Some of the most beautiful and amazing moments I’ve had in my human experience are moments with my children: their births, the first time they took steps, the dozens of times my son has said something out of the ordinary that’s wildly hilarious and true. In those moments, I feel so connected to the beings I gave life to. Although it’s useful sometimes for my brain to switch off, it happens more than I would like, especially with my kids. What I want more than anything is connection with my children and with our family as a whole.
I find that the practice of presence is accessible and can be done at any time of the day, especially in those moments when I start to feel myself getting disconnected. And let’s be clear, I’m not always feeling disconnected because I have my nose in my phone or a book or because I’m trying to make dinner – rather, I experience disconnection simply from being with my children in the same space and not feeling connected to them because my attention is on something else. Practicing presence requires you to shift your attention from what isn’t happening or necessary to what is happening or required. As a parent, the reason is simple: Kids are always present with what they are doing. To interact with, support, and love them requires full presence and attention. Being present is simply defined as being in the here and now, and nowhere else.
Sometimes, though, it can feel like your child is thwarting your best intention to do other things, like cook dinner or invest in your relationship with your partner. It’s in those moments when you can pause and check in – what’s required right now? Where does my attention need to shift? Where can I shift my attention from being distracted to shifting my attention to my child that clearly needs something in this moment? You’ll find that presence leads to a greater connection to your child and your family unit, greater ease for yourself as a human, and more joy in your life.
To be more present as a parent, practice these six things:
1. Time with yourself
This is different than time for yourself, as sometimes time for yourself doesn’t require presence or even being awake. Time with yourself is a practice that you can create in just a few moments each day to check in and ask yourself what’s required of you right now – do you need to drink water? Do you need five deep breaths? When you understand what is required and do it, you build your capacity to be able to do it with others. This could be a few minutes of meditation each day, closing your eyes, or taking a few deep breaths to check in.
2. Presence with your children
In a world that is more and more technologically advanced and there are more ways to tune out, make time to tune in. When is a good time to connect as a family? How many times a day does it work for you to create connection and unity?
Eating meals together is a really amazing way to connect and unify. Start your meal by sharing about how your day was and anything anecdotal that may allow them to open up about their day rather than starting with the question: “How was your day?
3. Practice instant forgiveness – yourself included
This is something that sounds easy but can be challenging in the moment. Because we’re human, we are bound to make mistakes, and make them we do. So the thing to practice when that happens is forgiveness for yourself! That way you can keep showing up to be the awesome parent that you are. I find that when I mess up with my kids, apologizing to them is one of the best ways to snap myself out of the downward spiral of unforgiveness. Because of their unconditional love, it’s easy to remember that I am loved, even when I mess up.
4. Stay right here
Notice when you slip into fear of the past or worry for the future. The thing that will take us out of any given moment is slipping back into the past or forward into the future. The only thing you can actually impact is this present moment. So pay attention to that, rather than wishing you could adjust something in the past or make changes for the future.
5. Give up the attachment to a specific result
This can be an incredibly freeing practice if you can let go of the way something is supposed to go or turn out. When you are working towards a fixed outcome and that outcome never appears, chances are you’ll fall into the trap of going into the past or the future. When your attachment to your specific outcome becomes more important than being present, you miss the chance to create a true connection with your child in the moment.
6. Remember who you are
You are the source of so many things for your child. This means that they are watching all of the ways that you interact with the world around you and picking up all of your best (and worst) practices to try on for themselves. What are the ways of being that you want to pass on to them? Which are the ones that you don’t? Can you teach them by your actions how you want them to be? Do you yell in traffic when they’re in the car with you? This teaches them to yell when they get frustrated. Instead, try modeling a behavior that you want them to practice instead like saying, “I feel frustrated right now because this traffic may make me late, and I don’t like to be late.” You teach them that it’s OK to express their emotions as well as get connected to them. It’s the practice of presence to teach presence.
You’ll most likely have lots of opportunities each and every day to practice these six things. It’s a practice that’s the definition of sacrifice in parenthood: to put away the things that you planned and prepared for, to nurture your child in their own expression and needs, to hear and see them just as they are. As you continue to practice this, you’ll be able to have a clearer and better understanding of who your child is, and what specific needs they have. Each child is different and requires something different. Our job as parents isn’t to equalize and make our children the same; rather, to give them the space to nurture their own uniqueness.
This practice will provide emotional stability for your child as they continue to build trust with and for you. As your relationship shifts and changes over time, as they get older and require different things, you will still be the space of love and nurture for them because of the time you spent building that connection with them.