Growing up, we did a lot of things. We went to Disney World, we went camping, and we did a huge trip where we traveled around the United States in my mid-teens.
Of all the things we did, what sticks out the most in my memories aren’t the big things we did or the grandiose places we traveled to. What I remember most were the times when my parents were there for me. They were the moments when I stood up on the stage singing “Silver Bells” during the Christmas concert and looked into the audience and saw them. It was the time that I performed at a singing/dancing mixed ensemble that I was part of in high school, and my father was there to cheer me on at the nationals in Florida. Or the time that my mother was there for me after my grandmother and best friend had died, and I didn’t know how to cope with it.
It is important, as we raise our children that our children learn from our mistakes, learn from our own parenting and do better what we did not get a chance to do. I hope that my own children will be better fathers than I am. God knows I have screwed up along the way (more times than I care to admit).
I knew from day one of being a father I wanted to do one thing more than anything else, and that was “to be present” for my kids. Never miss a concert. Never miss a game. Yes, I know that it can interfere with work, and it can even make me look like I don’t care about my job – but the truth is; if it comes down to my job or my family, my family wins. I can replace my job. I can never replace my family or the time that I spend with them. I can’t get back that goal that my son made. I can’t get back the first solo that my son sang. I can’t feel the real essence of my boys getting their black belts over the video, and they won’t get the same experience with me not being there to see me cheer them on.
Being present doesn’t mean just being at these events. It means not staring at your phone. It means actually watching your kids. Pay attention to what is happening to them on the field, on the stage, and in the classroom, because trust me – they notice. I am just as guilty as anyone else. I have from time to time checked a text or looked at an email, then looked back at my son who was doing something on the field, and caught him glancing back at me to see my reaction. Nothing hurts more than your child later asking “Did you see that? Did you see what I did there?” expecting you to be excited and you have to act excited when you actually never saw what they were talking about. Don’t be that parent.
Looking at the phone, watching TV, or reading a book are all valuable ‘me’ times. But when you are with your child, be with your child. There is nothing wrong with these things in moderation, but knowing how to detach yourself and actually spend time with your children or your grandchildren is critical.
It also means being present when your kids need them at home. Pay attention to your kids if they are emotionally down (or happy). Be silly with them. Talk to them if they are having problems, and don’t let it rest until you find out what is bothering them. Let them come to you and let them know that you have problems too. They need to know you’re human too. Sometimes kids put parents on a pedestal and find it hard to believe that we, too, have problems and feel the same things they feel.
Being present is so critical in every aspect, and it will help you and help your child.