Presence. A term in counseling referring to being emotionally and mentally available...it's about engaging, hearing, connecting with, being in the moment together...being present with a client as they talk. The obvious opposite is absent: not engaging, shutting off, checking out, disconnecting, being physically there, maybe, but not an active participant in the relationship. So, why is this relevant to parenting? Well, glad you asked...what kind of parent do you want to be with your kids? Present or absent. Ok, dah, right. Yet it is just so easy to go missing...to be hijacked, if you will.
In our culture, media (TV, video games, IPhone, etc) is readily available. It's fun, engaging, and ever changing. I'm a huge fan of the IPhone, a regular facebooker, and movies are a favorite activity for me. But I have to be very aware of just how much of all that I get in. Because media is so engaging, time can pass without even realizing that it's gone. Now if you work, your time with your kids is already limited. You may have only a few hours with them at the end of the day. After work, one of the things I really want to do is plop, turn on the tube and numb out, decompress and check out. Be absent. This is one of those moments where I have to choose what kind of a parent I want to be. Do I give in and check out, or do I check in with my kids and give them the best of me.
At work, I really try to give my all, be the best I can, and my kids should get no less of me. They are the reason I work...they deserve the best parts of me. They deserve for their mom to be present...checked in...engaged...interested. Trust me, it is not always easy to be interested in coloring pages, dress up, sword fights, and such. Not really my thing...but you know what is my thing? My kids. Goodness sakes, I adore them and I desire very much to show them I'm present in their lives. I want them to know that when they talk, I listen; that when I play with them, I enjoy it; that when they need me, I'm there.
There are some teens I've worked with that when I ask "have you talked to your mom/dad about that" they answer with, "no, I can't talk to them, they don't understand, they don't care, they don't listen." Now I tend to believe that these parents would die if they knew their kids felt that way...most want nothing more than to really be there for their kids for those difficult things in life. Parents want their kids to come to them when they struggle, need advise, etc. But kids won't come to you with the big things, if you're not in the habit of being there in the little things.
It's never to late to begin being present in your kids lives. Your kids may be 2, or 17...start anyway. Here are some suggestions to help you communicate to your kids that you're awake, engaged and interested in them:
1. Turn off the TV, IPhone, video games. I know, I know, some of you enjoy these kind of activities with your kids...but being present means you're looking at each other, not a glowing screen. Try it. It may be awkward at first, but don't give up...press through and create a new brand of memories.
2. When they talk, listen. Don't correct, offer un-asked for advice, just listen. And maybe even encourage them to talk more...invite them...welcome it, and then enjoy. When those little windows to their souls open, it's beautiful! I live for those moments with my kids.
3. Try some new activities. Family tea party, game night, try-something-new-Tuesday's, ask a question around the dinner table, go for a walk around the block, go to a coffee shop, or even google family activities. Get creative. Have fun, but also leave room for seriousness. Just be present.
Love to the mamas and the papas.