Stop Texting and Start Listening
How to walk away from the cell phone, the computer and your own busy mind to really be with your children.
On one of our recent lovely fall evenings some friends and I were enjoying dinner al fresco at a local restaurant. Next to us was a young father and his two exuberant grade school age sons. The boys jabbered to one another as they ate their dinner and then got up and began to toss a football back and forth on the restaurant patio. As we were the only diners sitting outside, they disturbed no one with their play.
What struck us, however, was that their father remained on his iPhone the entire time he was with his children—even while eating. He wasn’t talking on it, just staring at it and texting on it. Occasionally, one of the boys would ask him a question, and he’d grunt or nod a response—often without even looking up. We noted that he didn’t speak 10 words to the boys the entire 30 or so minutes they were on the patio with us and almost never made eye contact with them.
In our current technological age we are able to do many things that were once restricted to our homes or offices: balance our checkbooks, finish business deals, connect with friends in distant countries, even watch movies. I have no idea if the young father on the patio was closing a multi-million dollar business deal, or simply catching up on sports scores. What he wasn’t doing was being present to his children in the 30-minute window he had with them on the patio of that restaurant.
While the term “texting” has become part of our common language, the word “mindfulness” is almost as ubiquitous. Mindfulness refers to being in the present with whatever you are doing, instead of doing one thing while thinking about something else. If you are eating, it means really tasting and savoring your food. If you are washing the car, it means feeling the slippery suds on the sponge as you run it along the metal.
If you are with your children, it means looking at their soft skin and glowing eyes, inhaling their kid smell whether it is warm and sweaty or sweet from their bath. It means talking to them and really listening to their sometimes goofy and outrageous ideas. It means reading to them, snuggling with them and thoughtfully guiding and teaching them with your words and with your actions.
I’m not down on technology. Texting has allowed me to keep in touch with my teenager in ways my parents couldn’t have imagined. But we must make every attempt to keep technology in its proper place if we want to be good parents and raise children who have a soul as well as a brain.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic, and author of two best-selling books: Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness and Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, has also co-written, along with his wife Myla, Everyday Blessings: the Inner Work of Mindful Parenting.
In an interview with PBS Online Myla Kabat-Zinn states, “So often we think we have to give our children tangible gifts. We’re very oriented in our society to buying; that’s the way we give our children love. But very often what is most meaningful to children is the gift of our presence. When we’ve asked people to talk about moments when they felt truly seen by another person in their family, it was often something very simple, like having their hands in the dirt with their grandfather out in the garden. That moment stays with them their whole lives.”
Here are a few tips from the Kabat-Zinns in their book, “Everyday Blessings: the Inner Work of Mindful Parenting”:
Try to imagine the world from your child’s point of view, purposely letting go of your own. Do this every day for at least a few moments to remind you of who this child is and what he or she faces in the world.
Imagine how you appear and sound from your child’s point of view, i.e., having you as a parent today, in this moment.
Be mindful of your expectations of your children and consider whether they are truly in your child’s best interest. Also, be aware of how you communicate those expectations and how they affect your children.
Learn to live with tension without losing your own balance…Your child needs you to be the center of balance and trustworthiness, a reliable landmark by which he or she can take a bearing within his or her own landscape.
Apologize to your child when you have betrayed a trust in even a little way. Apologies are healing.
There are important times when we need to be clear and strong and unequivocal with children…mindful parenting does not mean being overindulgent, neglectful, or weak; nor does it mean being rigid, domineering, and controlling.
The greatest gift you can give your child is yourself. This means that part of your work as a parent is growing in self-knowledge and awareness. This ongoing work can be furthered by making time for quiet contemplation in whatever ways feel comfortable to us. We only have right now. Let us use it to its best advantage, for our children’s sake, and for our own.