Experiment #6 - Being present with your kids
Updated: Feb 22
Because when you ask 90 year olds about their biggest regrets. One of those is likely to be not spending enough time with their children when they were young. "Time goes too fast", they say. "When did they grow up".
The bitter truth of chasing a better tomorrow, is you forget to live inside the wonderful opportunity that is staring you in the face today. Right now. This moment.
This present crisis has dealt many blows but it has of course given the gift of time. I made a conscious decision once my clients dried up to fully pause my ambitions on the business, dig deep into savings and make the most of spending time with my kids ages 6 and 3.
What this virus has brought into sharp focus is that none of us truly know how much time we have left. And of the time we do have, I wanted to use in what a great friend describes as ‘regret minimilisation’ - In other words, live your life in order to dial down the regrets you may have in the future.
So fast forward to Experiment #6 in a series of 30 day challenges entitled - 'Being present with your kids'.
There is a slug of time in the day that every parent with young children will never get back. It's cumulative and it can be painful. And that no matter what you do, seems to take forever. In our household we coldly call it ‘The Process’ the witching hours between dinner and bedtime where you encourage eating, brushing, and most vitally sleeping. The non stop cajoling of ‘come on then’ ‘eat quickly, and you'll get a sticker’ and 'you’re teeth will fall out if you don’t brush them’.
All of these tried and tired mix of threats and incentivisations go hand in hand with half an eye on the clock, and a brain whirring through the ever growing to-do list. Are we ever fully present during ‘The Process’? I know I wasn’t until I started this experiment.
But that all began to change on April 1st. Maybe there’s a reason I started this one on April Fool’s Day. Here then are some lessons from this experiment that might encourage you to try it at home. Be warned there are some unintended consequences.
Lesson 1: The less you yell at them, the more compliant they actually are.
Ok fine, that kind of needs some finessing. But I once heard on a podcast, that yelling at your kids will be viewed by future generations, the same way smoking is today. Harmful. And kind of pointless. Without the addictive qualities.
Weird isn’t it? You would think that the threat of your impatience and occasional sarky comments should be sufficient, to switch them from their sloth like movement to a high speed Formula 1 version of eating dinner and getting into their PJs. Spoiler alert - it doesn’t work at all. By leaving my brain with my phone, in other words far away, all I’m left with is the need to be present and wow what a difference that makes. Better conversations, more eye contact, more hugs at night and yes, absolutely less yelling. And more of that gold standard for parents everywhere - ‘compliance’
Why the hell hadn't I tried this before?!
Lesson 2: Role Model - Leadership starts at home
Don’t tell them they have had enough screen time when it’s exactly what you’re doing. The thing is, kids are smart. They learned to manipulate you from about 6 months, when they cried in their cots and you rushed upstairs only to find they were crocodile tears. Kids are clever. They will pick up on your not-so-subtle cues to tell them one thing, while you do another. We regularly eat dinner together as a family most nights. Yet, the phone isn't ever far away. It made me realise that, just as in business, wielding authority by dint of hierarchical position alone doesn't work. It especially doesn't work if you're being a hypocrite. With the phone out of sight, there was less negotiation around why they "needed the Ipad" during dinner.
Simple but effective.
Lesson 3: Integrity - Promise less, but commit every time
Nothing says I love you more than a parent that CAN keep their commitment to a child. At a young age children tend to not have discovered the arguing capability that comes naturally to teenagers. Ours at least, don't protest too much when one of us has promised something and it doesn’t happen. As they get older, they question this more and more. Be aware of the promises you make and keep them to your kids, they are no less important and arguably even more so. And it teaches them the value of keeping their word. Promise less but commit every time.
Lesson 4: Memory Recall - You forget. They don't.
They surprise you with just how much they remember. By tuning in to what they are saying, they surprise you with a recollection of events that you had long since forgotten. My son went back 2 years to when he was 4, reminding me of a time when I bought him his first bike. He remembered the weather that day, the bell we bought for his bike and his excitement when we brought it home. We underestimate massively the deeds we do, and how it impacts them. And this can work both positively and harmfully (see Lesson 1), so be mindful because like elephants...Kids never forget!
Lesson 5: Learn to love the interruptions - Give in now, and benefit immediately afterwards
Sometimes being present just means acknowledging their curiosity. Before children learn formalities such as saying "Good Morning" or even "Hello", their brains instruct their mouths to blurt out whatever is on their mind. This can be particularly annoying when you're in the middle of something.
Take last week for example, I was taking just 10 minutes to finish a book whilst the kids were still asleep. At the precise moment I open the book, my daughter runs into our room shouting happily that "Elsa is my best friend!"
My annoyance at being interrupted may have showed. After a minute she said she needed help putting on a jumper. At this age, she doesn't know how to ask, she just well, sort of just demands. Initially i wasn’t listening and was putting her off. In the end I realised how simple it would be to just put on her hoodie and off she went. Leaving me in peace.
After a month of practicing being truly present with my kids, I get from them than I ever used to. I listen to them more and get listened to. We laugh more, and there are more hugs. They are just as annoying as they have always been, but for all that it has made me a better father. And what is more priceless than that?
#30dayexperiment is a project I created to better myself, stay disciplined, whilst I pursue a long term goal of creating a business that I love. Stay following for Experiment 7.