Monday, July 27, 2009

The Gift of True Presence

Yesterday when I was hiking I saw something that always makes me a little sad. A father was hiking with his 10 or 11 year old daughter. She was out in front of him, excitedly using her hiking poles as she walked along the trail. He was lagging behind her, which seemed odd, since he was obviously a fit guy. I was approaching them from behind, and as I got close to them the little girl said, "Daddy! PLEASE get off that phone! You've been on it forever!!"

Has I passed him on the trail, I could see that he was actually texting as he walked along the trail!

Here he is, out for a hike with his daughter and he's texting! The little girl was obviously frustrated. I sincerely doubt this is the first time her dad has been 'with her' without really being with her.

It drives me crazy when people ignore their kids like that. It was obviously an activity they were supposed to be doing together, but some other relationship (I'm guessing a girl friend) was more important to him in that moment than spending that precious moment with his child. He was only half present.

I've observed this with people in my own life at various times. They act like their children aren't even there - because of something that they want to give their attention to. Now obviuosly in parenting, one must be a master juggler, and kids can't always have 100% of a parent's attention. I get that.

Far too often, however, kids take the 'back seat' to other relationships and needs of the parent, when it really isn't appropriate... or fair!

Giving true attention and presence to a child (or anyone else in one's life) is a precious gift. Think about how it feels when someone is really 'with' you and you know it. It feels good to be given that attention and that time to connect.

Kids really like me, and I think one of the reasons is that when I'm with kids, I really am WITH them. I get down on their level, (if they are small kids anyway) and I talk to them about life in their world. I'm interested. I care. I work on giving them my presence as well as my attention. If I need to focus on something else, I don't pretend to be with them, I let them know I need to do something else for a period of time, and that I'll be back. It's honest, and it teaches kids about true presence and relationship. Not about 'saying' you have a relationship, but then checking out into other activities when you are claiming to 'spend time' together.

If I had a choice to spend 15 minutes really connected to someone I care about, versus an hour of having them hang out with me but ignore me for 45 minutes, I'd take the 15 minutes any day. We waste each other's time when we commit to spending time together and then distract ourself with other people or tasks.

Especially with kids, we send a message that they just aren't as important as other aspects of our lives when we are constantly distracted in their presence. Life is busy and multitasking is a fact of life. That means it's even more important than ever to set aside quality, undistracted time to be with our kids. They deserve to have that experience and not always be treated as something that can be put on hold when the phone rings or the text message comes in.

Be present. Give true attention to the people you care about. Your relationships will all improve... guaranteed!