on it. You researched books, you googled, you even began practicing this subject, maybe even made it a career. Think of your child in this way, everyday you can spend time learning more about this subject and the more you learn the more present and aware you will be for your child.
- Go To Nature – Having a hard time being fully present in a home with so many distractions? Go on a hike, go to a park – get out in nature without screens to distract.
- Put Away The Screens – This one is essential. Just do it, you will never regret it. When it is all said and done, checking our email or doing a Facebook post will not be the thing we will regret in this life.
- Practice – Even without screens it is inevitable that our mind will drift while we are with our children, when it does recognize that it drifted and bring it back to the present. Once you have a taste of what it is like to be fully present, you will want to feel this way as much as possible. It’s a heavenly feeling and greatest gift we can give ourselves and our children.