A simple technique for being more present

“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.

Who could stay mad at this face?

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.

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How about you? What’s your trick for “being more present” in your life?

10 Responses to A simple technique for being more present
  1. Life As Wife
    May 24, 2012 | 5:18 pm

    Ugh so guilty on this one!! I’m always multitasking.

    Eye contact – writing that one down.

  2. Christine @ Love, Life, Surf
    May 24, 2012 | 7:07 pm

    This is so so true. I catch myself doing this all the time – the boys are playing and we’re talking but I’m staring at the computer screen because I need to get some work done or I’m washing dishes/cooking/folding laundry and not making eye contact or being truly present. You are so right – it’s a very simple trick but makes a HUGE difference.

  3. Janet
    May 28, 2012 | 7:45 am

    the ‘moment’ that brought me to this realization was when my daughter, then 3 years of age, took my face in her little hands to make me look at her and said “watch my mouth”, mimicking my own actions and ‘read my lips’ command used she was not paying attention to MY requests! *lol*
    As a parenting educator, it sure gave me pause…and a lifelong lesson that I have never forgotten. She is now my best friend and just turned 27!! Being present is the greatest gift you can give to your children and they will return that gift in the future! It is also the greatest gift you can give yourself!

  4. Pamela
    May 28, 2012 | 7:31 pm

    Great post! I can really identify with the mix of feelings you express. It’s hard to be tuned in 24-7, for sure. I’m trying to not feel so guilty when V has a span of independent play, knowing that I spend a lot of other quality time with her, and knowing that she needs space for her own imagination to take flight, but I never quite know if I’ve struck the “right” balance. I really like your way of connecting with your kids; eye contact really does call on you to stop for a moment and focus. And you are modeling good listening skills for your kids also; thanks for the reminder!

  5. Bridget
    May 29, 2012 | 8:57 am

    They catch on to eye contact, Jackson and Reese talk to me and either grab my face so I’m looking at them or tell me, “look at me mommy!!”

  6. MEL
    May 31, 2012 | 8:24 am

    Good luck with the independent play; I can’t wait for V to develop those skills a bit more!

    Eye contact has been tricky with her, especially if she’s excited/distracted about something (which is pretty much all the time!). I’ll keep at it though…

  7. Missy | The Literal Mom
    June 2, 2012 | 2:39 pm

    You are exactly, 100% correct about the eye contact. It totally makes them feel your “presence.” Awesome!

  8. Rach
    June 5, 2012 | 3:08 pm

    What a great post! I need to mark this one down! Really. I am the same way about eye contact. When I’m upset with someone, I refuse to look them in the eye because it is so much harder to remain angry with them when I do. But yeah, eye contact… so important!

  9. Team Captain
    June 18, 2012 | 8:21 pm

    This is a great post, and that is an adorable shot of the Rookie. And you wrote “misdeed” deliberately in the singular to indicate that I’ve only been wrong once, right? Right? Hello? Oh dear, looks like it’s time to make eye contact again. 🙂

  10. Brianna Storch
    July 5, 2012 | 7:34 pm

    I often catch myself doing the same thing.

    Owl is playing around me, and I just respond while working on the computer. Each moment goes by so quickly and suddenly he’s off doing something else and would prefer playing by himself.

    I need to look AWAY from what I’m doing and simply relish in the moments where he wants me to react. The times that I do? It’s purely, innocently, bliss.

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