Or: What I learned while my son was at summer camp.
Spring Break is coming up, which makes me think of camp, which reminds me what a hard time I had when my son went away to camp this summer. He’d been gone before for a few nights at a time, to stay with relatives or friends, but this was 6 days, hours of driving away, with no contact. The camp did post pictures every day, and my friends whose kids had gone before told me stories of scouring the online albums for hours each night, searching for glimpses of their offspring. I told my son that I would pay him 1$ for every picture he was in, and the first night he was grinning cheerfully in 4 pictures. Clearly missing me.
While J was away, I watched this TED video of Ric Elias. In 5 minutes, this survivor of the plane that landed in the Hudson River in January of 2009 called out every lazy parenting choice or barely acceptable rationalization that I’ve ever had. He shared three realizations that he gained from his near-death experience on Flight 1549, and then encouraged the audience to consider what would change in their life if they left his talk and got on a plane that met the same fate his flight had. One especially poignant point he made was that, as a direct result of committing to be happy more than right, he has not had a fight with his wife in two years. That hit home. But it was when he talked about his biggest lesson; that “Above all, I want to be a great dad”, that I really felt the impact of what it means to be a present parent.
I was at the gym a while ago and picked up a parenting magazine someone had left. My kids are beyond a lot of the stages that this particular magazine described; we’re done with potty training and sleep issues (although the picky eater drama continues), and so I felt a bit nostalgic as I got to the end of the magazine. I remembered the years I would read these issues cover-to-cover, seeking to glean all the wisdom I could from the expert opinions and tips that had worked for other families. Those were the days.
And then I realized that there was one clear and consistent theme presented clearly on every page of that magazine. The articles, the pictures, even the ads promoted this concept ruthlessly, and once I saw it, it was inescapable. Each issue, from this one to the ones before my time, proclaimed one essential requirement of parenting (perhaps with many variations and options), and that message was this: Be present.
Think about it. If you are a parent, when have been your best moments as a parent? I’m confident your first thought was of a time when you were completely present with your child(ren). Whatever you were doing or not doing, whatever was being said, eaten, or played with, you were present. You were there, not distracted or annoyed or self-conscious.
If you have a parent, I’m equally sure that your best moments with them were when they were 100% with you. It didn’t even matter what you were doing, where you were, or even who else was around, because you didn’t notice or care. You had the undivided attention of the person who was most important in the world.
This is the power of being all-in.
Self-leadership is just as important in my parenting, if not more, than in other areas of my life. If I am preaching self-leadership to my clients but not exercising it in my own family by empowering and coaching my children to lead their own lives, something is very wrong. Being present – with my children, my spouse, my friends, myself, my situation- is always, always, the most powerful choice I can make.
Yes, I am saying that I learned about the power of being present as a parent while my son was away at camp. Thank you very much, Alanis Morissette.
The last words of Ric’s talk were questions that he challenged the audience to ask themselves. The very last question was: “And more than anything, are you being the best parent you can?” I learned while my son was at camp that whatever your initial response, if you want to become a better parent (or spouse, friend, partner, employee, individual); a better self-leader- the answer is simple: Be present.