Every caring parent knows that ‘being present’ and in the moment with your child, setting aside devices and distractions, is what’s needed for children to thrive – and what’s needed for a happy, harmonious home. But, the reality is that it’s much easier said than done and there are more obstacles to being present than just phones and technology – which ones do you face?
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Suzie is making supper, trying to follow the exact detail of the recipe because she wants the perfect meal when her partner’s new business colleague comes for dinner that evening.
“Oh, I haven’t forwarded that email to the boss!”
It only takes a few moments, but while the laptop’s open she pauses on Facebook to check what’s been posted.
Her toddler’s screams break into her consciousness.
“Stop it,” she roars at her son, as she rushes to the rescue. “Leave your sister alone.”
In a few moments, the family peace has been blown apart. Suzie joggles her toddler in her arms, trying to soothe her. As she tries to cope with her eight year old’s barrage of “It’s not fair. She’s your favourite!” she smells the food burning.
We’ve all been there and done that. We’ve paid the price of letting other priorities crowd out our children’s needs and we forget the importance of being in the moment with our children.
In my book, Baby and Toddler On Board, I chat about “crossing the bridge” into the child’s world. You can’t connect with your child’s experience if you are focused on life on your side of the bridge.
Imagine approaching a narrow bridge. Your child is on the other side and desperately needs you. But all the stuff you are carrying makes it impossible for you to cross the bridge. Wouldn’t you put your load down to reach your child?
And the thing is, we are sometimes so focused on what’s going on in our own lives, we don’t see what’s happening for our child. Or we have so much going on, we can’t see past our own overload.
Here are 10 obstacles that can easily get in the way of mindful parenting. Check which barriers might be tripping you up.
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The Barriers Parents Face to Being Present
#1. Park your “perfect parent” ego
The perfect parent has an immaculate house, has polite and perfectly behaved children, serves delicious and healthy meals on a beautifully laid table, and is always ready for the yummy mummy (or delectable dad) photoshoot.
False news! Nobody lives like that. As one blogger said, “I might manage one of those things for a couple of hours, as well as be a connected parent; add a second and my wheels will fall off.”
#2. Park your need for a “perfect” child
Likewise, if your mind is filled with how your child “should” behave, you won’t be able to see and respond to what your child is experiencing in the moment. Children are humans too. They have meltdowns, squabble, act cranky. The challenge is not to change their behaviour. The challenge is to cross the bridge and understand what they are experiencing that is causing them to act out.
#3. Park your thoughts of what “should” or “shouldn’t” happen
We all think we know best. We think we know how everyone else should behave and what “should” happen. When we try to take control of other people’s behaviour, and when we try to control outcomes, our baggage will keep us firmly wedged on our side of the bridge.
#4. Park your anxiety
Our strong emotions get in the way. Even happy, over-enthusiastic feelings can be a barrier, if your child is not connected with your emotion. But in particular, don’t let anxiety take the driving seat because when feelings of fear are in charge you’re likely to over-control, fuss or grumble.
When you’re in a space of anxiety, you’re in some future imagined event that probably will never happen. You’re not present in the moment with your child. And some parents get anxious about their child being upset. It’s not our job to keep our children happy all the time, it’s our job to support them to learn to handle the full gamut of human emotions – because that’s life. For more helpful tips on this, see Five Useful Tips On How to Support Your Upset Child
#5. Park your frustration
Anger and frustration also try to grab the steering wheel. And, when they do, they try to force their own agenda. They leave no space in your head or heart to recognise or hear your child’s experience or sense what your child really needs.
You’ll never succeed in crossing the bridge into your child’s world as long as strong negative emotions are competing for your attention. First take a step back, notice your breathing and ask yourself, “What really matters here?”
#6. Park your “Get over it” reaction
Some parents hate to see their child upset. They try to hurry through the upset. They make comments to the child like “It doesn’t matter” or “That’s no big deal”.
But if it matters for your child, then it matters. If it’s a big deal to your child, then it’s a big deal. Park your need for instant tranquility. Be present in the upsets too. That’s when your child needs you the most.
Learning to empathise with your child now is building a bridge that you’ll be so glad you’ve maintained when it comes to the challenges of the teenage years.
#7. Park your need to “fix it”
Many parents want to rush in to make everything better when their child is upset. They aren’t keen to stay in the present, in the place of discomfort, until their child is ready to move forward and find their own solutions. Instead, the “bubble wrap” parent rushes in to solve the problem.
It’s more helpful, however, to calm your child and then help them to think about what they want to see happen, and how could they make that happen. If you tend to jump into “fix it” mode, think of a recent situation and reflect on how you handled it. Did you rescue your child – which set them up to be a “victim” – or did you champion your child? In other words, did you interact in a way that builds your child’s competence and confidence, as well as your relationship? Do you park your “fix it” mode so that can cross the bridge and support your child without trying to control the outcome?
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#8. Park your phone, laptop, TV or other device
Parking your technology is not only good for your child’s wellbeing and your connection, its good for you too.
When we’re so busy keeping connected with the whole world, we lose connection with those who matter most. We lose touch with the ones who are most precious to us, and who rely on us for their wellbeing, psychologically as well as physically.
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#9. Park your work
Even if you work from home – or especially if you work from home – you and your children need clear boundaries. What’s work time and what’s not? Even if you are not physically working on work, are your thoughts there? Your child will sense when you are not fully present.
#10. Park your story
It’s easy to get caught up in thoughts about your child behaving badly, or finding someone else to blame, rather than owning up to your own part in a family upset. The thing is, we can be right or we can be in relationship. What will you choose? Will you overcome the barriers stopping you from being present and in the moment to your child?
Being Present in the Moment to Your Child
Take time to think about each of the barriers to being present listed above, because this awareness will guide you to ask yourself, “What is it I need to park today to be fully present to these precious moments with my children?”
You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again – these early years fly by so quickly. And what you’ll want to remember are the happy, connected times when you laid the foundation for a lifelong warm, caring relationship with your child.
Here are words written by a wise young mother, Rebekah Florence, about the importance of being present to your children:
“Friends, never underestimate the redemptive potential of your words, your smiles and your gratitude—no matter how small you feel, or how little it seems, you don’t need to say or do anything big or elaborate to make a huge difference to someone’s life.”
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I offer one-to-one online parent coaching. Contact me if you want the space to reflect on what’s working in your parenting, what’s not, and how to figure out a way to create the calmer, happier family interactions you desire.
As one client put it, “working with Val as my parent coach is my opportunity to press my ‘recalibrate’ button!”
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Which of these 10 obstacles stop you from being present with your child, so that you can “cross the bridge” into their experience? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!