Present parenting, not presently parenting. If you do a bit of googling on this topic you’ll find two main threads. Either, some direction around Mindfulness, yourself and the benefits this may bring to your parenting. Alternatively, the bulk of content relates to situations like the one in the image below, there in body alone.This post is about authentic presence. Mindfulness, meditation, being present, whatever term you want to use; the power of switching off from ‘there’ and really being ‘here’ in any relationship, but specifically with your young one, is truly incredible and an invaluable practice to incorporate into our lives.
What prompts this post? well I’m a counsellor specialising in working with children and adolescents, and work with a lot of families. It also helps that I’m quite passionate about what I do. However, what prompts this post is my reflection of the weekend just gone, and my greatest passion, my family and being the best dad I can be.
This weekend we did a lot of cool things, and every one of them together as a family. I also did a lot of DIY, chores and a spot of work. We did coffee, saw friends and then did the beach. We did a lot of very cool stuff. Interestingly, I have pictures on my phone capturing most of the weekend, except up to one key moment. I got back from an early morning mountain bike ride and every part of me wanted to just hang out with my boy. I wasn’t just still running on a high after the epic trails, or even a sugar high after the fine vanilla slice (or two) I had on the way home. I really wanted to just be with my boy. When he returned home and bowled through the front door, he gave me a big hug and said ‘I love you a big bit, wanna play?’ Now, this isn’t a glowing public show of the constant magic moments we have. The reason its so relevant is because usually he loves mum a ‘big bit’ and dad a ‘little bit’. I get it, his mum is pretty awesome. We then sat and played submarines, fishing and built a cushion house with an epic viewing platform. I was happy and so was my son. Loving me a ‘big bit’ was so profound, as I believe he had connected with his dad being genuinely present way beyond just my physical presence. How, I noticed how his hair swept across his face, I noticed the green specks of play doh in his hair. I noticed the chirpy bounce in his words, and boy did I notice how awesomely blue his eyes are. I wasn’t doing play time, I was being truly present with my son, and man it felt incredible. I was truly experiencing the moment, so it didn’t quite occur to me to find my phone and take a picture.
I recently left a good job in the city on a salary to be proud of. I would leave for the ferry before he woke up and would just make it home to kiss him goodnight. One evening I returned home just in time. I heard him then say to his mum, “is daddy going back to work now”. He thought I merely popped home for dinner before going back to work! Soon after, I left this job to spend more time with my family. But with increased time, I realised a lot of it wasn’t quite as I had hoped and expected. I was reminded this weekend to not mistake quantity of time with quality of time.
So, what is present parenting. For me it isn’t celebrating that you take your kids for an ice cream whilst you keep the work calls or social media updates ticking over. That can be doing parenting and a a whole heap of missed opportunities. Present parenting is when you don’t even know where your phone is. It’s when you realise that reversing your pretend boat into the sea, using your pretend tractor makes perfect sense. It’s when you stop, breath, notice and then capture how your young one sticks their tongue out when they are really concentrating. It’s when you watch them sleep once they have reached that deep sleep, where they look so insanely peaceful and beautiful. It’s those times when you are so lost in the now that you realise how found you really are. Playing pirates, fishing, shops and story time, completely free of charge and exactly what they want and need. Better still, as parents it is the most powerful lift we can have whenever we want… even cheaper and stronger than coffee.
What can we do?
- Look after yourself. Mindfulness is best incorporated into your everyday life, rather than a stand alone parenting strategy for your tool kit. I am a big fan of the app Headspace. Short, sweet and achievable, so a good chance that you’ll stick with it. Otherwise, find the space, time and for 10 mins find a Mindfulness exercise that works for you and keep doing it. Ensure that you eat properly, sleep enough, and exercise. You may need to be creative to fit some of these things into your daily schedule.
- Give more attention and less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most powerful expression of love you can give.
- Practice mindful listening. Listen to your child as intently as if you were listening to a piece of music or the sounds of nature. Listen with a gentle attentiveness and respond as necessary. Listening to your child can be like a mindfulness meditation.
- Let your children teach you a thing or too. Our young ones are the absolute Yoda’s of being present. If you watch their imaginative play hard enough, you too will start to look around questioning if they actually are building a boat with their talking dog. They can teach you how to see the magic in everything they come into contact with as if for the first time every time. The sea, the sky, a butterfly, long grass, paint. They are on to something, so watch and learn and give it a go for yourself.
- Observe your own behaviour as much as you observe your child’s behaviour. Acknowledge the salty bits and capture the sweet bits. When capturing the sweet bits take notice of how you feel and what it looked and sounded like, and better still what impact did this have on those around you.
- Pursue balance and healthy boundaries, when it comes to work and home. The emails will still be there in the morning.
- Give yourself a break. You don’t need to take things too seriously. If you made a mistake in your parenting, don’t beat yourself up– instead see if you can laugh or at least smile about it. You’re human after all, and so is your child.
- Turn off the noise. Check out the ‘Look Up’ YouTube video to keep you thinking. When it comes to your young ones don’t use artificial distractions. Escapism, excitement and exploring new things, begins with you.
- Live by routine.Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. Let everyone relax into the predictable flow of a healthy and secure life.
- Promote the small stuff. Reclaim those missed opportunities. Brushing teeth, laying the table, putting the sun cream on, doing their hair. It’s awesome, do it together and notice the awesomeness of the small stuff, because they do.
For all those parents out there, you will know only too well, you blink and they are gone, so grab hold of every opportunity with both arms and feet, and savor every moment.