Being a parent can be a tricky business; you have to pay the bills; put food on the table; make sure you and your child are clean and wearing matching socks… and also actually do the important job of parenting your child. It can be so easy to let your mind wander off while your child is talking, to get caught up in checking email while your child is playing… and all the other things we parents love to judge each other for.
We had an incident the other week where I was so distracted with fifty other things I hadn’t listened to S when she said she couldn’t find her school shoes – instead I just asked her again (several times) to just go and put the shoes on so that we could leave. By the time I stopped messing around enough to hear what she was saying, we were late – and we were made even more late by finding the shoes and putting them on. In my mad rush to just get us out of the house I tried to use the wrong key to lock the front door and snapped it off in the lock, so then we had to get a locksmith out to sort that out, and I had to get hold of the person to whom the wrong key belonged and admit that I’d snapped it off, so I would need to get another key cut… basically a massive monster of a bad morning, essentially because I just wasn’t present enough in the moment to listen to my child when she told me she couldn’t find her shoes. And the reason she couldn’t find her shoes? I had taken them from the shoe stand (where they live; where she had put them) to put on the radiator to dry out after a puddle splashing incident. So, frustrating as the whole situation was, there was no escaping the fact it was all my own stupid fault!
Since then I have been working on trying to be more present and attentive, rather than experience another stressful, expensive morning school run.
Here are 5 simple things you can do in an effort to be more present as a parent…
- Put your phone in airplane mode
I was going to suggest leaving your phone in the other room, but I know a lot of us (myself included) rely on our mobiles to take photos. I’ve started putting my phone in airplane mode, and have also switched off a lot of notifications – so that my phone doesn’t interrupt what I’m doing with its constant dinging. I’ll also often put it physically out of sight, either in my bag or in my pocket so that I can’t be tempted to pick it up. I find that this means when I am with S I can ignore my phone and pay attention to her. I’ve started doing this for the school run too, so that I am able to spend those precious fifteen minutes chatting to my child and finding out about her day.
- Get up early.
Often when we’re not present with our children it’s because we’re feeling frazzled and fed up, trying to be both ourselves and mummy. I find that on the days I get a little time before S is up, just for me – even if it’s only twenty minutes – I’m able to then be more present in my time with S. With half termcoming up this is something I really need to prioritise – to ensure I’ve had some me time before I become mummy for the rest of the day.
Yes, ok, I know I’m always going on about meditation and how great it is. There’s a reason for that! I love meditation and when I keep up a regular practice I find I am able to stay more calm and be more focused. This allows me to be more present with S during our time together, but it also allows me to focus more on my work and be more productive, so that I have more time to spend with S.
- Schedule down time.
It’s hard to be present with your child if you’re always between appointments, clubs and activities. Don’t get me wrong; it’s fun to do stuff. But it’s also fun to have time where it’s just you and your child, and you’re not doing anything (other than perhaps colouring or playing with Lego or something). I like to schedule in days – or sometimes whole weekends – where our only plans involve heading to the shop for supplies and perhaps going to the park!
- Set up little routines.
We often have busy days where it can feel like we’ve been on the go from the moment we get up until the moment S goes to bed. S has a club after school three days per week and on those days it’s a mad rush to get her home and fed before bedtime… So I make sure that we have a rock solid bedtime routine. We don’t necessarily have a story every evening – but we do have cuddles and kisses, and we spend time together, even if it’s only a few minutes. This means S has a chance to tell me anything that’s bothering her, and we’re both used to this happening at bedtime each evening. I don’t answer my phone or the front door; we don’t have the TV on. We chat about how our day went, and perhaps what’s happening the next day if there’s something coming up. And then we say the same things to each other before I put on an audiobook for her and say goodnight.
It can be tough to be present in any area of our lives in this always-on world of social media and mobile phones, but if there is one area in which we really need to make an effort to be present it’s parenting. I’m making it a priority to be more present with S going forward – and not just so that I don’t have to keep paying for new keys and broken locks!