The Power of Being Present


When I was out with my daughter recently, I watched a toddler walk up to his mother and say, “Mommy.” “Mommy.” “Mommy.” “Hey, Mommy.” “Mommy?” “Mommy!” “Mommyyyyy!” As he was trying to get her attention, she was focused on her cell phone. She finished typing, shut the phone off, and smiled at her son as if he had just walked up to her.

Why is it so hard for us to give someone our undivided attention, especially our children? We are teaching them that it’s okay to ignore people; that our phones are more important.

Every minute of every hour of every day we are dependent on our phones. We answer emails, post on Facebook, and share on Instagram. We watch videos of other people’s children while our own are right in front of us screaming for our attention.

I’m using our phones as only one example of something that removes us from our present situation. It could be the television, work, stress, or our over-booked schedules. All of these are things that take away from our ability to be present. They take us away from what’s tangibly in front of us, here and now, and into a false reality of arbitrary deadlines and virtual friends. We bring our work home, we spend time with friends online instead of in person, and we rush to get everywhere late.

Your children are only going to be this young for a short time.” “Enjoy this age, it goes by so fast.” I know, we’ve heard this nonstop since the day our kids were born, but you don’t realize how quickly the time actually does go by until it’s happening to you.

When my daughter was born she had this perfect little mouth. I remember looking at her thinking it was going to be so weird when she got teeth. Then she got teeth and I thought how crazy it will be when she started talking someday and wondered what her voice would sound like. Now she talks (all the time) and I can’t help but wonder what it will be like when she’s a teenager, driving, dating, then going to college. It will be here before I know it.

One day I’ll think about these years and want them back (even though there are days I wish there was a return policy on toddlers). I don’t want to reminisce about my daughter’s childhood and feel guilty about all the meaningless things I spent time on instead of her.

At my core I am a control freak, but having a child has changed that tremendously. I can actually let the laundry wait if my daughter wants to play. I’ll sit down and read a book while she naps instead of cleaning the house. I’ll stop what I’m doing to listen when my daughter wants to tell me something.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that you should treat your children like they are the center of the universe. I’m also not saying that every moment spent with your child needs to be solely focused on them. We have lives too and definitely need time to ourselves. But when I tell my daughter I’m going to play a game with her, I teach her the rules and laugh when she tries to cheat. When we watch a movie together, we cuddle. When we play outside, I get down in the grass with her. I believe the phrase “quality over quantity” applies here.

If you’re checking work emails while your children play on the floor next to you, that’s not quality time. If you’re watching television while your child is telling you a story, you’re not really listening.

Turn your phone off. Put it in another room. Turn off the TV. Go outside. Do whatever you need to do to truly be present. Your children know when they have your full attention and when they don’t. This goes for your spouse and friends as well. How many couples do you see at a restaurant and both are on their phones? Or what about that friend you meet for drinks and she’s only half listening and obviously focused on something else (like her phone or where she needs to be in an hour)?

It’s like we’ve become unable to communicate in person anymore. It’s easier to text than call. It’s uncomfortable to have to look someone in the eye when talking. We feel like we’re wasting time if we’re not doing five things at once.

How about this – once the kids are down for the night, instead of turning on the TV, spend time talking with your spouse. Make a cocktail and plan a vacation or give each other a foot rub. Spend some quality time together without any distractions.

When you’re out with friends keep your phone within reach (we have to hear if the babysitter calls) but turn it upside down, don’t look at it every five minutes, and just focus on the conversation and enjoy your time away.

When we’re distracted we tend to get frustrated or angry. This is when everything our child (or spouse) does becomes annoying. We’re too busy folding laundry so we tell them to go watch TV. We’re working on the computer and we answer their questions “uh huh” without actually listening. They notice this, and then just get even more loud and annoying. Kids act out to get our attention. So let’s give them our full attention from the start. They will notice.

Here’s a non-kid related example. What kind of driver are you when you’re rushed? Do you become the person you would normally honk at or mutter under your breath about? When we aren’t rushed, we don’t care if someone is driving slowly in the fast lane. We don’t care if we hit every red light. We let that car go in front of us that sped past the construction lane we’ve been waiting in. Don’t be too quick to shake your fist at others because odds are you’ve been that person before. My point here is when we’re rushed, we’re easily frustrated, and when we’re frustrated we lash out. Unfortunately, the ones closest to us usually receive the brunt of it.

Just because you’re physically next to someone doesn’t make you present. You’re only truly present if your mind is there as well. It’s hard for us to slow down, but I urge you to try. Enjoy the moments you have now with your family and friends because the present moment is all we have.

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