Being a Present Parent
"The twins are now changing at such a rate, it is painfully evident to me that every moment is precious and a one off, so making sure that I am with them in the moment whenever I can be is now even more important than ever."
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1. I want my children to feel like they are the most important thing in the world to me and also not be on autopilot whilst 20 years sneak by, but It’s so easy to be thinking of other things or “quickly” check my phone. Add to this sleep deprivation, being present has been one of my biggest challenges.
2. I'm not the only one. Being present is the number one challenge that comes up in my conversations with parents.
3. The good news is the same conversations have allowed me to zero in on a few things that helped.
4. Acceptance of where you are and what you are doing allows you to be present - I struggled with this - In the back of my mind there was an incessant voice listing all the things I “Should Be” doing.
5. Realistic expectations are critical to acceptance - My expectations drove my “Should Be’s”. When the twins arrived I had tried to come up with a more realistic set of expectations.
6. You may need new priorities to drive the right action - To make sure I took the right action to be present, I had to look at my priorities.
(TG = Twin Girl, TB = Twin Boy)
Washing a paintbrush might seem like a funny time to notice being present, but I guess that's the point, if you are aiming to be present and in the moment, not off somewhere in your head, then washing a paintbrush is just as good as any other moment to be present to. It wasn’t just this moment though, over the past few months I noticed a general change in my ability to be present, with vivid memories of green trees in the summer sun, a lovely (and extremely rare) moment with TG where she just wanted to be picked up and hugged while staring into my eyes (instead of telling me what to do and simultaneously conveying her deep disappointment in me), and helping TB to go to sleep in the pram by rubbing his forehead and nose.
I have always believed that being present was one of the most important things I could do for the twins. I want them to feel like they are the most important thing in the world to me and also not be on autopilot whilst 20 years sneak by, but It’s so easy to be thinking of other things or “quickly” check my phone. Add to this sleep deprivation, being present has been one of my biggest challenges.
It seems I'm not the only parent struggling with this, having recently conducted a round of interviews to better understand the challenges of patenting, being present and in the moment was the number one challenge that came up. The good news is the same conversations have allowed me to zero in on a few things that helped.
So what are they?
😇Acceptance of where you are and what you are doing allows you to be present.
Becoming a parent requires you to change. For most of us it seems the scale, pace, unpredictability and lack of control is tough to get our heads around and practically adapt and accept. Parents who seemed the most calm and at peace used expressions like “I just had to learn to let it go” and “I had to be ok that I couldn’t do what I did before”.
I certainly struggled with this - It seemed irrelevant that my conscious mind had prioritised the twins and I had taken action to be there physically. In the back of my mind there was an incessant voice listing all the things I “Should Be” doing instead of focusing on what I was - worries about work, family, friends, and the fact the bloody washing hadn’t been hung out yet seemed to take over my brain regardless.
I took a coaching program a while ago and one thing really stuck with me - when we say something "should be", we are really saying that the reality we see in front of us should be different, which when taken literally seems a little crazy and is the opposite of acceptance. This doesn't mean we cant change things over time, but we need to start from a position of seeing and understanding the reality in front of us, not wishing it was different.
🤓 Realistic expectations are critical to acceptance
The thing that drove a huge amount of my “Should Be’s” were my expectations. Before the twins arrived I had done my best to try and come up with a more realistic set of expectations. This worked to a certain extent, but the reality is these didn't go far or deep enough - any expectations I had of myself or the twins meant I would focus on the gap and trying to fix it, instead of being ok where we were in the moment.
As time went on, like peeling an onion, I kept refining my expectations to be more gritty, real and flexible - the twins' needs changed so fast meant that just as we thought we had it nailed, we had to peel off another layer!
For example, knowing I would need to be more patient was not the same as understanding how being patient would feel when you feel behind with EVERYTHING. Expecting to have to work a bit more flexibly is not the same as trying to keep commitments when it feels like 75% of your time (and sleep!) are not in your control - in this case I had to embrace a flexible work pattern that I wouldn’t have tolerated previously, rather than getting frustrated and piling energy into sticking to a version of the rigid but “optimised” way of doing things I was used to.
I constantly remind myself that “Happiness is the gap between reality and expectations” (not sure who to credit for this gem!). Being present is one thing, but if I could be happy as well it’s a slam dunk, so managing my expectations was even more essential.
'🔢 You may need new priorities to drive the right action
To make sure I took the right action to be present, I had to look at my priorities. Before I did this, despite work on expectations and acceptance, I found myself frustrated that I was still off with the “Should Be” fairies!
It was too easy to get stuck trying to run my old prioritisation regime without realising it. When I dug a bit deeper than this I found despite my newly found acceptance and more helpful expectations, my priorities meant my brain was still trying to steer me to go about my life like I had before.
I needed a new set of priorities that gave me the space and permission to be present. It sounds simple but this is a big ask, and requires some discipline to practice. An obsession with putting the washing out wasn’t really about the washing, it was about my lack of freedom and ability to just get shit done like I used to. Letting go of “getting shit done” as priority #1 was hard.
Taking a breath, getting these things straight in my head, and practically building my day around a new set of priorities made me a much more present parent and less aggy person all round. Thankfully, sometimes though the prompts go straight to the heart - the twins squeals of joy when we collect them from nursery is an instant reminder of why I don't want to miss a second!
The twins are now changing at such a rate, it is painfully evident to me that every moment is precious and a one off, so making sure that I am with them in the moment whenever I can be is now even more important than ever.