The Gift of Presence in Parenting
Updated: Jul 29, 2021
When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?
Thich Nhat Hanh
I first heard this quote on one of my favourite parenting podcasts, Mindful Mama with Hunter Clarke-Fields, and it immediately struck me as true. I've noticed time and time again that as a parent, what my kids need most from me is me*. The greatest thing I have to offer them is my loving attention. On one hand, what a relief! Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? On the other hand, focusing all of my attention on them - without multi-tasking, without getting anything done, without carrying on all the conversations in my head - sounds incredibly intimidating! Of course, they don't need 100% of my attention 100% of the time. (Whew!) Even in very short bursts, this quality of presence and connection can be highly impactful.
When my eldest (now 6) was around 2 or 3, I came across a free parenting video by Amy McCready of Positive Parenting Solutions. The practical advice that stuck with me the most from this video was the concept of Special Time: spending time with your child one-on-one, for a set period of time (even just 10-15 minutes), doing whatever they want to do. For a while, we got into a routine of doing this in the mornings right before work/daycare. I was surprised to discover that it wasn't so bad doing whatever she wanted when there was a clear finish line in sight, set by the timer. It didn't matter that I wasn't very good at pretend play or that her made-up games made absolutely no sense to me. As long as I committed to putting my phone away, stopping everything else, and just giving her my full attention, these times were very special to both of us. Seeing her sheer delight in having me all to herself made a lasting impression and to this day, I try to spend quality one-on-one time with each of my kids when I can. (Mental note-to-self: When is the last time I did this? Covid has sure made it more challenging since we're all together all the time!)
Mindful time together doesn't always have to be one-on-one though, and your child doesn't always need to be the boss. (And thank goodness! Because I certainly don't always have the patience to drop into that level of play!) Speaking from experience, some activities that bring us into the present moment include colouring, painting, doing puzzle books side by side, looking for shapes in the clouds, blowing bubbles, picking wildflowers, reading aloud, listening for birds, doing face masks, playing cards, or even sharing a snack.
There are many resources out there on mindful eating but one thing I've noticed is that simply packing a picnic lunch or snack and eating it outside together heightens the experience. Perhaps we take food for granted when we're at home since it's so readily available, and the novelty of eating somewhere else boosts our appreciation. I don't really know why, but there's just something about sitting on a picnic blanket and enjoying a bite together that makes it super scrumptious!
Each time I manage to fully engage with my kids in the present moment, I'm rewarded with a sense of calm, connection, and mutual appreciation. It also seems to increase communication, co-operation, and flexibility (both mine and theirs). When we're sharing an experience, we're on the same team. And when it comes to parenting, that's half the battle!
I hope you will find some time this week to mindfully engage with your child or anyone you want to connect and share a moment with. What are your family's favourite present-moment-focused activities? Let me know in the comments or on social media!
*I just want to acknowledge that other caregivers can also fill this role of giving children attention and that it is incredibly healthy for children to have many people in their life who love, cherish, and support them. I think it's also important for children to develop independence and the ability to do things on their own without constantly needing attention. In parenting, as in life, for every truism, there are exceptions!