Thursday, July 26, 2012

Practicing Presence as a Parent

My kids are growing up so fast.

I know this sentiment is a common parental lament. We wish the kid would grow out of the frustrating phase where they're currently residing, only to have our wishes backfire when they ultimately come true and we suddenly find our children have become adults and moved out of the house and work part-time as a barista in order to save money for community college, all while living in an apartment with two moronic roommates both named Derek.

(Okay, I made up the part about the Dereks. Apologies to any Derek reading this. You're probably not a moron.)

The point is, my children are maturing rapidly. Life is not slowing down any time soon either. I also have ministry tasks and relationships, friendships, academic pursuits, and a marriage that are all deeply valuable to me. We live in a culture of busyness, and it's not going to relent any time soon.

I don't want to spend my moments with my kids longing for the good ol' days when they were tiny and cute, or awaiting the days when they'll be more grown up. I want to be present with them, here, now, fully experiencing them as they are, not were or will be. It takes discipline and practice, and I'm finding a couple practices are working for me:

Hang up and arrive. This post from Jon Acuff is one of the best little pieces of parenting wisdom I've ever read on the Internet. When you walk into your home after work, a trip, or even a brief errand, don't be on your phone. Finish the phone call before you walk in the door. Don't respond to that text right now. If the phone call is somewhat urgent or important, take a few minutes and drive around the block until the call is over. When I walk in the door, I can drop my bag and scoop up my kids immediately. They're far more important than any Facebook notification.

Eat dinner together. It's super old fashioned, and it may not last when my kids are teenagers, but we try to eat dinner as a family every night. It's never the same time, and it doesn't typically last super long, but my wife and I both put our cell phones and laptops away, sit down at the table with our kiddos, and eat food together. There's something mysteriously powerful about sharing meals with people. Maybe that's why Jesus gave us a sacrament that involves eating, or why the kingdom of heaven is often described as a banquet.

Resources: These are awesome books for learning how to be more present as a family:

As For Me and My Crazy House, by Brian Berry. Brian is a great friend in ministry, and he strives to practice what he preaches in this fantastic and practical book about family life in ministry.

What Matters Most, by Doug Fields. Doug's little book is more like a long pamphlet giving you permission to use one word: no. You can say "no" to tasks, obligations, and requests in order to be more present with your family.

The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family, by Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni takes a break from the corporate world to share some questions about family identity and practice that are incredibly helpful. The questions get to the root of family issues, asking why our family is so busy and stressed, and offering healthy alternatives.

How are you practicing presence in your family? Share your stories and wisdom in the comments!

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