"There's Mother's Day and Father's Day, so when is Kids' Day?" my son asked. "Every day?" I thought. Actually, for 20 years, the first Sunday of August has been recognized as National KidsDay by KidsPeace, an organization providing mental health services to children and adolescents across the country. One focus of this day is to encourage parents and caregivers to spend more meaningful time with their children.
"Your children need your presence more than your presents." – Jesse Jackson
Presence is more than the state of being in proximity. More importantly for relationships is an emotional presence: being open, available, and "in the present" with those around us. Think of the last time you tried to talk to a distracted friend, spouse, or co-worker who is physically there but not really there.
It's not only young children who need your presence. After working with hundreds of adolescents, I am no longer surprised to hear, "I miss time with my mom" or "I just wish my dad had time to listen."
Parents, on the other hand, are usually surprised to hear this since often, their teen looks at them like they have two heads and seems more interested in their friends and what's happening on Instagram or Twitter. But when we give the gift of our presence, we are demonstrating love and respect for our children. We are communicating that we value them. Presence is required for connected relationships with our children.
I recommend a thought-provoking blog called "Hands-free Mama" by Rachel Macy Stafford. In one popular piece, she quotes a longtime childcare provider, speaking to today's parents: "I can recall a time when you were out with your children you were really with them. You engaged in a back-and-forth dialog even if they were pre-verbal. You said, 'Look at the bus, see the doggie, etc.' Now I see you on the phone, pushing your kids on the swings while distracted by your devices. You think you are spending time with them but you are not present really."
Ms. Stafford details ways that we allow our busyness and the accessibility of technology to take priority over meaningful presence with our children. For instance: Allow the sounds and alerts from your phone to interrupt your child midsentence; While you wait for your food or for the movie to start, stare at your phone despite the fact that your child sits inches away; Go to your child's game and look up periodically as if she won't notice that you aren't paying attention; Make calls while driving instead of talking to your kids about their day, their worries, or their dreams; Read messages at stoplights then tell yourself that when your kids are old enough to drive they won't remember you did this.
Page 2 of 2 - OUCH.
Yes, at times we must be readily available to other people and yes, we have other responsibilities. But, as Stafford suggests, we can be present with our children by:
1. Looking into her eyes when she speaks;
2. Stopping to give him your full attention;
3. Allowing her to see your face light up when you see her;
4. Playing with him;
5. Setting an example distraction-free driving;
6. Talking to him, asking him about his day, listening to him.
What kind of presence will you give your kids on Aug. 4 (and every day)? For inspiration, check out www.handsfreemama.com and www.mindful-dad.org.
Dawn Schatz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, certified Domestic Violence Specialist, Gestalt Therapist and founder of Appoquinimink Counseling Services, LLC in Middletown. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 898-1616.