The Present of Being Present

When we talk about healthy coping skills for life stresses, mindfulness is often mentioned.  We know that focusing on where you are at this point in time rather than reliving past events or worrying about future ones can help refocus your thoughts and priorities and provide a mental resiliency to current circumstances.

But have you ever thought about how your attentiveness to the moment affects others?  Too frequently, one observes a family together but individually isolated as they tap or scroll on their phones. We shake our heads

and say, “how sad.”  Later, while simultaneously finishing up a spreadsheet for work, we text one person while attempting to hold a phone conversation with another.  In our minds that is justified because multitasking is encouraged and considered “efficient.”  But, for whom?

Maybe, just maybe, a part of your mind acknowledges that you missed part of the conversation.  And, possibly some of the following questions arose.  Did you brush those few moments off as unimportant or assume the topic will come up again?  Feel a tiny bit guilty for not listening due to your lack of focus?  Did she realize I was distracted?  I wonder how my lack of attention made her feel.

Ask a military family that has endured separation: Is it the presents that the returning family member brings home or is it the presence of the service member that brings smiles and happy tears to loved ones?  Think back over holidays and celebrations.  What do you remember?  While an occasional gift maybe mentioned, most people talk about the relationships.  Baking cookies with your mom where you talked about everything and nothing.    The fishing trip with your siblings with stories late into the night about “remember when.” The get-away weekend with a friend with time to be silly or serious. 

 “A person wants a witness to his life.”  This is paraphrased from Susan Sarandon’s character in the movie “Shall We Dance.”  People need to be heard.  By having someone listen to their hopes, dreams, and experiences, it confirms the importance of their lives.  That “old man” in assisted living might be a military veteran with an important message for your generation.  To hear that lesson it requires taking the time to see him as a person of value and not an obligation.   This is not just about older people though.  Everyone, including young children, needs to feel they have value.   Listening and engaging with them in a meaningful (not distracted) manner helps them understand their feelings, hopes, and dreams, and helps us to learn from them.  During this time of national stress, many people are feeling isolated and alone.  They do not need a national platform; they just need an engaged you and me.

Maybe the best present you can bring to someone is your time and your attention.  Really listen to what they have to say.  Plan events to create memories–a camping trip, game night, or create a memory book by asking someone about their past.  Plan time to just sit and talk.  It does not have to be time consuming.  Have a meal with no phones.  Put down social media, fix a cup of tea and spend 15 minutes of real engagement with someone who is special to you or who needs a lift. This is a gift we can give anyone.

Then see what wonderful things you learn.  Perhaps it will be what a creative or clever child you have. Maybe the story you expected to hear for the 20th time, may be a new anecdote revealing how your family was a part of history.  Rather than avoiding that time of mourning with a friend embrace it as you embrace them, and you will find the times of joy to be even sweeter.  You may even hear a nice word about yourself during these moments.  For you see, the gift of attentiveness is one which blesses not only the recipient but the giver as well. 

Family Dynamics In The Age Of COVID-19

No doubt you are feeling some stress from the COVID-19 situation. While doing our best to make the virus disappear with social distancing, hand washing etc., it has changed our day-to-day dynamics and routines. One area that has come up repeatedly, is the panic in parents’ voices about how unprepared they are to have the schools unexpectedly closed. Unfortunately, society has “evolved” to a point where families are socially distant. School, work, activities, homework, housework, sports, our days have become whirlwinds of activity but not much communication. One of the tenets of Lifestyle Medicine is building strong relationships. Rather than feeling “trapped’ by upcoming restrictions, look at it as a time to reconnect as a family. Get to know your kids as individuals and learn their personalities. To this end, I asked my friend, teacher, and mom, Heather Cudworth, to write a guest blog that will hopefully help you achieve this goal.

Family Together Time by Heather Cudworth

As a public school teacher, turned stay-at-home mom, turned homeschool mom, if there’s one thing I learned about managing children, it’s the power of having some sort of schedule to keep the day flowing along and allow for together time and alone time, active time and quiet time. What you’ll want to do depends upon your circumstances and your children’s ages, but I’d suggest something along these lines:

1. Quiet reading or play in their rooms
2. Get dressed and have breakfast
3. Do schoolwork if they’re assigned any, or you can assign some from the links below (which is more fun, because you can do the activities with them!)
4. Play break, outside on the lawn if possible so that they can run!
5. Lunch
6. Read a book together aloud. If they’re old enough, pick a chapter book to read aloud together or to listen to on Audible. If they’re little, have a couple of story books.
7. Quiet Time — Naps for the little ones and quiet reading/writing/art or finishing schoolwork for the big ones. Break time for the parent to accomplish other things!
8. Play break — active play encouraged.
9. Clean up and help get supper ready.
10. Supper
11. Family fun time — Play a game, build something, do an art project, watch a video together, go for a walk, etc.
12. Get ready for bed.

Once you get them used to the routine, it should go fairly smoothly, and the more you’re really involved in their activities, the better things will flow. This is not the time to be on your phone or computer unless you absolutely have to be. Children, even teens, really need their parents and crave their attention, as much as they pretend not to. If you use this opportunity well, you may build some of the best memories of your children’s lives, and make your biggest impact upon who they grow up to be, in these weeks together at home.
Here are a few links:

100 Ideas for Family Fun at Home (mainly non-electronic)

If your children’s schools aren’t providing assignments right now, here are a few resources:

This site was thrown together quickly to allow people to educate Preschool and up for free and since it was put together so quickly there are some spelling errors etc. that the content creator acknowledges: A Better Way to Homeschool

Tons of idea links on the internet

Printable workbooks to keep them busy

Free educational websites for kids