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The Gift of Presence

by Natasha Edney

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As parents, most of us lead busy lives with full schedules and an ever expanding to-do list. Within this effort to ‘keep the ship afloat’, it is easy to forget the need our children have for our presence. 

How many times, when your child has asked for your attention, have you responded with ‘in a minute’, only for that minute to never arise? At least the minute arose, but you didn’t use it to bring the promised presence to your child.

I have certainly experienced those times when my little one clamored for attention and I went down the route of brushing them off, or even getting annoyed at their need for me. “How am I ever going to get this job done if I have to keep....(fill in the blank with any one of the assortment of demands your child makes on you in your average day)?

The question is, why? Why do we choose this route when upon reflection, we know it is not serving us or our children?

We all have our individual story around what keeps us out of connection; when my children were younger and I looked more closely at my patterns, I noticed that tasks such as washing the dishes had become an excuse to not engage. I have yet more stories running that I have to keep busy and be a success (whether in the home or workplace) to prove I am worthy and responsible. All these stories of course do not deny the many things I really do have to do, but it’s always worth seeing the truth beneath our actions and each and every choice we make.

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Whatever your story, one basic commonality is that while we are immersed in the modern ‘mustdo’s’ of our lives, we are functioning from a part of our brain that is great at thinking, problem solving and organising, but is not so attuned to our, or our children’s attachment needs. Thus it requires us to bring conscious awareness to consider this need as we make our choices throughout each day. At times you may ‘think’ it seems simpler to distract, ignore, brush off, postpone (however gently) your children’s request for attention; but experience has taught me that if I lay my task down (not necessarily immediately on request, but at an appropriate time thereafter), and look them in the eye, smile and take the time to connect with them at a deeper level - when I am present with them - something within them settles. And the clamoring stops. In fact, research has shown that 15 minutes of qualitative attention for your child earns you 30 minutes of uninterrupted time. Their need for attention has been met on a deeper level.

Whilst this need for uninterrupted time is often a practical reality in our lives, it is not the only reason to bring presence to our children. Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, a lawyer, a receptionist or a business owner, you are likely to be one of many whose response to ‘how are you?’ will include ‘busy’! We are all striving to slow our lives, our minds, and ourselves down in order to restore the balance to our own health and wellness, but also to restore health to our relationships, our communities and our planet. And the beauty of slowing down is that it naturally leads us down the path to presence.

When we run from one thing to the next, multi-tasking along the way, our mind is jumping along with us and our way of being is guided by unconscious reactivity as opposed to conscious responsiveness and presence. Since children learn by imitation, if we do not show our children how to be present, by being present, they too will struggle with this concept and practice later in their busy lives. If we consider presence a healthy choice for us, then it is an art we must teach our children now.

Indeed, one of the reasons I began homeschooling my own children was when I witnessed myself rushing them along on a daily basis to ‘get things done’; “hurry up and get dressed”, “have you done your homework?”, “hurry up we’re late”, “hurry up, hurry up...”! I heard myself saying this to my children as I simultaneously tried to teach myself to slow down. The irony finally became too great to ignore!

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Perhaps most importantly, it is natural and right that our children call on us for presence. And it is natural and right that we bring it to them. Children know when they are being dismissed, whether kindly or irritably. They also know when spending precious time with them is a valued part of your day. Their sense of self-worth and self-love is fed every time you bring your loving presence to them. Self-worth and self-love is the greatest gift you can give them. Greater than a sparkling clean bathroom, another email sent, another dollar made. Presence is a priceless gift. In my practice as a psychotherapist, I have witnessed many elders regret the lost years with their children in the whirlwind of over-busy lives and misplaced priorities. I have never heard anyone say “I wish I had spent less time connecting with my children”.

So, go get out a good book, or a game, or even just your imagination and start with those timeless words ‘once upon a time’. It really doesn’t matter what it is you ‘do’, only that you ‘be’ with your child. Snuggle up with your little ones and gift them your presence. And notice how the gift to your child is also a gift to yourself!

Natasha Edney is a transpersonal psychotherapist and author/storyteller of Once Upon A Bedtime stories. Her children’s audio stories can be purchased on CD or downloaded as mp3’s from

Reader Comments (3)

Fantastic article and beautifully written! Everyone should read this and take heed!
Mar 19, 2013 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterMaria, London
I agree with Maria's comments and of course the excellent article. I have often witnessed parents placing their children in front of TV to keep them quiet and out of the way!!! There's a time for everything. Your children are only young once so don't miss their childhood.
Mar 20, 2013 at 3:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter StImpson
Thank you for sharing this. What a beautiful reminder of what we should all be focused on everyday as parents.
Apr 10, 2013 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

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