In a world of Pintrest, Instagram and all of the other forms of social media it is very easy to find ourselves in this push to be the "perfect" parent. There is so much pressure around how we parent and what makes us a good parent that I worry that I am missing what is truly important in my role as a parent.
If I am totally honest, creating the "social media perfect parent" is something that I think I battle. I find myself uneasy if I leave my phone behind because I don't want to capture that moment that is so perfect to continue my social media facade. As I am trying to watch for those perfect moments, my level of attunement and attention on my boys becomes compromised. Those precious moments of connection have now become moments of pressure and "task". In my moments of reflection, I have to wonder...if my boys read my social media posts that leave you feeling "awe how precious" would they also say that they felt the same way or felt that dad was truly present and enjoying the real moment of connection with them?
Dr. Perry discusses the critical elements of good caregiving--present, attuned, attentive and responsive (Perry, 2007). A punch to the gut-- how present I am with my boys if I am worried about capturing that picture perfect social media moment? If I am not present, how will I be able to be attuned to their needs? How can I be responsive to what they need physically and emotionally? Several things race through my mind about how my level of being present and in the moment will impact my boys....am I being neglectful?
If you are like me, you might be struggling a bit to truly be present with you child for various reasons--exhaustion, stress, uncertainty of if your child wants your attention, trying to manage household responsibilities, being present with your significant other, staying on top of the social media posts of your random friends...so many things are screaming for our attention while we have little ones in front of us who are also screaming for our attention in different ways. The question becomes, how do we move from distracted, overwhelmed, exhausted parents to the parents who are truly present and connected with their child(ren)? Here are a few things that I personally want to work on.
Leave my phone in the other room when I play with my boys. How many times do we find ourselves reaching for our phone to grab the picture of that precious moment and there is an alert on our phone. We quickly check that alert and then we disappear for a few moments before we come back to our kids. They felt that and we missed out on some positive moments with our kids. It happens so quickly. Let's avoid that temptation by leaving the phone in the other room.
Schedule times to really practice this. My boys will ask me to do a variety of things from making a fort, playing "monster" or a specific game and I find myself saying "not right now guys." While that is not an inappropriate response to them, the problem is they are requesting connection with me and I need to assure them that a specific time is coming when that can happen. Not right now will likely lead to a 10001 questions of "can we now daddy? How about now? Daddy...daddy...and then after a while of putting them off and ignoring that request, they will likely start to act in a way that forces me to pay attention to them. Failing to establish a clear cut time of when we are going to connect will likely make for some anxiousness to creep in and that anxiety if not addressed will likely lead to a negative behavior that I am forced to address at some point. A small fix to this--provide a concrete time of when you are going to connect and stick to it. Change the "not right now" response to "right after dinner" or "in ten minutes" or something more concrete to help them trust that connection is coming.
Remember small doses are what they need. As we are rushing to get all of the things done around the house, take care of this and that, etc, I have to remember that when the boys ask for connection, they are needing a small dose of undivided attention from me. I remember Dr. Perry sharing that our children will get bored with us after a short time (sometimes even 2-3 minutes) and move onto something different. I laughed as he shared that and as my boys grow older, I see this play out so often. When I pause what I am doing, provide the undivided attention and connection for 2-3 minutes with them, I meet their relational and emotional need in a positive way. When I ignore their requests, I am communicating a few things to them.
One, your needs are not important to me at the moment, which in a way translates to you are not important to me. To them the fort they made or the picture they created or the silly story they want to tell you is their ENTIRE world in that moment. It is all they can think about and so when I ignore their attempts to tell me about it, I am communicating a message to them that their interests and big things in life are not important to me. So then as they grow older, do you think they will invite me into those special important areas of life or will they think "daddy doesn't care about those things in my life, so I won't bother him with it." OUCH...that stings to write that.
Two, you will have to use a lot of pressure/go to extreme measures to get my attention. We utilize a model of therapy called, Natural Lifemanship and in that they teach about the principles of pressure. Starting with the least amount of pressure and gradually increasing as we make a request. When cooperation is achieved, then we release the pressure. If we ignore, we increase the pressure. Our children will do this on their own and if it takes them getting to an 7-8 out of 10 to get our attention, then the next time they need to get our attention, they will likely start at a 7 or 8 with pressure to get our attention.
Even as I write this, my to-do list is rushing through my mind and all of the things I want to accomplish today, but I also have to slow down, schedule those moments of connection with the boys. I need to be attentive and responsive to what they need. The items on my to-do list can wait a few extra minutes while I work on being a present parent for my boys. I want to communicate the message to them--you matter enough to me that I will pause what I am doing and connect with you. Our children need those moments of connection, not perfection. Our children do not need a perfect parent. What our children need is a present parent.