Breathing the same air, being in the same room with, sharing space - that's just physical presence. It's important, but not what is going to achieve intimacy in any relationship. Cleaning like a whirling dervish while your children sit on the couch watching Caillou isn't going to help you grow closer to them. Taking increasingly longer blinks while your children play with blocks nearby isn't going to create the kind of memories for them (or you) that will keep you close for life. Sitting in one chair while your child sits on another as you both stare at some mindless movie is not a bonding activity.
This kind of distance may work for you for now - that is to say, you may not see the consequences of it immediately - but, hopefully, you're not going for the short-term in this whole journey with your children. We're in it for the long-haul. That being the case, we have to look at what our actions (or lack of actions) today will do to and for our children (and ourselves) tomorrow...and the next day and the next year and the next decade.
For many, the concept of mental presence is vague and confusing. Let me see if I can help. Have you ever arrived home and found yourself unable to recall the drive? Obviously, you drove home. You were physically present. You weren't present, though. Your head wasn't really in the game. Now, you made it home, so (phew!) you lucked out this time. There may well come a time, though, that you don't. You'll veer off course, you'll crash and burn. Or, worse yet, you'll hurt someone else. This is what will happen to the relationships with your children if you continue being distant - not present...crash, burn, pain, death.
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed, touched out, or a bevy of other emotions that can cause you to retreat within yourself. Understandable. However, withdrawing from those you love the most - your children - can actually exacerbate those feelings, rather than solve the issues. Add that to the
So, what can you do? Lots of things, luckily! All hope is not lost, but it's going to take some work on your part and it's going to have to be a conscious effort on your part for a while until mental presence becomes habit. When you find yourself mentally checking out (congratulations, by the way, because your awareness of that is a huge step toward fixing it), try some of the following simple techniques to get yourself checked back in:
- As your children speak, repeat back to them what they're saying. Concentrating on their words will help you stay focused.
- Touch your children. Just brushing your hand on their cheek, rubbing their little foot, or smoothing their hair will activate your senses and bring you into the moment.
- Talk WITH your children. Don't ignore (ever), don't give pad answers, don't just nod and smile. LISTEN to what they're saying, repeat it back, add your own thoughts or ask a question. Converse.
- Breathe. I like "Box Breathing." Breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold for a count of four, out through your mouth for a count of four, hold for a count of four. Continue this until you've brought yourself back into the present and you've erased all the other head noises you had going on.
- Stand or sit up straight. Erect posture awakens the body and mind, allows for proper blood flow, and energizes you, so you are more able to engage.
- Find a mantra that you can say to yourself that will remind you to be mindful. "Right here, right now" works for me. Say aloud to yourself over and over for as long as it takes "right here, right now" until you are able to truly be right there at that very moment.
- Make eye contact. Look at your children. Look into their eyes. When they talk, when you talk - look at them. Those beautiful eyes are enough to ground anyone.
- Do something WITH your children. If you find yourself unable to stay focused, suggest an activity. This doesn't have to be anything special. Make a living room carpet-picnic WITH them. Make shadow puppets WITH them. Involve them in what you like to do - what your hobby is. Whatever you do, do it WITH them.
- Take note of all the little (cool) things about your children at that very moment. Does his forehead wrinkle adorably when he concentrates? Are her little nakey buns so squeezable when she stands there? Is the way he says "somefing" instead of "something" just the sweetest thing ever? Notice all the little things the way you did when they were newborns and you couldn't stop gazing at them.
- Identify those things which are particular distractions for you and eliminate or, at least, minimize them. Phone, TV, computer - do you really need those things on or nearby when you're with your children.
This is to say that you have to spend every waking moment glued to your children, dismissing all of your own needs and wants. That's not healthy either. It is to say that when you DO spend time with your children, REALLY spend time with your children. Give them all of you.
As I said, this may be a lot harder for some than for others. I promise you, though, it's worth it. It's worth it to your health and well-being, it's worth it to your babes, it's worth it to the babes they may someday grow to have with whom they will have an understanding of the importance of being present - really and truly present.