When I conduct classes on leading with presence it never fails that the class participants want to know how the concept of presence can be applied to parenting. When leaders start examining how their reactivity, emotional triggers, and self-awareness impact those they lead at work, they naturally start examining their impact at home as well.
My husband and I have consciously worked to integrate the concept of presence into our parenting with our two school-aged boys. We are by no means perfect, but as we see them grow into tweens and teens, we feel even more compelled to keep bringing the practice of presence home to help them navigate their ever-increasing stress, busy schedules, and technology use.
Here are a few tools we use at home to help cultivate the concept of presence with our children.
Family White Space
White Space is time on your calendar that is blocked, but doesn’t have a pre-set agenda. Personally, the white space time on my work calendar is something sacred as it helps me stay sane and keep my business moving forward. For the family, the white space time we have blocked during the weekends is something we have all come to cherish.
We try to block at least one afternoon, or at minimum an evening during the weekend, that are not committed to anyone else. A couple times a month we even manage to get an entire day and evening with no plans (that takes some effort, but totally worth it). We come together as a family and decide how we want to use our white space time. Sometimes we decide we all want a quiet day at home to do our own thing, and other times we go on a family outing of our choice. The important thing here is that as a family we are intentionally choosing how we’re using our time. On several occasions during our white space time I have naturally and spontaneously engaged in deeper, more meaningful conversations with my sons. I know I would have missed the subtle cues that something was off for them if we hadn’t had the time to simply be with each other.
Our family uses technology. My sons play Minecraft, X-box, and listen to music; we have more than one device per family member. We enforce technology boundaries, such as no devices in the boys’ bedrooms and meals that are “tech-free.” The boys know my husband and I can (and do) monitor their usage, text conversations, etc. But what I think has been more important and effective than us monitoring their usage is how we are helping them create awareness around their technology experience. This means that when it’s time for them to engage in technology use we ask them to notice their experience before they turn the device on. We ask them to notice what they are feeling in their body, mind, and emotions prior to engaging in gaming. Then we ask them to do the same body, mind, emotions scan after they have completed their playing time. Given they are 12 and 8, sometimes this experiment isn’t profound for them, or us, but sometimes it is. Especially when they can notice how they feel more agitated, cranky, or tired after using technology. One night after the kids were done playing Xbox, my youngest son said he was bored. We reminded him he didn’t feel bored prior to playing, and asked him why he thought he was feeling bored afterward. We helped direct him toward activities he normally likes to engage in (like Legos or drawing). Once he “remembered” he liked Legos, he was no longer bored. What’s most interesting about this approach is the more we help our kids create awareness of their experience, the more they naturally gravitate away from technology use.
Make Presence a Family Affair
My husband and I talk about presence with our kids. It helps that I wrote a book about it as that naturally produced conversation around the house. But my husband and I are also consciously weaving the concept into our family’s daily experiences. We talk about how we’re staying (or not staying) focused on one thing at a time, asking if we’re really listening to each other, and noticing how technology impacts our connection with each other. We’ve made agreements about how we will bring attention to the fact that one of us might be “checked out.” More often, it’s my kids who ask, “Mom, where is your mind right now?”
Reminding each other when we might be checked out brings our attention together as a family. We are reminding each other what it feels like to be present in our bodies and what it feels like when one of us isn’t really “there.” My sons are learning to discern their body sensations, emotions, and experiences and trying out language to call each other into awareness in a productive and healthy way.
With all this said, it’s not like we’re living in a home of bliss and calm all the time. There is still tension, irritation, and even yelling sometimes. But more often than not the boys (and parents) are self-correcting. We talk about the tension, chalk the situation up to learning, and rest while eating some ice cream and cuddling up to watch the latest episode of The Voice together.