A father was painting the outside of his home. His five-year-old son wanted to help. So this good father gave his son an old shirt with the sleeves rolled up several times. They both went to work on the door, dad painting the top and son painting the bottom. It just happened to be the main entrance.
Now because of his age and size, the young boy wasn’t able to spread the paint evenly and consequently, the paint was beading up. That certainly wasn’t how the father envisioned his front door. So each time the five-year-old bent down to get more paint the father would hastily smooth out the paint on the bottom panel. It couldn’t do any harm, the boy didn’t know what was happening and the door sure would look better.
Well, father and son painted in silence for a time, the boy doing his best and the father smoothing it out. As the father thought about the situation and his redoing of his son’s work he decided that working with his son trumped a first-class paint job. He realized that his son was doing a mighty fine job for a five-year-old. The relationship that was being forged over the painting of a door was more significant to the father than the appearance of the door. He stopped smoothing out his son’s work.
Ever after that when the father approached the front door and saw its distinctive style of decoration he was reminded of what is really important.
The father of this five-year-old boy spoke about his own experiences with his father. His father had a workshop in which he made wonderful things. The son said, “I would wander into this workshop and watch him. Just to be in his presence was a thrill for me. He invited me to help him by passing a hammer, a screwdriver, or some other tool. I was convinced that my help was necessary and that without me he would not be able to complete his task.
As I look back and reflect upon those wonderful memories, I realize that my contribution was not necessary for my father to complete the work he was engaged in. I was the beneficiary, as through these experiences I came to know him and to love him. I came to know about a Fathers Role In Parenting.” We All Have a Father in Whom We Can Trust”, Ensign, May 1994, 30
Relationship vs Outcome
Sometimes parents care too much about the outcome and too little about the relationship. When we take time to be present with our children we give them the opportunity to know and love us. We give them a gift. And they return that gift by loving us back. It’s the best use of our time because the relationship that develops is the thing of greatest significance.
When you are older and they have gone from home, you will be glad that you spent the bulk of your time on forging relationships rather than on the outcome of the myriad projects parents need to do.
It’s helpful to know and understand that moments of connection can happen during the daily activities we engage in already. It needn’t be out of the ordinary, planned ahead or take extra time.
“In the intervals of the game, while Uncle Henry was pondering over his moves, the little girl looked down at her pets and listened absently to the keen autumnal wind that swept around the old house, shaking the shutters and rattling the windows. A stick of wood in the stove burned in two and fell together with a soft, whispering sound. The lamp cast a steady radiance on Uncle Henry bent seriously over the checker-board, on Molly’s blooming, round cheeks and bright hair, on Aunt Abigail’s rosy, cheerful, wrinkled old face, and on Cousin Ann’s quiet, clear, dark eyes. . . .That room was full to the brim of something beautiful, and Betsy knew what it was. Its name was Happiness.”
These are the final words of a book I enjoy so much, Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield. I liked it as a young girl and I reread it as an adult. Then I read it to my grandchildren.
Presence, What it is and What it Isn’t
One thing I enjoy about this old classic is that it’s all about being Present, what it is and what it isn’t.
Betsy unexpectedly found herself an orphan and went to live with her Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances. These two dear old ladies were obsessed with taking care of Betsy. If you asked them they would say they were really Present. But they weren’t. They had confused being Present with taking care of all that’s required when you have children. They were stuck in what I like to call management vs. relationship.
Then Betsy goes to live in Vermont, with her mother’s family, the Putney’s. They often seem un-present. But they aren’t. They get Presence – It’s the gift of our full attention, our whole self, nothing held back, and it can take as little as five minutes or less.
Being Present isn’t as much about time as it is about our understanding of how to find moments to be Present when we’re busy, when we’re living our regular everyday lives.
I will never forget the father with teary eyes, at the end of a live event, who said he had always wanted to connect with his children consistently but hadn’t known how. He was short on time!
This father was gone each day working eight or more hours. When he came home it was difficult to connect with each child in a meaningful way. There was so much competing for his time in the few hours they had before bed. There was the deluge of homework, mealtime, and the chaos of getting kids to sleep. Not to mention his need for downtime to unwind from a busy day.
What brought tears to this father’s eyes was the comfort of knowing he could connect in meaningful ways with the time he had. He felt the information was life-changing. Frankly, understanding how to connect in everyday ways is family changing.
A TED Talk on Being Present, Sorta
Nigel Marsh tackled the thorny issue of work-life balance in a TED talk.It addresses head on what that teary-eyed father was feeling. As you listen, change the words work-life balance to work-presence balance. Stick with it to the last 2 ½ minutes and you’ll be glad you did.
That’s the problem that we face the most isn’t it; too busy to really be Present with those we love, hence we feel unbalanced. The corporate executive isn’t the only one who gets caught in this web. It happens to stay at home moms and dads, as well as those who leave home and go to work. It happened to Betsy’s aging aunts.
But with just a tweak in the way we think about what we’re already doing every day we can get a clear vision of what Presence at home, with our children, is really all about.
Today take the time to get the FREE chapterTouchpoints from my book Becoming a Present Parent and begin making this family altering change in your own life. Learn how to be a more Present parent. Then take the time to read this beautiful and cheery little book to your children or grandchildren.
In 2011 one of my daughter’s, with four children, remarried. Another daughter and I went to her home to care for her kids while she was gone on her honeymoon. We took three children with us. That makes 7 children, right? But not to worry, after all, we had two moms to handle the job of caring for seven children, ages 1 to 11. How hard could it be?
Well, I cooked….and cooked….and cooked…..does it ever stop? Only when it’s bedtime, that is, if no one wakes up in the night and needs a bottle, a drink of water or a small snack!
I washed and folded….washed and folded….washed and folded mountains of clothes, bedding….really mountains! We started with one very ill child and by the end of a week’s time, we were up to four. That’s a lot of throw up!
My daughter, Jodie, picked up….and picked up….and picked up….does it ever end. Only if it’s warm outside and everyone wants to go out. But it was winter, cold, and cloudy. Everyone was indoors dressing up, gluing, cutting, taping, and playing games with a million pieces, not to mention the puzzles.
Jodie played referee…and played referee…and played referee….stop already! But there were three girls
who all need the hairbrush at the same time and who wanted to wear the same princess dress. There were two three-year-old boys just learning to share, you get the picture.
Of course in all this cooking, washing and folding, picking up and refereeing we had to live our regular life of doing important stuff, right? We cleaned the house top to bottom, over and over again. We kept hoping it would stay clean for the bride’s homecoming.
We painted the brides living room and dining room; our wedding present for their open house later that week. Try doing that with one, one year old, two three-year-olds and one 4-year-old with cerebral palsy. We were either extraordinarily courageous or abysmally foolish. We felt we were both by the time we were done.
On the last day, after three of the girls had gone to school, one three-year-old had gone to relatives and we were left with just three children, we gazed tiredly at the strewn living room floor, the chaotic playroom and envisioned the six-hour drive home. Jodie looked at me and said, “Gee, mom, there are two of us and we couldn’t keep up.” I couldn’t help laughing tiredly because it was so true.
I’m sharing this experience with you because I want to make two very important points.
What feels like failure is the process…
First, if two moms struggled, what happens to one mom who does this kind of thing 24/7, 365 days a year? Well, she gets tired and discouraged. It comes with the territory; motherhood is the hardest job in the world. The best we can hope for are glimmers of occasional peace, a few quiet moments of self-care, sloppy kisses and an occasional “you’re the best mom.”
The house will be orderly and clean sometimes but not most of the time. Children will be gracious and kind to one another occasionally but sometimes they’ll forget. A meal will never satisfy until the next meal. Laundry is perpetual and so is folding. Nothing is perfect except for the fact that we have the best job in the world.
Yes, motherhood is the hardest, but the best job in the world. We’re raising people who will make a difference in the lives of others, just as soon as they grow up a bit more.
So take heart. What feels like failure is really just the process of raising a number of children in one house until they’re grown enough to start their own house and repeat the process.
Second, I was reminded of how much effort it takes to be Present. This one thing, which can change a family dramatically, is not always easy.
I’m thinking of the night that I tiredly put all seven children to bed. This was after about 30 minutes of trying to read Understood Betsy to the four oldest girls. The two three-year-olds were everywhere, buzzing their trucks, jumping on the bed, jumping off the bed. We had to stop reading repeatedly to remind them of the rules for quiet time reading, something that was new to them.
As a matter of fact, I had to keep reminding the four older girls also. Finally, I just shut the book and said, “lights out”. I couldn’t wait to hear quiet!
After another twenty minutes of child wrangling, I managed to have everyone in bed. It was quiet, at least for the moment. I stood in the hall with a slightly dissatisfied feeling. I had gone through the grandma motions of reading and tucking but I was focused on getting them all quiet. After all, it had been a loooong day!
As I stood there I remembered that being Present, even for short amounts of time, heals hearts, soothes feeling, opens gates to communication, deepens love and satisfies tired adults and children. So I tiptoed back into every room and kissed and hugged and spoke quietly to each child. It took under 20 minutes but it made all the difference in an otherwise very chaotic and busy day.
Being present is a gift you give to your children and yourself. It takes practice, practice, practice. But this one thing will secure you dividends in your family that you cannot imagine, even if you are only present for a moment at a time.
Would you like to have help practicingthe skill of being Present in your everyday activities, not adding anything new, time-consuming or costly, just utilizing what already happens in your every day? You can get the chapter onTouchpointsFREE. It will walk you through how to make your daily points of contention into points of connection.
Please share your experiences of being present with your children and how it makes you and them feel. Use the comment section. I want to hear from you!
We often think of taking care of ourselves as being child-free, away from home, in quiet. But if that’s the definition of self-care, most moms and dads are going to get precious little of it.
When we’re looking for alone time, we need to get creative. How can it be managed right where we are, without expending too much money or time? How can it be made doable even with small children? There’s always a way to care for yourself right where you are.
Here are three examples of how parents got creative in order to take better care of themselves. They’re about moms but this applies equally well to dads.
Deon was feeling burnt out and needed a way to have space away from her family when she felt over the top. In one of our conversations, she told me about her bedroom. It had a lovely window seat that looked out onto a green field. The problem was it was the messiest room in her home. So together we came up with a list of things that she could easily do to make it an inviting space.
She cleared all the stuff off of the window seat and got a basket for her husband to put his stuff in—so it would stay cleaned off. She made changes in how they managed the laundry, so it wasn’t always piled on her bed. She painted a wall. She added her favorite books to the window seat.
Deon talked with her family. She told them that when it became difficult to react the way she wanted, she was going to her room to regroup for 5 minutes. She would take a personal time out. She asked for their support in allowing her to do this when she needed to. They all agreed to help her out. (Yes, she does have a couple of small children.)
When Deon is on the verge of exploding or ceasing to be the adult, she retreats to her bedroom. She sits in the window seat and looks out on the field. She breathes deeply; she may read one or two paragraphs in her book. Then she heads back out into the fray. She’s managing better, her kids are happier, and her husband is relieved. This experiment has had a positive impact on all of them.
Amy has multiple health issues that tax her strength and resources for parenting. She expressed her desire for alone time each week so she could paint and write, feel better, and get a handle on her health.
Finding time wasn’t her only issue. She also has a child with serious health problems. Amy worried that if she took time away from her family, something might come up with her ill child and her husband wouldn’t be able to handle it
Nevertheless, she was willing to try an experiment. She asked her husband if he would take over for two hours a week, in the evening, so she could write or paint. He was open to the idea.
Amy chose a room at the other end of the house, away from the family room where her husband and children would spend their time. That way she could have her quiet time and be close at hand in case of an emergency.
The first week was a grand success. Amy was frankly impressed with her husband and was surprised that he managed so well without her. She was equally surprised that her kids managed without her. She’s been doing this for a while now. It’s given her husband an opportunity to be with the kids, and she’s been able to fulfill her need to write, paint, and have time to herself. The whole family is happier.
Melanie has a large family, and her husband is often gone. She wants time to be by herself and read. She asked me how I find time to read because I raised a large family and now I live in the same home as my grandkids.
I mentioned to her that my bathroom was my retreat. I shared the simple things I’ve done to make it a sanctuary. A beautiful picture hangs on the wall. My favorite colors are in the shower curtain and rugs. A vase of flowers sits on the floor. Most importantly, there’s a basket of fabulous books and magazines next to the toilet.
When I go into the bathroom, which is at least three times a day, I read one to three paragraphs. Occasionally I’m lucky and get a whole page. You’d be amazed at how much you can read in a year, one to three paragraphs at a time.
Melanie decided to give it a try. One of her worries was that her bathroom was always so messy because of the kids. When she began putting it to rights, she discovered that almost all of the clutter was hers. She devised simple systems to keep her stuff corralled. She added flowers, a new rug, and a basket of books. At last report, she was enjoying her mini-moments of peace and reading. It has made her feel more taken care of, and she’s happier with her children.
You’re going to spend far more time with your children than you’re going to spend without them, so it’s imperative to learn how to self-care while you’re in the thick of parenting. It’s simple, it’s doable, and it takes small amounts of time and virtually no money; but it can and will pay huge dividends.
Self-care can be as simple and plain as having a cup of herbal tea while you read to your children. It might be taking a few deep breaths while soothing a screaming child. You could turn on your favorite music and dance in the living room with your kids. Add laughter!
Self-care can be taking a walk with your children to take the edge off the day. Sitting in the swing and watching your children play can give you fresh air and a breather from all that you’re feeling pressed to do. Go to the bathroom more often if that’s what will buy you a few moments alone.
When you’re on the edge of losing your temper, getting irritable, or feeling resentful, ask yourself what you need to stay in control. Pay attention to yourself.
What are the creative ways that you use to find some time to care for yourself? I would LOVE to hear about them.
Here’s to more joy,
GREAT NEWS!!!!!! Just in time for the holiday season. On December 21st I will be giving away 5 copies of Becoming a Present Parent via a Goodreads Give Away. There are no strings attached. You won’t be added to any lists. So head on over and enter. You just may be a WINNER!
One day while helping a friend in her home she asked me if I ever felt as if I was at war with my family. She said that if anything was organized it wouldn’t stay that way. If it was clean it would get dirty. If it was peaceful chaos would inevitably show up.
I understood her frustration. After all, I had raised seven children. However, somewhere along the way, I had a mighty change of heart. I went from waging war to ministering to my family. It was a slight mental shift in how I looked at the work required to manage my family and it has made a huge difference in how I feel on busy and chaotic days.
When we step out of management mode we begin to ‘see’ the needs of those in our family and we’re better able to step into the service and kindness mode. We put ourselves in a place where we’re able to be Present. We see the ‘one’ and minister to them rather than being upset that there is one more thing to take care of.
As parents, one of our greatest responsibilities is to help our children become successful adults. I have found that the most successful adults I know are generous and kind. They serve others. They ‘see’ people and reach out.
Last Sunday one of my grandchildren was ill and one parent had to stay home with them. That caused the rest of the family to run late. In our church, the Sacrament is passed early in the meeting and my daughter worried that they wouldn’t get there in time. Sure enough, they missed the bread portion of the ceremony. She was deeply disappointed.
Then the children who were with her began to struggle to be still and they all ended up out in the hall. Her nine-year-old son, Jack, reached out and touched his mom on the arm and said, “Mom, I’m sorry we missed the bread and that we’re out in the hall.”
This is a perfect example of a person ‘seeing’ the need of another and this someone was just nine years old.
That same nine-year-old ‘saw’ me the other day. It had been a long day. I had been doing a lot of physical labor and I was tired. In fact, I was feeling a bit old. Jack came to me and said, “Grandma, I really like that shirt. You look good in it.” As you can imagine I felt better.
Jack has learned from the example of his parents to ‘see’. He has learned the value of kindness and service within his family because his parents serve their children rather than just managing them.
As I was beginning to transition from being in constant management mode in my family to serving my spouse and children I remember watching a video of a real-life experience that helped me see the difference between working in a family and serving the family.
A man with a very important job was leaving his home to go to a very important meeting. He had on a suit and tie. As he descended the stairs he saw his eighteen-month-old crawling up the stairs. He picked her up to give her a hug and say goodbye and found that she needed a diaper change.
This busy and important man, this father, did not call his equally busy wife. He got a diaper and wipes and sat down at the top of the stairs and changed his daughter. While he served his daughter he smiled and talked with her. He ‘saw’ his daughters need. He was also aware of the need of his wife. He served them both with great kindness and did not feel put upon while doing it. He was not in management mode but in the kindness and service mode.
WHY MAKE A MENTAL SHIFT
There are some very good reasons to work on this slight mental shift, from management to service:
• When we lose ourselves in service to others we grow and flourish. So do our children.
• When we feel that the work we do is serving rather than a burden we feel less overwhelmed.
• With this slight mental shift, we’re able to remain calm when things aren’t going well.
• When we serve our family we model it for our children who become kinder.
• Families who have a culture of service and kindness sustain one another better.
• In fact, as we serve rather than wage war, we begin to create a culture of kindness and serviceability.
In today’s world, there are many opportunities to reach out and serve. Let’s begin in our own families. Consider it a privilege rather than a daily burden. You can’t and won’t respond this way all of the time. But if you can slip into this mindset even a few times each day you will feel better about parenting and you will have more joy in the work that you do.
What service have you given to or received from your children? Please comment. I would love to hear your experiences.
In her book Daffodil Principle: One Woman, Two Hands, One Bulb at a Time, Jaroldeen Edwards recounts the day her daughter, Carolyn, drove her to Lake Arrowhead to visit a daffodil garden. It wasn’t just any daffodil garden. It turned out to be five acres of beautiful golden flowers nodding in the breeze.
As Jaroldeen gasped in amazement, she asked the question that everyone who visited the garden asked, “Who did this?” On the porch of a small and neat A-frame house was a poster answering the question.
The first response to how many flowers there were was “50,000 bulbs.” The second fact listed was, “One at a time, by one woman, two hands, two feet, and very little brain.” The third was, “Began in 1958” (Edwards, Daffodil Principle).
When we multiply small amounts of time, with small increments of daily effort, consistently, we can accomplish magnificent things.
Last week I shared that it took me almost fifty years to learn to read music and almost ten to learn to sew. I had to keep practicing and getting help from those in my life who knew more than I did in order to eventually sew and sing well.
Whenever you hear that a person has achieved an extraordinary goal, rarely, if ever, are you told the process they used—that is, the ordinary actions they took consistently. You only hear the outcome.
We’re led to believe extraordinary successes in business, home, parenting or life are a result of significant actions, but they’re not—they’re a result of daily actions done consistently over time.
I enjoy the story of Naaman found in the King James Bible. Naaman was a captain for the king of Syria, “a great man with his master . . . because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: . . . a mighty man in valor, but . . . a leper.” (2 Kings 5:1).
At the direction of his king, Naaman went to Elisha the prophet to be healed of his dreaded affliction. When Naaman got to Elisha’s house, Elisha sent a messenger out to him who said, “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean” (2 Kings 5:10).
Wow, Naaman wasn’t even going to have to do the consistently, over time thing. He was only going to have to repeat the action a mere seven times. But Naaman was angry with Elisha. He felt the prophet should have come out of his house to see him and he should have done some big thing to take care of this big problem.
He said, “I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper” (2 Kings 5:11)
Naaman was ready to go away in disgust at the simple instructions he received, but he had a wise servant who reminded him of the principle we’ve been discussing—simple things, done over time consistently, bring significant results. His servant said, “If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” (2 Kings 5:13).
Naaman came to his senses and he “dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2Kings 5:15).
As parents, I think we are, at times, like Naaman. We know we have problems and issues, but we expect a significant or seemingly important thing to come along and bail us out of our affliction. In reality, it is truly the small and simple things we can do daily that, in the end, will make all the difference.
Understanding this is especially important in parenting because it nearly always takes until a child leaves home and creates their own life to see the results of our efforts to parent well, teach our children and create a wholesome and happy family culture.
While they’re growing, it’s tempting to let ourselves feel failure because we don’t see our children as learning the important lessons that will help them be successful people. Often we feel there is something amiss in our family culture or in how we parent.
Remaining Present while we parent, not checking out because of discouragement or feeling overwhelmed, is dependent on doing simple things consistently rather than searching for a one-time fix.
Have you ever found yourself in Naaman’s shoes? I certainly have. But now that all of my children are grown and gone I can look back and see that it truly was the small and simple things that we did consistently for their whole lives that made the real difference. I’d love your comments.
Recently I attended a parenting event. I had the opportunity to ask a few parents what they wanted to know. One woman’s response was poignant – How do I manage to connect with a teen if no foundation has been laid?
I could feel her pain. I raised seven children and I know that the teen years can be difficult. We can feel estranged from youth that we love. We can know they love us and still feel a big disconnect. However, building a relationship with teens is the same as building a relationship with anyone else. It takes being Present which sends the clear message I SEE you, I HEAR you, you MATTER to me. If you haven’t built a relationship of trust and connectedness it is never too late to begin.
There are many avenues to being Present. Let’s consider two that are particularly effective with youth.
A random touch is just that, random. They don’t require any reason for the touch or hug. They happen whenever you’re in close proximity to your youth. They’re effective with children, youth, and adult children.
Here are a few examples of what a random touch looks like in real life:
• If you see your youth sitting on the couch, at the table, on their bed or anywhere, stop, sit close to them, stay for 10–20 seconds, squeeze a knee or give a quick hug, and go on your way. No need to say a word.
• In the morning go into your youth’s room to wake them up. Don’t stand in the hall and yell “Get up.” Go in; give a gentle shake to the shoulder and maybe a hug. Say, “Hey buddy. It’s time to get up.” It’s going to take a few more seconds than yelling from the hall, but it will build your relationship.
• As you walk through a room or down the hall and see your youth, look them in the eye and smile. Touch them on their back, arm, or shoulder as they pass by. Don’t say anything; just give a squeeze or a pat. You can do this a dozen times a day and use up only a few minutes.
• When you’re moving from one room to another (as you go through your day) and you see your youth, make a small detour. Grab them and tickle them for a few moments, just long enough to get a little tussle going. Then gently punch a shoulder or tousle a head and move on.
• When you’re walking together put your hand on their back or shoulder for a few moments at a time.
• Rub or scratch your youths back while sitting in church, in the doctor’s waiting room, and so on.
If you have a youth who doesn’t like to be touched, then respect their boundaries, experiment to find out what is acceptable to them. A teen may not want to be hugged but may allow you to rub their back or pat their shoulder.
I want you to understand how powerful this one skill can be in changing the dynamics of your relationship with a youth. It’s easy to do, takes only moments and practically shouts “You matter”.
A Success Story
I worked with a mother who was having significant relationship issues with her seventeen-year-old daughter, who was getting ready to graduate. The mom was often irritated by her daughter. They avoided each other in order to not argue.
As we talked about how she could reconnect their broken relationship, she decided to experiment with giving her daughter as many random touches as she could remember each day. I’ve seen random touch produce amazing healing in relationships, so I felt confident in offering it to this mother as an experiment.
In one week it improved her and her daughter’s relationship significantly. They were beginning to talk more. Mom felt less annoyed by her daughter. She was more aware of her daughter. She had begun responding in calmer and more loving ways. They had even made plans to go to lunch together.
Mom said later that using random touch had changed how she was with all of her children. And in turn, it has changed how they responded to her, including her seventeen-year-old daughter.
When I was raising my children, I had many opportunities to use transition times to be Present with my youth. When they return home in the evening or late at night is a perfect transition time to connect and help them ease back into the family. Be prepared to pay the price required to connect with youth—a small amount of your T-I-M-E.
Leave the TV, the ironing, the email, and Facebook. Meet them when you hear the door open. Look them in the eye and smile. Touch a shoulder. Say, “I’m so glad you’re home. How did it go?” You may get nothing more than a quick “OK.” That’s all right because they’ll feel your Presence. Now and then you’ll get more. They will, in turn, be Present with you and share feelings. These can be precious, sweet, and, at times, crucial moments.
As a youth, when I left home, I would go out the door and yell “Bye Mom.” From some far-flung place in the house, I would hear her call back “Bye Mary. Be safe.” This scenario was repeated often.
There isn’t anything wrong with this. But what if my mom had replied, “Wait a minute,” and had come quickly to the door? What if she had looked me in the eye, smiled, laid a hand on my shoulder, and said, “Bye Mary. Be safe”? Can you feel the difference? Can you sense the Presence I would have felt at sixteen? Do you think it would have made a difference for me?
Coming to see me off would have cost my mother something. It would have cost her T-I-M-E. Time is a precious commodity. That is why it’s so powerful when we give our precious time to our children and are Present. There’s an innate knowledge that you have received a gift and it’s valuable.
This can also work in reverse when you’re returning after a long day. My friend Tiffany has a teen-aged son. One day when she returned home from shopping, he met her in the driveway and offered to carry in the groceries, an uncommon occurrence.
Although she was tired and anxious to get things put away and dinner started, she got Present. She watched her son as he carried in the groceries and paid attention to his body language. When the groceries were on the counter she asked, “What happened today?” Her son opened up and shared an experience that was bothering him.
My friend said, “I almost missed this opportunity because I was transitioning back home and I was tired and had an agenda. I’m so glad I stopped and got Present.”
Are you getting a sense of how you can use transitions to be Present and create more connected relationships? You won’t be able to do this all the time. You’ll run late for work. A work-at-home parent may have a deadline. You may miss a youth coming back. But as much as possible, we can use transition times to be Present with our children. When we do, we build relationships, we bond our family, and, frankly, we are happier.
If we are just beginning to create a connected relationship with our youth then it will take some time. It will take consistency. It doesn’t require that we do big things. It requires that we connect daily in these very small ways, day after day and week after week; as we consistently touch and use the comings and going of our day to connect it will make a difference. Trust can and will be built. A sense of connection will be forged.
What is your experience with connecting with youth? What have you used that has worked well? Leave a comment and I will respond. : )
Our brains are wired to create a story around all of our experiences. It all begins with a thought. Once we have a thought, if we hold it in our minds, it becomes a story because our brain does its job and goes to the files and finds evidence that our thought is correct; usually, evidence based on past experiences. This process takes fractions of seconds.
Once we have our story, feelings are generated. These feelings move us to an action or response. Our response produces a result, either good or bad. This little scenario repeats itself hundreds of times each day. The better the response the better the result. We can’t run away from this principle. We live it out whether we understand and accept it or not.
Today I want to illustrate how our story can impact our response.
My husband Don is a gadget man. One fall he bought a new stove top grill at the county fair and was excited to use it. The next morning was Sunday, and we needed to get to a very important reception right after church. I said to Don, “Honey, there isn’t time to grill chicken today and make it to the reception. You’ll have to grill chicken tomorrow.”
After church, Don was nowhere to be seen. I surmised he had left early to go home and grill chicken! Sure enough, when I got home the grill was on and he was cooking. We were going to be late for the reception!
When we got to the reception, they were cleaning up. The bride and groom had left. I was so angry!
Here was my heat of the moment story—“There are only two reasons Don would have done this. Either he didn’t hear a word I said because he doesn’t listen to me, or he didn’t care what I said.”
I was practiced at controlling my thoughts by now, and I knew this particular story was about blame and would color our relationship for weeks. Not appealing at all. So I looked for a new story. “I know Don. He loves me. He isn’t insensitive. There must be another reason he went ahead and grilled that chicken.”
Later in the evening I calmly said, “Don, remember when I said there wasn’t time to grill chicken today. I can see two reasons why you went ahead and did it. Either you didn’t hear what I said this morning, or you didn’t care what I wanted. But I know you, and you love me. You’re not insensitive. So there must be a reason I haven’t thought of.”
He looked at me with a stricken face and replied, “Gosh Mary, I thought I could do it in time. I thought the whole thing would take thirty minutes. I didn’t know it would take so long.”
I had to laugh because I could tell from his poor face he had really believed it would only take thirty minutes and was shocked to find out it wasn’t true. He never intended to ignore me or hurt me or make us late. He didn’t plan anything of the kind. He was moving forward based on an unrealistic expectation.
I was able to revise my story, even in the heat of the moment, because I took responsibility. I stopped blaming. I could see my story was the issue, not Don’s actions.
When I changed from a blaming, negative story to a more positive story I was able to come up with a plan for moving forward that got me a really good result. When we take responsibility for what we think and how it makes us feel we will be able to respond to negative situations better. That will have a VERY positive and connecting impact on our families.
What has been your experience with taking control of what you think and feel? Please share in the comments section.
Can we get our work done AND still build family relationships?
I went to Seattle to visit my youngest daughter’s family and to participate in her husband’s graduation. When we walked in the house from the airport at 11:30 that night we had to step over toys, shoes, the day’s clothes, etc. My daughter looked at me and said, “Mom I cleaned this house twice for you.” I smiled. I know that feeling. I also know that she has two small, busy children and that she spends time with them.
When I visit my daughter Marie, who has five children, the same scenario is repeated. She always asks me why I pick some major thing to clean every time I come. Well, it’s because I know what a challenge it is to stay on top of the daily things, let alone get any deep cleaning done, especially when you are willing to put it aside to help a five-year-old ride her bike or create a superhero costume for a nine-year-old son.
I live with my oldest daughter and her family, in an attached apartment. So I see what goes on there even more intimately. It is almost always slightly chaotic. The floor is rarely uncluttered for more than a few hours at a time. But I see her stop what she is doing to help any one of her four children with whatever project or need they may have. In fact, I have thought to myself, “Man, I would have told them I would help them later.” You see, I still have to work on being Present!
There are many things we have to DO to manage our home and family. They have to be done. Good mothers and fathers take care of the physical needs of their home and children. They cook, clean, care for the yard, do laundry, teach, admonish, and model appropriate behavior.
Being Present happens when we stop long enough to actually see and hear our child, when we step out of management mode and into relationship building even for just a few minutes at a time.
Let me give you an example of leaving the job of family management for the joy of relationship.
We have all moved to a new city. It has taken a few months of remodeling the old home while we still lived there, living in temporary quarters while we found a new home, and now living in another remodeling mess. It has been chaotic and stressful, to say the least. We haven’t been able to fully move in and it has been over a month and a half. All of us, including the children, have had to deal with a great deal of stress.
A couple of days ago, after a long day of work, Doug was trying to get the
new table assembled so their family can finally eat a meal sitting together. This was a project which not only needed to be done; it was a project that felt important to the family fabric after weeks of chaos.
At the same time Ben, who is five, found an app that he desperately wanted to download onto his tablet. Mom was at the hospital with his sister, Maggie, who had just had major surgery. So he asked his Dad to help him call his mom so he could get the code to download the app.
As his Dad continued to work on the table Ben repeated his query. “Dad, can you help me.” “I really want to download this app.” “Dad, this is a super game and you will like it.” “Please, call mom.”
Doug responded to Ben’s repeated questions about the app while still working on the table. “You can’t download anything if it costs money.” “Your mom can help you when she gets home.” “I have to get this table done.” “Wait a minute.” “Ben, you can’t download anything until I look at it.” This went on, back and forth between them, for about thirty minutes. I could see that Doug’s patience was thinning. He exclaimed, “Ben, you’re killing me son.”
Then Doug did a wise and wonderful thing. He stopped working on the table. He walked over to Ben, took hold of his hands and looked him in the eye. He asked, “Ben, what app are you talking about. Show me.”
In about five minutes they had the app downloaded and Ben was happily working on it and Dad was back finishing the table.
We often postpone or even neglect these types of Present moments because we think they will take a lot of time. But being Present usually happens in less than five minutes. It is something we can learn to do every day and use only minutes of our time. It is a doable skill that any parent can practice and learn.
Did you notice the four simple things that Doug did that led him to a magical Present moment with his son? First, he stopped. Second, he turned away from what he was doing. Third, he looked fully into his son’s face. Fourth, he touched his child. In that moment I saw his heart soften, his focus change from the table to his son. It was magical, simple, and it only took him five minutes to take care of Ben’s need.
We can all be more Present parents if we will learn to STOP, TURN away from whatever we are doing, LOOK into our child’s eyes, and then TOUCH them.
Regularly I pick a verse of scripture to think on and memorize. I appreciate the discipline and I like the messages. A few years ago I choose Matthew 13:16: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” May we all be blessed in our relationships as we practice the art of being Present – STOP, TURN, LOOK and TOUCH.
What are your struggles with being Present in your day to day activities? Share and let me respond. : )
I had a friend ask me a very interesting question the other day. “Did you write your book because you had troubles in your own family?” That was a fair question but the answer was NO. That isn’t why I wrote it.
I raised seven beautiful, gifted and loving children. We lived most of those child-rearing years in a very small town in Montana. However, when we had only one child left at home we moved to Utah.
In Utah, I met many parents from the homeschool community because my daughter was planning on homeschooling. I really enjoyed the associations as I had also homeschooled my two youngest children for a few years. I began attending conferences, talking with others and reading about homeschool topics.
One day I read about putting school supplies into a closet and then using the contents to get kids really excited about learning. I liked the idea. My oldest daughter reminded me that we had used something like this all her growing up years. It was familiar to me and I loved the concept. So I started talking about it with everyone.
The Puzzle that Led to the Book
Here is what I discovered – as wonderful as the concept was it wasn’t working for most families. That puzzled me. So I started watching what parents were doing and I came up with some principles that made the concept work. I asked five families to test out my theory and then I increased it to seventy families. The principles worked.
The first time I taught a class on the Spark Station, the name I gave this learning tool, there was standing room only. There was a lot of interest in a tool that could help kids love learning.
I spent the next few years teaching parents all over the country how to use the Spark Station and the principles. In the process, I discovered that these were life principles. They didn’t just make the Spark Station work better, when implemented they made life work better. They helped parents do their job better. That was the first shift.
Then I realized that the Spark Station wasn’t just a tool to inspire kids to learn. I began to see that it was a way for parents to connect with their children, to be Present with them . That was the second shift.
I was fascinated with this idea of being Present despite the business of life. So I began working with families. I discovered ways to help parents utilize what was already happening in their homes to connect daily with their kids. I helped them hone skills that made it easier to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ their kids. I began teaching the difference between kids and adults and how they approach life. I helped parents spend less time in management and more time in relationship building. I wrote over 400 articles on these topics.
I received so many emails from people who had attended classes, workshops, webinars, and presentations saying that this information was life changing for them. I knew there had to be a way to broaden the audience and touch more families. That is how the book was born.
I was able to reach back into my own parenting and compare what I knew and did then with what I know and I teach now and that has been very helpful. But it was the results of families just like your family that moved me in the direction of a book.
This book can be life changing for any parent and for anyone who wants to have better relationships. I hope you read it and then let me know how it impacts your family. I want to hear from you!
“Being a single woman, without children, I wasn’t sure what value this book would have for me. It impacted me greatly! I have set a goal to re-read it every few years. It’s not just a book about being a Present parent. It’s a book about being a Present person. Jenny Johnson, M.A., CCC-SLP
Every family, every person must read it ASAP in order to find presence in life, not just with children, but with all relationships. I have enjoyed it profoundly… Jason Hewlett, Dad and Speaker
I’m not much of a reader. Unless a book catches my attention within the first few pages, I seldom read it all the way through. This book not only drew me in from the beginning but I finally had to make myself stop reading and go to bed. “Becoming a Present Parent” will be one of those life-changing books for parents and for anyone who wants to have an amazing relationship with [a] child. Well worth the read. Cindy Winward, Mother of four grown children and mentor at Midwives College of Utah
MaryAnn is a master at helping you become a more present parent. Each chapter is filled with actionable insight and real-life steps in helping you stay “checked in” with your children, a difficult thing in this distracting world. I love how Mary Ann teaches us how to truly connect with our children. Ann Webb, Humanitarian, Author and Founder of Ideal LifeVision
You may read Becoming a Present Parent all the way through one time. But then you’ll come back to it time and again to refresh on certain topics at the very time you need them. My guess is your copy will become dog-eared and marked up, and will become like a comfortable friend. Norma Jean Lutz, Author, Speaker, Editor, Novel Critique Consultant, Ghostwriter
Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017