Presence versus Presents

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Not sure there’s much more to say than that.

But, being present is definitely a critical topic that I have so much to talk about!

I know I have had ongoing, frustrating conversations with the grandparents over the years about stop buying stuff for the kids. Just come and be with them. Spending time is so much more meaningful for them. I lecture them about how we’re inundated with too much stuff and even banned anything new coming into the house. We are in a consumer world, with credit to the max and homes brimming with stuff. We keep buying more and more and more and…. well, more.

And yet, so many people have hollow hearts. Unfulfilled lives. Vacant relationships with spouses. And…. deep voids in their relationships with their children. We may try to fill these spaces up with material things, but it’s like the hungry ghost who wants more and more and more and can never be filled, can never be satisfied. And kids who seem unappreciative and more distant than ever.

I diverge.

Much of my focus and frustration was directed to the well-meaning grandparents contributing to the stuff. But, when I actually wrote down the words presence versus presents, something struck deep within me. Presence. Presence. Presence. I don’t buy presents, so that’s not the problem.

The problem for me is presence. Or lack thereof. Me working 14+ hour days most days of the week doesn’t help, as I am literally out of the home and not present. However, even in those rare moments when I am at home, and even when I am right next to the kids playing, I am not truly present. My mind is on emails I need to check, dinner I need to cook, the laundry that needs to be folded. Half the time I start multi-tasking, telling the kids I am just going to fold laundry or return a quick call since they’re playing so nicely.

I remember when my eldest was little, she always came to ask me to play with her everyday. I always had a reason why I couldn’t then, but would later. And later never came. Until, eventually, I realized that she stopped asking me completely.

And now, I see the same pattern with my youngest. My kids will even tell me to listen to them, to look at them, knowing that I am a million miles away.

I know this, I think about it, and yet I still do the same thing. However, I know that active presence is so critical – not only to my relationship with children, but it also helps promote their emotional well-being, positive behaviours, effective communication, and overall development.

So, to really be present, I need to a) make presence a priority, and b) keep it consistently at the forefront of  my mind. In doing so, I have written my “focus” of the day in my daytimer, on my whiteboard, on stickies – remind me to be present. And, what does presence mean? To be successful, we need to have a very clear idea and operationalize what being present means for us. For me, it is to set up uninterrupted times to be with the girls, whether we’re playing, playing at the park, drawing, reading, or cuddling. Putting down electronics and whatever else I have going on hand. And, going even further, to focus on being in my body.

Feeling them beside me, perhaps the touch of their arm leaning on mine. Smiling at them. Making eye contact. Listening reflectively. Practicing curiosity, asking them questions about their day. About their world. About their dreams. Sinking in to the moment. Sharing gratitude for having the chance to spend that moment with them. That I love spending my time with them. Hugging them. Really hugging them. 6 Mississippi’s, right?