Sometimes as a father we just need to show up. We’re not always going to have the energy to teach or coach our children but our regular presence in their lives goes a long way.
I want to be clear, presence is not defined as just being in the same room as your children. I have found myself over and over again, being in the same room as my kids, but I’m staring at my phone. Or watching the ball game on the TV. This is not being present with your child. You might as well be in separate rooms or not there altogether.
Being present with your children means that you engage them. You ask them questiions or let them ask questions. You get on the floor and play. Or you read with them.
In today’s world, there are many different distractions that prevent us from showing up in the first place. Work, social engagements, recreational activities, and sporting events are just to name a few. I feel that the biggest disctractors are the ones that are in our own homes that vie for our attention, which are our smartphones, computers, and TVs. I even have used chores as a major distraction to being present with my kids.
About 5 days into a recent week long vacation, my 4 year old son told me something that stung. He looked at me one afternoon and said, “Dad, I don’t want you to play with me any more because every time I ask you to play Legos with you me you always say no.”
Ouch. Legos are his favorite toy. In fairness, it is unrealistic that I’m going to play with him every time he asks, but it was a trend for at least a few weeks where I didn’t play Legos with him. To me this is not a big deal but from his perspective, it was tremendously saddening. I quickly learned to say yes more frequently but more importantly, not let myself get in the habit of remaining disengaged. Let’s just say I played a lot of Legos during the remainder of that vacation.
It’s also very easy to let work prevent us from being present with our children. I’m primarily speaking about jobs and careers but it does pertain to yard work and projects around the house too.
Without a doubt, my job is often easier than parenting my two boys. Parenting is hard and sometimes not what we want to be doing. This makes it very tempting to want to go in the office a little early to avoid the chaos of getting them out the door in the morning. Or stay a little later in the evening to avoid the witching hours that overtakes our younger children. And now that technology enables us to work remotely and respond to emails on our phone, it’s even easier to say yes to work when we are at home.
Let’s be honest. What we are really doing in these moments is we are saying no to our children.
No, you cannot have my attention, I have to check my phone to see if there is a new email response from that manager I’m trying desperately to impress. No, you can’t see me at 5:30 tonight because this report needs to go out so that maybe someone will hopefully read it tomorrow. No, I can’t play Legos with you right now because I have to empty the dishwasher first.
It’s often hard to say no to opportunities at work or in my social life but it’s critical to give myself enough time to be present with my children.
I used to play 1-3 gigs a month as musician, which I loved. Now, I rarely play them and while that makes me a little sad, it was not more important than being present with my children. I could see softball or soccer leagues being similarly tempting.
We all have our duties at work or within the home that need to be done, but when they get completed are often within our control. There are also many activities that could be eliminated, simplified, or involve our children. For example, I’ve let my oldest help me approve time sheets for my employees late one Friday evening.
To be clear, I’m not saying we can’t have room for some of these activities in our lives. We just also need to make sure they are balanced with enough opportunities to show up and be present with our children. We need to find a balance of activities that engage our children with activities that help us grow as fathers. And we also need to get more creative on finding time and activities that can accomplish both.
Some activities that can be eliminated or reduced are mindlessly scrolling the news or social media on your smart phone or playing softball three nights a week. Or maybe the activities just need to be better managed. Maybe we don’t need to work 50 hours a week. Maybe we just need to work smarter, occasionally say no to a project, and work a more effective 40 hours.
Our children can tell when you are present with them or not. So let us all take one of the first major steps on the path to fatherhood, let’s show up and be present.