What does your child see in you on a daily basis? Someone who is frazzled, tense, distracted? Do they see a strained or tired look on your face? Someone who is endlessly multitasking, trying to get it all done?
Are you often pre-occupied, lost in thought, and not really fully present with your kids (or anyone else for that matter)? Perhaps they see you lost in your digital devices: working on the computer, surfing the net, or mindlessly checking your cell phone umpteen-hundred times a day.
What does your child hear from you most often? Does it sound like a drill sergeant: “Hurry up, we have to go!” “Stop fighting with your sister!” “Don’t look at me / talk to me / ignore me like that!” Perhaps they don’t hear much at all from you. Perhaps you’re too distracted – or too tired – from other daily demands.
Do you notice what they’re noticing each day?
How often do you pause to be present, in this moment, with your child?
Do you notice what looks they have on their face? Do you see their excitement or disappointment? Do you hear their words, their hopes, their frustrations? Do you understand what matters to them, what they’re really trying to say, even when they’re acting out aggressively or withdrawing anxiously?
Do you see your child, and accept your child, for who they are – not just some projection of what you think they should be? With each precious moment of a child’s ever-unfolding development, can we pause periodically to really notice the unique, amazing person they are becoming?
Do you – will you – meet and greet your child with the gift of presence each day?!
There is a tradition in the South African Zulu tribe for greeting one another that has a powerful impact on their family and community bonds. “Sawubona” is the greeting, which means “I see you.” And the common reply is “Ngikhona”, meaning “I am here.”
When you join with someone in this way, you give them your full attention and heart. You let them know that you see them, you hear them, and you are here for them. Once acknowledged and appreciated in this way, you can express the feeling of completeness that comes with being noticed – indeed, I am here. I matter. Thank you.
I invite you to try this simple exercise with your partner or your child:
- Sit or stand quietly in front of one another for a few moments.
- Look directly, tenderly into each other’s eyes.
- Pause and breathe.
- Simply and sincerely say to them “I see you.”
- Let the receiver of this greeting take it in fully, slowly, and quietly.
- When they are ready, they can respond sincerely too, “I am here.”
- Pause. Breathe. And reciprocate.
- Have the other person offer the greeting, and you receive it, replying in kind.
This simple act of seeing and hearing one another, fully and lovingly, can be a powerful way to begin your day, or any conversation or activity with your loved ones.
When we greet our children with compassion and curiosity, rather than pre-conceived notions and judgments, we show them how much we truly care.
When we meet our children where they are, they feel loved. When they feel loved, they can be free to be themselves. They can and will open themselves up to us more. Then we can all reap the sacred harvest of seeing, hearing, and knowing one another.
So, the lesson for today, the mindful parenting practice for the month, is simply this. Listen to your child with an open mind, and see your child with an open heart. Be present.
For the present is all we really have to share with one another.
Peter Montminy, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, mindfulness teacher, loving husband and dad. He invites you to join in an ongoing conversation that seeks to restore sanity to humanity – one child at a time. Join us at www.AMindfulVillage.com.