How can I be more present with my teenager?
"How can I be present to my teenager when I’ve got a hundred other things on my mind?" That’s exactly what my overwhelmed client asked.
She’s juggling work, marriage, motherhood, managing a household, running three times a week and taking Thai cooking classes – and feeling both tired and terribly lacking. “I’m not doing any of it as well as I should be. If only I was a better multi-tasker.” My heart sank a little when I heard this. I remember when multi-tasking became the cool new attribute to add to your resume. Good at multi-tasking. And it was celebrated as a special talent. Hooray for your extra productivity. Neuroscientists now confirm that we cannot really focus on more than one thing at a time. And yet, here we are surrounded by structures and technologies that encourage and expect us to do just that. They say we have to go fast to stay relevant or risk being left behind in the world. At the same time, they inundate us with distractions calling us to do better, look better, be better - more messages than could possibly be consumed in a lifetime. It’s no wonder that so many of us are feeling like it’s harder to focus. Sensing that our attention has been stolen. Unable to find space to think, process, wonder or imagine. AND we are parenting. We have a whole other set of demands for our attention – our kids. Now that they are in their teens and twenties, our kids need us to be present for much more complex and consequential issues like relationships, mental health, career choices, the changing planet and moral questions. Big stuff. And they need our attention at unpredictable times. The 7:30 am search for the history essay. The late-night questions about dealing with the unfair boss, the depressed friend, the unwanted flirting. Or their needs are so subtle and masked that we need to pay extra attention just to get a sense of what’s really going on for them. Our kids need us to hold space for their development – all the wondering, their triumphs and setbacks, the discovery of their own values and opinions as they gradually come to see the gifts they bring into the world. Parents are the wider container that holds space for their lives as they unfold. So how can you be right there in those moments of their lives?
Be present to yourself
Maintain a relaxed openness with your child
Being Present to Yourself To offer sustained presence to anyone else in a healthy way, you need to maintain connection to yourself, like putting your oxygen mask on first. Being present to yourself means having awareness to what is presenting itself in this moment. You are feeling yourself in your body, noticing your own tensions, breathing and adjusting your shoulders or unclenching your jaw. You are sensing emotions rising in you - your fear, your anger, your grief –and riding the wave as they flow through you and dissipate. You are noticing what voices are chattering in your mind and discerning which one to heed. You give your attention to yourself. As parents, we do a lot of listening and empathizing. And it’s easy to become depleted if you are not replenishing your energy and re-establishing your centredness. You can end up losing yourself in the complexity of their thought processes or absorb their emotions. You can become drained, overwhelmed and hopeless, like the mother I mentioned, and unable to offer quality presence to others. So, I see self-connection as a key to being resourceful, composed and deliberate in your relationship with your child. You choose to make this a priority. You choose where your attention goes. You connect with your own light first, so you can be truly supportive to your child. Maintaining relaxed openness In many energy arts, the movements require less muscle contraction than expected. In the same way, offering your child your presence requires a relaxed focus. Rather than tightening, thinking there’s something you have to solve for them or feeling a sense of urgency, you loosen and become receptive. We all know that, when we are not relaxed and open, we fall into bad habits like analyzing, denying feelings, making it about yourself, interrogating, diagnosing or jumping straight to the silver lining. When you listen and converse from a calm, expansive state, you give your child your full presence. They are witnessed by your open heart and feel deeply heard and accepted. Right here and now.
Practices to maintain self-connection and relaxed openness I know how full parenting life is so I’m not going to suggest hours of meditation. Instead, here are some quick, doable practices that, with repetition, will build your self-attention muscle. Just pick one to practice during conversations for a few weeks.
Check in with your posture. Align your spine. Pull your shoulders down and back. Tuck your chin slightly. Sometimes I intentionally put myself off center - subtly rock side to side, stretch my neck up, exaggerate a slouch - and then resettle myself in alignment.
Visualize your energy as a sphere of sweet light all around you and wonder/notice how it meets your child’s sphere.
Periodically focus on your breath expanding your abdomen, oxygenating your organs and then releasing slowly.
Engage your senses. Soften or sharpen your focus. Smell the air. Put a little pressure on your fingertips.
Bring your awareness to energy flowing from the heavens through your crown and from the earth through your root chakra and sense the flow in the central channel of energy in your body.
Silently repeat a mantra that brings your attention into your heart. My favourite is: I am here now and so is Love.These practices help you notice when you are tightening, striving, hurrying or shifting into unsupportive or divisive approaches. And give you more capacity to give the clear presence and space your child needs.
When you are present to the moment, when you come back to yourself, the gifts of Spirit shine through. Your essential Divine nature, your love, compassion and acceptance - are already here. You don’t have to do anything but relax and be in the moment with your child. Be present to the mystery and miracle of the person in front of you and their natural human need to be seen, heard and accepted. The space you hold for your child's ideas and emotions is sacred space. That's where connection happens.