“Mama, I’m driving my truck!”
“Where are you going?” I ask, without looking up from the dishes.
“I’m going to the grocery store.”
“Good thinking. What do we need there?” I ask him while prying a stray Lego out of Theo’s mouth.
Round and round the kitchen he drives his truck, keeping up the running commentary as I zip through as many chores as I can while the boys are entertaining themselves. It’s only when I hear the, “Mama, watch me!” that I snap to attention and realize that I’ve been talking to him all this time without ever looking at him.
A common theme of armchair parenting is that we should all “be more present” and “enjoy every moment.” Well, I find the second one impossible, but I know that I want and need to work harder on the first one. It’s tough because I honestly don’t know how much more present I want to be while changing diapers, or how much more enthusiastic I can be while I watch the hundredth Hot Wheels car zoom around the track.
The little ones are far more into their repetitive games than I am, especially since I’m home with them six full days out of every week. I want to mentally check out, peek at my email, flip through a magazine, and let them play on their own. I want to get chores done now so I don’t have to stay up late after they go to bed. I think a little of that is fine, but I chose to stay home with them so I could soak up as much of their little-boy years as possible. Do I really want to look back and think I may have spent more of it on Facebook than actually enjoying my kids?
So here’s one key I’m realizing opens the door to the vague suggestion to “be more present:” Make Eye Contact.
Eye contact is a powerful connection, so much so that in some cultures it is considered inappropriate for kids to look directly at adults when they’re being spoken to.
It makes it much harder to think about something else rather than listening. We parents become expert multitaskers, and it’s a necessary skill. But when all of a sudden there is a nose pressed up against mine and a little boy appealing for my attention, the least I can do is give it to him. All of it. Even if it’s just for a moment.
Seeing the light in those eyes when they are thrilled about something makes it easier to get caught up in their joy, even the thousandth time.
It also makes it much harder to stay angry about little things.
I noticed that when I’m really mad at my husband, I refuse to look at him. I think the part of me that feels wronged knows that the moment I look at him, I’m going to smile. It might be an embarrassed, “I can’t believe I’m smiling because I’m really ticked off at you,” but it will be a smile nonetheless and then he won’t be properly punished for his misdeed. So I avoid eye contact until I’m no longer mad.
But now that I’ve realized this habit, I force myself to look directly at those lovely green-blue eyes and tell him why I’m angry. And because I’m looking right at him, he listens more attentively. And when I’m done, I do often smile, and the molehills stay small, and we move on with our day.
The same thing happens with the boys. When I’m so irritated that we’re late because they’re goofing around and won’t put on their shoes, I make eye contact with them when they’re looking at me for my reaction. Nine times out of ten, I smile. They are little, they are laughing together, and I know it’s not the end of the world that they are shoeless. So I smile at those baby blues and say, “You guys are having so much fun. We’ll have even more fun if we get going, so do you want to put on your shoes yourself, or shall I help you?” The eye contact diffuses my irritation and gives me the pause I need to parent the way I want to. It puts me in the moment with these munchkins, and lets me enjoy it even though they’re testing me.
No, it doesn’t work every time. I’ve been known to say, “Have you completely lost your minds??” and “You two are making me crazy!” I’m still human, after all. I still do chores and help one while talking to the other. I still check my email and fold laundry and let them do their own thing when I need a breather.
But making eye contact means I’m hearing them, I’m seeing them, I’m present in that moment, even if it’s just for an instant.
How about you? What’s your trick for “being more present” in your life?