Children live in the present moment, which makes them both magical and inconvenient.
Children naturally connect to their immediate experience of exploration and play because they have not yet learned how to live in their minds like we do. They are not so concerned about planning for the future or reflecting on the past. They are not goal-oriented (future), which is why shooing them out the door in the morning can seem impossible. They do not recall mistakes well (past), nor do they anticipate consequences well (future), which is why you have to remind them over and over again not to do stupid things.
Even their games of make-believe, which sometimes seem as far removed from reality as imaginable, unfold with utter spontaneity, commitment, and moment-to-moment focus.
Granted, children are more animal-like than enlightened-like. They are present, but in a primitive and self-serving way, without the wisdom of self-observation. But still. Good for them. Close enough.
We adults, on the other hand, have projects to complete, to-do-list items to check off, dreams to strive for, and dinner to make. (Future, future, future, future.) We also have decisions to lament, memories to reminisce about, relationships to ponder, and lost time to contemplate. (Past, past, past, past.)
It’s no wonder we feel so anxious, fearful, and needy (future) or depressed, angry, and regretful (past).
The Present Moment
There’s a scene in the book Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman, wherein the dreaming protagonist finds himself standing inside a pentacle painted on the floor. Outside the pentacle are grotesque demons and corpses threatening him, as well as a seductive woman leaning through a nearby door pleading for help. The wise teacher tells the hero, “Stay where you are. The pentacle is the present moment. There, you’re safe. The demon and his attendants are the past. The door is the future. Beware.”
Reflecting on our kids’ steadfast state of presence can inspire us to be present ourselves, which has a ripple effect of goodness in our own lives and the lives of those we come in contact with. It can also help us understand our kids, appreciate them, and withstand their weirdness.
But how do we find the present moment? And how do we linger there? How paradoxical is it that the present moment is all that really exists, yet it can seem so elusive? That it’s clear and simple yet deep and complex? Perfectly effortless yet not necessarily easy?
#1 Focus on You
Being a present parent starts with focusing on yourself, and my favorite technique is to observe the breath, which is always accessible. Breathe in, and breathe out, and pay attention to this process. Do it for as long as you can – at least for several breaths. Take refuge in the breath whenever you’re feeling irritable, exhausted, angry, anxious, or overwhelmed. When you build a habit of accessing the present moment via the breath throughout your day, you’ll eventually have the muscle memory and mindfulness to call on that state of being in trying times with your kids.
#2 Revel in Them
Meeting your children in the present moment does not require engaging in constant conversation or pretend play. It does not mean snapping to attention every time they call out, “Mama!” or “Watch me!” It does not mean giving more of your already stretched-thin self in ways that are not satisfying to you.
Present parenting requires remembering how sweet, vulnerable, innocent, enchanting, and present your children are. Remember by watching them – really watching. Not snapping pictures and applying filters and posting to Facebook and checking every few minutes to see how many more likes you’ve won. Watch your children with your eyes, resist distraction, breathe consciously, and look for their beauty. Revel in their very existence.
In their book, What All Children Want Their Parents to Know, Diana Loomans and Julia Godoy mention a woman whose described her Great-Uncle Clyde as a “revel-master.”
“The very best thing about Uncle Clyde was his ability to revel in a way that made me feel as though I was the most remarkable miracle he’d ever laid eyes on. Every move I made seemed magical in his presence. With him, I knew beyond any doubt that I had to be the most fascinating kid in the whole wide world! To be seen as an ultimate treasure is an experience that I wish for every child on earth. If everyone received this kind of attention, the world would be full of happy, confident human beings.”
Not to mention: If everyone offered this kind of attention, the world would be full of contented, conscious parents, happy about their own mindful lives and fulfilled with their relationships with their kids.
But when the authors asked an audience of over 100 adults how many of them had experienced this kind of presence from a parent, only five raised their hands.
Here are some ways we revel-masters-in-the-making can practice being present with our kids.
Peek in on them while they sleep
Sleeping children are not whining or throwing tantrums or being manipulative. They are angels, and they remind you why you wanted to be a parent in the first place. Make it a habit to gaze at their sleeping figures, while breathing slowly and attentively, every evening before turning in.
Watch them play
See how imaginative your children are, how funny, childish, and remarkable. Taking periodic breaks from the sensible and serious adult world in order to eavesdrop on your playing children is inspiring, and it helps remind us of the creative spirits our children really are.
Watch them be
Notice your kids when they don’t notice you noticing them. They’re probably dorks. I know mine are, and I love that about them. Tilt your head, furrow your brow, observe, and be amused. These weird, sweet, innocent creatures are unapologetically themselves, not yet burdened by the self-consciousness of growing up.
Contemplate their teeny tininess
When my family takes a stroll through our neighborhood, I love to watch my kiddos hop out of the stroller and run away down the long sidewalk that snakes through the grass. They are joyful. They are small. Evolution assures we adore cuteness, and these miniature humans are truly that.
Listen to their laughter
Children live to have fun, be silly, and feel pure delight coursing through their bodies. When they laugh with total abandon, listen. Drink in their laughter. There’s no other sound like it.
Be their comfort
Children feel their ever-changing emotions strongly because they are so present in their bodies, and they unabashedly express those emotions because they lack self-control. Hold them when they cry, breathe consciously, and be their comfort. Marvel at how much they need you.
Your children can be a perfect portal through which presence can emerge. Meet them in the moment. Focus sincerely on them and let them bring you into the here and now.