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Have you ever had an experience where someone is talking to you and you leave the conversation having no idea what they said? You were there, you were kind of listening, but you weren’t really present in the conversation.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I used to experience that all the time. What makes it worse, is that I hate when someone does that to me. I’m pretty sensitive to it, so I can tell when I’m talking to someone and they aren’t hearing anything I say. They might nod or respond, “Mmhmm” but I know they aren’t really listening. That feeling deflates me. Whenever I experience it, I put my guard up with that person. I can’t stand feeling like I’m only being half-listened to, especially if what I’m sharing is important to me.
It got me thinking, though… How often do we, as moms, do this to our kids?
We get mad when our kids don’t listen to us, but then we only half-listen to most of what they say. Maybe we feel like what we say is really important and what they say isn’t so important, but is that fair? It’s important to them, isn’t it?
No judgment zone
Listen, I get it. I’m not judging here at all, because I’m in the same boat. My kids talk constantly and go on and on about stories that I’m pretty sure are mostly made up. They like to hear themselves talk and they love when they have my full attention. Sometimes it feels like they’ll never stop talking.
Sometimes I’m hearing what they’re saying, but my thoughts are “I do NOT have time for this right now.”
Like most of us, I have a lot on my plate. I run this blog and have another part-time writing job, and I have a household to run on top of the three little kids I need to raise and love well. I don’t always feel like I have time to be present.
But the truth is, I do have time to be a present mom. We all do. It doesn’t mean we need to be there every second. It doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice everything on our schedules. We can do the things that we need to do, but it’s super important to be present moms if we want to raise well and balanced kids (and so we don’t have major regrets about missed time in the future).
Why our presence is important
Being a present mom is important because we teach our kids how to treat people by how we treat them. If we want our children to respect other people and to be good listeners, we need to model that for them. If we want them to take breaks from working to enjoy people, we need to show them that we can do that. If we don’t want our kids to stress about the past or worry about the future but instead be fully engaged in the present, we need to show them what that looks like. If we want our kids to cherish people and be present in their own lives, we need to that kind of mom for them. Our actions portray our values, and our values will be instilled in their hearts forever.
So, how can we be more present in our crazy lives? Here are some tips for how you can become a more present mom:
1. Limit distractions
Our lives are full of distractions more than they’ve ever been. We have all the knowledge in the world at our fingertips. It’s common practice to carry our homes everywhere we go, even inside our houses. 84% of people worldwide say they couldn’t go a single day without their phones.
Much of our society harbors a full-blown smartphone addiction. Too many of us get out of bed and reach for their phone first thing in the morning. Then they check their phones all throughout the day, including in the bathroom and at stoplights (or worse, while driving). 20% of people even admit to checking their phones every 10 minutes.
If we let ourselves be part of this epidemic, we are doing a huge disservice to our children. First, we are teaching them to be dependent on electronics. Second, we’re likely showing them that it’s OK to talk to someone while looking at your phone, instead of in the other person’s eyes.
Third, if we’re spending all this time on our phones, we are wasting a lot of precious time. Someday, we’ll be looking back at our lives and wish that we could press the rewind button. We’ll wish we could have this time back.
I know you’re probably sick of seeing posts that say “Someday you’ll wish you had this time back. It goes so fast!” But you see those cliches all the time because they’re true. Many women have gone before us in this thing called motherhood, and most say this same thing. We’ll wish we had this time back someday. Let’s make good choices with it now.
I’m not saying you can’t enjoy your phone. And I’m not saying that you need to pay attention to your children every second (I certainly don’t). What I’m saying is that we should not be slaves to bad habits and addictions. I highly doubt that most of us would intentionally choose to spend as much time on our phones as we do. We do it because social media is designed to keep us glued to it. But we aren’t puppets. We have a choice.
If you’re guilty of being on your phone too much and want to be free, check out my post: Tips to Help You Break Your Cell Phone Addiction
2. Leave time in your schedule to just be
I am a chronic over-scheduler. When I’m not careful, I end up making myself a huge to-do list for every single day. I cram household chores on top of writing/work and in between some errands.
I tend to think, “After I get all this done, then I’ll relax and be with the kids.”
Well, guess what happens?
Since I’ve overscheduled, I end up missing out on my time with my kids. The work gets done and my kids are still taken care of, of course, but I didn’t take time to simply be with them. The most ridiculous part of this whole scenario is that if you asked me “What’s more important, working or spending time with your kids?” My answer would always be “Spending time with my kids.”
So, my schedule and my actions should reflect my values.
Honoring our values with our schedules
One of my favorite authors, Stephen Covey, wrote that “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” (By the way, if you haven’t read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you are missing out on some incredible wisdom. It’s one of my all-time favorites and less than $10 on Amazon right now. Get it!)
If we mean it when we say that being present with our kids is a priority, then we need to put it in our schedule. Our priorities should not be at the mercy to what’s less important. Let’s live in line with our values.
If you like making to-do lists (they’re a must for me) then put “presence” right there amongst the chores and errands. It could look like “Spend an hour uninterrupted with the kids” or (if your kids have been asking for something specific) you might say “Build a puzzle with Evy and play dress up with Elyse.” Or, just leave a block of time in your schedule that says “Family time.”
During that time, nothing gets your attention except your kids. If you’re playing or doing an activity together, be fully there. Don’t check your phone or watch TV (unless you’re watching something together). If you’re watching a movie together, engage them in conversation about it. Don’t do any chores or try to squeak a bit of work in. This time is SACRED!
(Also, do your best to keep this time enjoyable and avoid talking about serious subjects. If you need to have a serious conversation with your child, keep that separate from your fun time.)
If you make this time in your schedule a daily priority, you’ll start feeling more connected to your kids. Chances are that you’ll also begin to feel better about yourself as a mom too because you’ll be honoring your values by being a present mom.
Check out my related post: How to Manage Your Time So You Always Have Time For What’s Most Important
I don’t know if this goes for everyone, but every night I find myself evaluating how well the day went. Was it a successful day? Is there anything I should do better tomorrow?
If you do that too, you need to decide what success really means to you. What does a “successful” day look like?
Productivity vs Fun
I’m tempted to measure how a day went by its productivity. If I got a lot of work done and the house is clean, then I feel like it went well. But that measurement doesn’t reflect my true values…or at least it doesn’t reflect what I want my true values to be.
Of course, I want to keep a clean house and achieve my career goals. Those things are important to me. They always will be. But they aren’t nearly as important to me as my relationship with my family.
To be in line with my true values, I should measure each day by time spent with my family, fun, bonding, and laughter. On the days when I’m most focused on my family, my house might be a little messier. But, in the end, does that really matter?
It’s a struggle and a balance. The work still needs to get done and I’ll still always prefer to live in an ordered house, but I need to try to remember what I’ll look back on someday and remember as most important. I won’t remember the messy playroom, but I will remember the playing.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
If you want some help clarifying your values and making time for what’s most important to you, check out my free course “Finding Wellness and Balance as a Mom.”
3. Set work hours and stick to them
The high cost of childcare combined with the desire to be home has driven many of today’s moms to find ways to make money from home. More and more “mompreneurs” are building their own network marketing businesses, starting blogs, or running Etsy shops.
Working at home is an awesome privilege that I’m incredibly grateful for in my life, but it comes with a downside. When you work at home, especially doing something you really love, work can start to take over your life.
See my post: 7 Work-at-Home Ideas for Busy Moms
If you work at home, be intentional about setting hours for yourself. If your children are in school, try to use that time to get all your work done. If your children are younger, try to utilize naps times and early mornings. Whatever you do, don’t let your work seep into all the areas of your life.
I’ll also include housework in this category, because–let’s be honest– many of our household chores seem to be never-ending. Dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, dusting, cleaning bathrooms. We could easily work on these things 40 hours a week if we got carried away.
Obviously, we can’t neglect these responsibilities. Our families need to eat and have clean clothes, and we need to maintain some sanity by having homes that aren’t chaotic.
The best way that I’ve found to manage all of these things and not neglect my kids is to set hours for housework, just like I do with my regular work. If I have a lot to do, but only a few hours set aside to clean, then I’ll work harder and focus on the task that needs to be done the most.
For example, I might schedule time in my day to clean bathrooms. I might give myself from 9 to 10:30. I’ll work harder and faster because I know I have a limited amount of time and I’ll clean the dirtiest things first.
When it comes to housework, it’s also extremely helpful to put simple routines in place. Check out my post: 10 Habits that Keep Me Well and Balanced as a Mom for some ideas.
4. Clear your mind
Lastly, we need to address clearing your mind in order to be present.
Even when there are no physical distractions (no phones, no TV, no work, etc), there can be mental ones. Maybe you’ve done your best to create an environment where you just get to focus on your kids, but you can’t stop thinking about something else.
Maybe you’re worried about money, or feeling anxious about work, or wondering if you forgot text your friend back. Maybe you’re thinking about all the tasks you still need to do for the day.
To be present, our minds need to be where we are– not in the future or in the past. So, how can we clear our minds to be more present with our kids?
One way to learn to clear your mind is to practice meditation. It might sound strange or a too “woo” for you, but meditation doesn’t have to be an “out there” thing. It’s simply the practice of quieting your mind and allowing it to rest. And it’s a great way to teach yourself to focus on here and now.
There are plenty of tools available to help beginners learn how to meditate. One of my favorites is an app called Headspace. Headspace walks you through very simple sequences to increase mindfulness. Mindfulness, as defined by Headspace, is “the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.”
When you first start a meditation practice, you’ll find that your mind is all over the place at first. It takes practice–just like everything else does– to learn how to clear your mind. Stick with it and soon you’ll notice a huge difference in your focus and your mindfulness.
When your mind wanders
When you find your mind wandering, either in meditation or in your time with your kids, gently bring it back to where you want it to be. If you’re playing with your child and find yourself thinking about work, re-center. Look at your child’s face. Think about how it’s changed since they were a baby. Remind yourself of how quickly the time goes. Then, do your best to be fully there at that moment.
Remember this quote: “Wherever you are, be all there.” When you work, focus on it and work hard. When you’re with your kids, forget about work. Focus on the little lives that you’re shaping. Listen to them, understand what they’re feeling, try to get inside of their minds. Try to see what life is like through their eyes.
No, you don’t have to spend every second with them. I’m a pretty big fan of “ignoring” my kids at times so that they entertain themselves and expand their imaginations. But when we are spending time with our kids, we should do our best to be fully there. To be fully present.
They deserve it from us. And we owe it to ourselves too.
Reminder to myself
Here’s something I wrote one day after feeling like I spent the previous day not being present:
Hey, little one.
It’s a new day.
Today, I will remember to tickle you and enjoy the sound of your giggles.
Today, no matter how the day goes, I’ll tell you that I love you again and again.
Today, I’ll take time to study your features, knowing that tomorrow they’ll be ever-so-slightly different.
Today, no matter how it goes, I promise not to wish the day away.
Today, even if it’s tough, I promise to do my best.
Today, if I get distracted, I promise to re-focus and remember that you are why I work so hard.
Today, I will remember what’s most important.
I’m sorry that I forgot yesterday.
Today, I will remember.
Encouragement for you
If you feel like you’ve wasted a lot of time not being fully present, don’t beat yourself up about it. All you can do is change how you act from this point forward. Being upset about it is just going to waste more time.
Make presence a daily goal until it becomes a habit and you don’t have to think about it anymore. We want mindfulness to be part of who we are. We want to be well and balanced moms who are fully present in our own lives and in the lives of our children.
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