Raising children into happy, kind, and well-adjusted adults is a huge task and part of the enormous adventure of motherhood… and the struggle too. As parents, it’s our responsibility to effectively prepare them for adulthood and do our best not to screw it all up – a parent’s worst nightmare.
I think part of the reason there are so many kids and adults that don’t fall into the happy, kind, or well-adjusted category is because as a society we’ve got our priorities mixed up.
We’ve become distracted parents trapped on the hamster wheel of busyness seeking mindless entertainment and endless ambition. Too often our kids are right there… but we’re too busy and distracted to notice.
And though we may be doing good work like running a business or a blog like this one that keeps us constantly connected, do we know what cost we’re really paying to have this life? Or better yet, what cost our are kids paying?
Do we have a true sense of what’s most valuable?
The Absence of Present Parenting
Distracted parenting is a huge problem in our modern homes today.
Sure, there are many parents working outside the home and not physically there for their kids every minute of the day. And while we could try to question those parents’ choices on whether they work too much or not enough, that’s not my focus here.
Working to provide an income for your family by working outside the home is largely unavoidable for both parents in most homes today. It’s a part of our modern fabric.
My real focus here is to explore and expose what we’re giving our kids in the fringe hours… before and after work and all the spaces in between.
What we’re doing when we’re on the couch at home with our kids.
What we’re really paying attention to from the sidelines at our kid’s soccer game.
What we’re showing as the top priority to our children day in and day out.
Distracted Parenting in Action
What do our actions say to our kids?
That we’re too busy to put down our laptops and phones to actually have a meaningful conversation?
Or do our actions tell a better story that our kids are the most important focus in our lives and that they matter and deserve the respect of our full attention?
I’ll be honest, even as I write this I’m struggling with conviction because I do not have this down perfectly. So, I’m largely writing from experience and truthful reflection of my own choices.
One day my daughter was sharing a story about a difficult situation she encountered at school that day. Ring the alarm – we’ve got a win! My preteen daughter is opening baring her soul to me!
But instead of fully listening that day… I was overwhelmed with a very busy week and needed to finish delivering all the laundry throughout the house.
She was met with my back and my less than engaged um-hmmms most of the conversation until Holy Spirit stopped me in my tracks and showed me in a second how disrespectful I was being to her. I’ll say this… I stopped, apologized, and never did that again!
It was never intentional, but I just got caught in my busyness.
I want my children to always feel respected, loved, and valued as I make small and big sacrifices every day to put them first by putting away my phone and sitting with them whenever I can.
The Need for Present Parenting
Our kids need us both physically and emotionally more than they ever could articulate on their own.
Even if you’re a stay-at-home mom and you’re with your kids most of the time. You too can fall into the trap of distracted parenting. I’ve always been a mom who worked from home and ended up glued to my laptop 24/7 but felt justified in the fact that I was “always there.”
No matter what you do for a living and where you do it… it’s so easy to go through the motions and let our kids pick up their own world-views along the way. To let the TV, electronics, and social media entertain them.
We’re so exhausted from adulting all day that doing anything beyond feeding, bathing, and tucking in our kids at night is exhausting.
But we can and need to do more to give our kids what they really need. Our intentional actions have the power to pull our kids out of the hopeless and dark situations happening all around us.
Bullying and being bullied, depression, suicide, hopelessness, sexual promiscuity, and purposeless living are on the rise at an alarming rate among young people today.
My 12-year-old daughter came home from school last week with devastating news that a bright young man in a neighboring private high school took his own life. No words can describe the heartbreak. There is a real attack on our young people today. And it’s largely happening in those fridge hours when we’re busy and they’re alone.
And even when things appear well on the outside, there can be a war raging on the inside. And we need to be there to see it and put an end to it.
How do we put an end to it? By praying and asking God how we can be there for our children, to show us their struggles and empty places and how we can fill them, and how we can show up for our children every day with a love only we can provide as parents.
Present Parenting Starts with Us
It all starts with us. Even when our teen acts like they’d rather be anywhere but with us, we need to stay put. In times like this, our actions will replace our words.
When they see us at their games actually watching them play instead of staring at our phones it makes a difference. There was an article written about College Athletes and shared the impact their parents made that contributed to their success early on. And a resounding response was when they’re parents made a comment with these 6 simple words, “I love to watch you play.”
Notice it wasn’t, “I love to be at your games.”
Look, I don’t get it right all the time. No one does! The point is that we’re aware of it and make it our biggest priority to be present and fully aware when we’re with our kids.
Now let me quickly bring some balance here. I’m not saying you can’t sit at your desk and work on a project if your kids are home and must sit and stare at your kids for hours or play legos on the floor until you drop from boredom.
Honestly, a little “present time” goes a really long way. In fact, if you take a moment to really connect with your child every day, they’ll stay full and you’ll find that they often run off and do their own thing.
Your kids need you first to feel full, satisfied, and ready to take on the rest of the day. If they feel like they’re competing with your work, your phone, or anything else; they will either do one of two things. Hunt you down and totally overwhelm you, or retreat and isolate themselves because they feel unloved and unconnected.
The latter is extremely dangerous and if you find that your child is constantly isolating themselves, do your best to show up and be present right now. If this has been going on for a while, enter cautiously.
They’ve most likely already put up walls so just be cool about it and don’t act weird. You know how we can be!
Here’s another tip: if your child is asking to spend more time with you or mentions they’re starved for your attention, listen and make the adjustment. Count it as a blessing that you have a child that will even ask for your attention.
One of my children falls into this category and at times her need for my attention can feel overwhelming. But I know if she feels empty, I’m missing it somewhere. It also means I’ve fallen into passive parenting instead of intentional parenting and need to make the adjustment.
It’s easy to think that this high emotional needs child is a challenge, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth! I know if I can make winning her heart my highest priority, I’ve won the battle for my child. On the other hand, if I don’t pay attention, her heart is vulnerable due to her desire for connection.
How to Become a More Present Parent Today
The first step in becoming a more present parent is to be aware of all the things and habits that work as barriers to present parenting. Things like our routines and work schedules and our phone habits. These done the wrong way can really stand in your way. Here are a few practical tips:
Create Work Boundaries
I shared that I’ve always worked from home since I became a mom. I’m very grateful for this but really had no clue how to balance my family and work time effectively. I was constantly doing everything all at the same time. I made myself crazy… and probably my kids too.
This led to yelling and constant frustration. I wasn’t creating meaningful connections with anyone or anything. But I got smart and learned over time to create boundaries and schedule both my work time and family time. I try my hardest to schedule my most focused work tasks around my kid’s sleeping times.
And when I’m working when the kids are awake, my mindset is ready for interruptions and noise so I’m not irritated when it happens. I also make sure they are doing something fun before I start. Here’s a post that’s full of fun ideas to keep your toddler busy and occupied while you’re working.
Schedule One on One Time
I’ve found that scheduling intentional “no-work” time with the kids where I can be totally focused is very helpful. Doing this changed everything! My kids feel like they’re are getting “me” every day and I’m actually able to slow down and really see them.
I also put down my phone and put away the laptop when my kids are home from school and it’s family time. I’m not perfect at this, but I try to keep them out of sight, for the most part, during this time. When I used to try to cram in some extra work during this very busy time of day… it always ended in disaster.
Ask Plenty of Questions
Finally, one of the best ways to foster connection and effective communication with your kids is by asking questions. Asking questions is one of the most powerful tools a parent can use because it gives you access to their heart. And that’s what we want!
Asking a question is a powerful way to show you care about someone. Kids love to unload their day and tell you all the things that happened along the way. However, as kids get older they can seem to get less conversational if we don’t keep them connected.
One reason children stop talking and sharing is when they’ve been rejected one too many times in conversations with us. When they’re sharing something personal and we are absently mindedly responding with uh huh, uh huh and they know we aren’t listening. Or we’ve cut off the conversation in some way.
This has happened to me personally with my husband numerous times. When I’d be talking or opening up about something personal and he would chime in about something else, be on his phone, or not giving me his full attention.
It’s never intentional, but we all miss it sometimes. I know that I’m an adult and that though these responses are not the best to experience, I know how to offer grace. Our kids don’t always understand that rude behavior doesn’t mean they aren’t loved. It just means we made a bad choice.
The funny thing is, when I’d bring those times to my husband’s attention, he’d be totally surprised and unaware that he did them. That’s because he really is an amazing husband who’s just human. And because those moments made me feel rejected and no longer wanting to connect… your kid may feel the same.
This is why being totally focused helps to prevent these situations.
I want you to know this post was meant to inspire, not to condemn. If you struggle in any of these areas, you’re human and now have the opportunity to make a change.
The world isn’t offering free passes to our kids when we mess up as parents. We have a responsibility to show up every single day because it means everything to those precious kids of ours. And change is never too late if coming from our full heart!
How do you connect with your kids? Share your best tip in the comments below!