Present Parenting: Small Moments Add Up Fast
My 6 year-old asked me to walk down the stream with him last night. Literally, we walked down the middle of the stream because there is so much vegetation you can’t walk on the side. The water was deep enough that my son wore my husband’s boots. It was absolutely beautiful and peaceful. He chattered to me the whole way. It was one of those perfect moments when it was just the two of us. We could talk about anything or nothing at all.
Then we got back and I had to palm slap my forehead. I realized I hadn’t listened to a word he had said. I thought about everything else under the sun – the order I’m working on, the gloves I had taken off, the ditch I dug, my husband running his chainsaw, and whole bunch of other nonsense. I could have kicked myself. I missed it. I missed a precious moment because I wasn’t present.
Children are demanding. Can I have a drink? Can you get me a snack? Do you know where my shoes are? Do you know where my pants are? When will dad be home? Why isn’t he home now? Where did he go? What’s for dinner? Why are we having that? Does it taste good? Do I like it?
It’s hard to keep up with all of that 24/7.
Fulfilling all of our daily and parental responsibilities requires that we divide our attention. As much as we would all love to play, color, and read to our children all day, everyone in the family also wants to eat, wear clean clothes, and have an uncluttered home. But sometimes the daily responsibilities and concerns start to eat away at the small meaningful moments we have with our children.
Instead of listening to them talk about how much they like fruit loops while we walk home from the bus stop, I’m thinking about folding the laundry when I get back and then starting dinner. Or wait, maybe I’ll start dinner and then while it’s cooking, I’ll fold the laundry. What’s the point of making time for them only to find myself being mentally somewhere else?
Present parenting is all about balance. There may be times when present parenting is harder than others. But if you, like me, find yourself slipping into a habit of being present physically and absent mentally more and more often, it’s time to take a step back.
Moments that Matter
There are certain times of day that lend themselves to small meaningful moments. If you know they are coming, you can better prepare yourself mentally with the right questions or clear your mind to provide a listening ear.
Early morning. More often than not, there is one child that wakes before the others. He or she stumbles out of their room and immediately looks for a blanket and somewhere to lie down. Inviting them to snuggle or sit next to you is a good time to have a quiet talk, a few one-on-one giggles, or just quietly be together. (I do have one child that is not a morning person. Not ALL kids and parents are going to have morning moments.)
There is something about being outside together that makes time slow down. Whether you are taking a walk around the block or down the stream, being outside makes people talk. Personally, I think it’s because there are fewer distractions than in the house. Children can’t watch television or play with electronics. Parents can’t be on the phone, computer, or working on other projects.
Right After School
Why does right after school have to be so crazy and hectic? I have one day a week that each child comes home alone. I have a chance to talk them each on their own. They have so much to tell. Finding time to listen to them talk about their school day, without them having to compete with siblings, is hard but worth it.
I hate cooking a lot, but it is a necessary evil. However, I have discovered that when I allow one child to cook with me at a time, it’s a wonderful chance to talk with them. Consciously inviting one child at a time to do a small activity with you opens the door for meaningful moments. That doesn’t mean they will come every time, but the opportunity is there.
This is the pattern I have noticed that allows for meaningful time with my children. You may have a different pattern with your family. You may have already noticed a pattern, but if not, pay attention to when your children talk with you the most. If you are better prepared for a small moment, you’re more likely to be present in it.
Make Eye Contact
Three months ago I started working a few hours a day from home. Immediately I noticed how hard it is to accomplish all my normal responsibilities and spend quality time with my children. I’m always either working for my job or working around the house. I’ve had to make a more conscious effort than ever to stop what I’m doing and be with them. Not only in the room with them, but with them in their conversation and activity.
Making eye contact has been the best way to pull me out of my work mode and back to mom mode. When my eyes are looking into theirs, my mind is focused on them too. They also appreciate it because they know I’m paying attention while they are talking.
Be Where You Are
If only I could go back to yesterday and take that walk one more time. I would present. I would listen. Small moments add up quickly.
I hate it when people tell me to enjoy my children while they are young because they grow up so fast. It bothers me because, I know.
I can feel the time going too fast. As much as it’s a struggle sometimes, the years with young children are few and precious. I let a moment slip by yesterday, and that happens sometimes, but I want to be present.
I want the moments to add up to joy, not regret.