Tuesday, January 26

the power of no Presence

Being Present with my daughter through her first year was probably one of the most wonderful gifts I gave her. I will look back in years to come and along with the challenges I'll have that warm memory. So it was a gift to myself too.

It's too easy to disengage from our children by daydreaming of personal needs (I need/want to get X done), or to spend our time regretting the past (why didn't the birth turn out better), or worrying about the future (will I be able to do X for her).

Being fully present in the moment, in the right Now, takes conscious awareness and effort. It's tougher for some than others. Being present is one of the biggie parenting issues of the last 5 years. For me, it was part of who I am, and part of wanting so much more for her than I had in my childhood. And I have embraced it. Not always succeeding of course, but embraced it and strove towards it, and come pretty darn close.


In my recent quest to declutter my mind, and to deal with the frustration of having so little time to myself, of accepting that, I came to a realisation, as we were out walking.

Firstly, I should say that I've come a long way through that acceptance. It brings peace of course, yet acceptance can't remove what is a soul need. I am afterall a Mindful Mama, and a creative mama, and a mystical-spiritual mama, who is up half the night, has a spirited child, craves silence, and only gets 2hrs a day of time alone.

So, the realisation was...... that being present as much as I am, in my situation, wasn't necessarily the best choice for us. Or at least, not any longer.

When we were walking, I was in the moment. I watched her poke different objects with her stick. I noticed what she noticed, what she took interest in, and heard the few words she uttered. I was in the essence of her simple happiness being out with her mama, stick in hand, meeting the world. I also enjoyed the Winter sun and the fresh air.

Sounds lovely, right?


Except that later that day my mind and my body were still craving the nurturing that I wasn't giving them. My body STILL needed sleep, and my mind STILL needed space and silence.

So on the next walk I thought, what did I lose if I wasn't quite as present during this walk? Or, what did different thing did I gain?

I stopped being as present and gave my mind the permission to wander. During the 1hr part-present walk...

- my girl had her mama right by her side
- she held her mama's hand
- she was content and secure
- she had fun
- I watched her explore her world
- I took joy in her simple discoveries and experiments
- I compiled a poem in my head, as well as a couple of blog posts.
- I made a decision about my creative life

This was a conscious de-presenting (?!), but I have actually been doing it for some time now. However, when it's been unconscious it's more of a disengagment, and it is often followed by guilt, or guilt at not feeling guilty. So not being present is actually really easy. It's more about being aware and making the choice to be or not to be, as it were. And not feeling bad for choosing not to be.

This is the dilema of the Mindful Mama - wanting to do it right for their child but needing the balance. Desperate for mind space yet choosing to be always available to her in these formative years.

I'm certainly not advocating not being present. I do believe that learning to be so engaged with my little one has enriched both our lives beyond measure. And learning to be present first is helping me now to understand and be conscious of being otherwise. Because it is a delicate balance, the scales can easily dip too far in either direction.

Ironically, it has supported my Present time. I had begun to disengage and daydream about what I wanted to be doing. Now I'm able to give myself fully to her, consciously deciding that this is our connecting time. And knowing that afterwards, I will allow myself the daydreaming whilst we walk or sit or cuddle together.

But it's a tightrope right now..... I'm learning, I'm pulling my hair out, I'm sitting in peace, I'm enjoying the love and deep connection, I'm exhausted most of the time, I'm relishing re-engaging with myself, I worry of unbalance...... it's all a journey.


  1. you are a very wise woman and THANK YOU for expressing so well what i [and i'm sure many, many more mothers] feel - seeking balance, knowing your child is never going to be 3 years 2 months 5 days except for once...... i stayed home with my eldest for a couple of years and felt totally ready to return to work and knew that she was ready to start interacting with other kids and being away from mommy all day. with my son, due to his premature birth, i was home twice as long [which became a financial burden and stress] and there were many a morning i cried, feeling guilty that all i wanted to do was drink a full cup of coffee BEFORE it got cold and to have adult conversation with someone other than doctors and therapists! thank you again for sharing.

  2. I think there's a natural evolution of de-Presenting...;) Looking back, I spent the better part of three or so years being incredibly Present -- Savannah's first year was very intense and my every molecule was tuned to and available to her..then came along Sebastian and it began again (he had similar sleep patterns as your Wildflower). Which, for a very *day-dreamy* person such as myself, was a HUGE effort...but, oddly, not one that I noticed at the time. You just get on with it.

    So I rarely feel guilty now...as my mind wanders in their presence...we do things side-by-side but not necessarily together...And as they are older I get larger chunks of time to myself where my daydreams get plenty of exercise...

  3. Well once again our journey is experiencing similar traveling conditions!!
    I too have just started to allow myself to potter along alongside my little one when she is engaged in something and content. Of course she reaches out for a kiss or a hand every few minutes, but I am no longer waiting for those moments...or watching out for them, if that makes sense??
    I am just starting to trust that she will come when she needs too and that it is okay for me to think about me sometimes.
    Thanks for sharing this..as always great to know you are out there...by the way, love this shot..you look gorgeous!

  4. I call it defining my time... I try to consciously choose times when I will be fully present and times when I will be doing my own thing. Though we experience turbulence transitioning from one to the next...

    A funny story, related to this: I was at a meditation retreat last week, and a person shared her challenge that every time she sat down to meditate, all she did was plan, plan, plan, and so she felt it was better to not to sit. The teacher said, "Well, why don't you set aside a time to plan? And then sit." In other words (just as you share), why not choose to be present about not being present?

    I'm glad you're exploring a balance, and I'm glad you're able to daydream again! :)

  5. Glad you are finding a balance in this. This post made me feel like I was pretty balanced in this respect. I do the mind wandering this all the time...it's my way of meditating while in the presence of my child. I'm pretty sure I don't do it too much, though, because when I look back on his one and a half years of life, I don't feel like I've missed anything.

    I wonder, perhaps, if the quality of one's thoughts would make a difference. For example, a parent who is constantly worried about stuff could be too distracted to notice their child, but a parent who has meditative thoughts would still be able to respond well to their child. Don't you think? Just a thought.

  6. Just a tangent here...I notice my son can be quite content doing his own thing while I am in the room, but if I step out to go do something, he usually follows me after a minute or so. This is quite common of children...so even if we aren't mentally present, sometimes just being physically present is enough for them. Not always enough, but sometimes, yes.

  7. This is so much of what I felt along the way with my girl - particularly once she reached wildflower's age - that need to just get that space was quite intense. And knowing that you can just daydream is such a lovely feeling - it's a kind of deep rest isn't it? And yet finding a way of still being there with her. It's a continuing challenge for me - I'm very much someone who needs a lot of space and silence. But I've found a my child gets older it does get a bit easier that way. She craves space too!

    And I can't tell you how much I love that photo of you two. The pose and expression on that wee girl's face is priceless!

  8. Love the photo! And I love watching you work these things through and being mindful with yourself. And I am always so admiring of how honestly and generously you share your processes.

    I have never been a particularly present mother. My connection with my dd is very instinctual and empathic, is extremely strong on that level, but we both live in our own separate mental worlds and always have. So it has been my blessing to be able to be very connected to her while still able to daydream and write etc. I am now an expert at thinking my own thoughts while listening lovingly to her!

    Maybe this is why I've never felt the same need for space as other mothers do. Hey, lightbulb moment!!! Cool.

    There are so many different types of mothers, we need to work it our for ourselves, and if we are lucky we can do it without a sense of guilt, because really everyone is different.

  9. love the photo too...don't know as I've ever seen your full face before??? made me happy:-)
    once again, you have put something into words that i have been working through also...

  10. mary - ah, a warm cup of coffee! lol, indeed. I had to explain the the Husband that the internet wasn't just a distraction, it's my lifeline, my way to dialogue with adults and read something not in bouncy rhyme.

    Mel - argh, I hear you about the 'every molecule tuned in to her'. That level of presence is so intense and exhausting, and so difficult to explain to a spouse, who really only understand this on a superficial level.

    GM - yes, mine's the same, the interaction is every few minutes. That one is difficult to explain to parents of kids who play on their own oor 30mins+ at a time.

    lol about the pic. That was a I-look-crap-but-I-don't-care-I'm-posting-it-anyway photo!

    Stacy - I look forward to that time when I can define my time like that. To be able to fully do my own thing! sigh, nice

    Lisa (EW) - That meditating must have helped you a lot in that first year.

    I imagine that the type of thoughts would have an effect.
    Of course, presence isn't about just being available and being capable of responding, but about being fully engaged. So for me, it's about finding a balance of being able of doing both.

    For my girl, my physical presence is very important. Which is why I'm thinkin that in certain activities, like out walking, she doesn't need me to be fully engaged mentally.

    Nettles - omg! so five more years to go..... LOL

    sarah - i think that most mother-child relationships are deeply instinctual first, and begin deeply empathic at least.
    I know that i hav that sort of connection with her.
    But yes, the type of child makes SO much difference. She's been physically glued to me for so long, and craves interaction with me.... phew, tough.

    Yet, I do love that her mental style is to crave interaction. So I know I'll enjoy this about her more when she's 7+.

    But you've given me hope, that if our relationship is so solid, and if we continue relating empathically, then perhaps when she's older my physical presence will satisfy her more and more. we'll see... :)

    Lisa - glad happiness was involved there for ya!
    Wish I could have given you a better version of the face LOL

  11. A rare treat for all Mon's virtual friends to see her face. I am fortunate enough to have met her in "real life" and I'll tell you, the beauty is inside and out.

    As for my thoughts on this post, I am either engaged completely or doing my own thing. Anytime I've attempted to sit alongside without participating, he catches me..ha! My little guy does, however, do his own thing more frequently, leaving me ample opportunity to blog, work, catch up on housework, daydream, etc. But i can imagine with a child who needs you in their face all the time, being partially present is a great solution. The other great solution is to hand her off to Dad every now and then, which I see you're doing. Yay for you and your "me time"!

  12. I love that you both look so very chill in this photo!

    My recent health issues got a little scary for a few days, and I started thinking about how my time here has been spent, and if I were given more time, what would I change? I found that all my thoughts centered around my son, husband, family, and my friends. No bucket list. No attachments to where I wanted to go from there. Just a thought about how I would like to lighten up. To laugh even more. To let go of some of the serious that really serves no purpose. To let the past stay there, as much as possible. Just be in the present, and go with whatever that happens to be. I can be my worst critic, and I'd like to just be friends with myself. To direct some of that kindness and acceptance inward. "it's all a journey" resonates within me. I'd like to get back to having some fun on mine!

  13. Needing energy and time for self so manifests itself in not being present I find. When I'm balanced with time for myself (non existent now, - not even half an hour), I am completely present for everyone in the times outside those.
    I'm craving time for myself now, I don't like being in this place because I can't figure out how to deal with it, or there is no other way right now, and I feel scattered and emotional.
    Love your lovely dark locks and Wildflower is beautiful.

  14. I see what you're saying about being present. I guess I see different levels to presence. From fully engaged to being completely gone, I think there are lots of in between levels. Definitely being fully engaged is important some of the time, but I had no idea anyone tried to do it so much. No wonder you are always craving mental space!

    I was definitely more "fully" present with my son when he was younger. Now we slip in and out of different levels throughout the day. It feels like a natural progression to me, but I do have to make sure I don't let too much of that engagement time slip away.

  15. A little bit more...

    YES, the meditation helped! It mostly has occurred when I nurse him and he's busily sucking away or falling asleep. Definitely on walks, too.

    I think your little Wildflower has higher interaction needs from you, though. Michael has periods of autonomy where he's so involved in his own activity that anything more than my physical presence would just be me getting in the way. So maybe the individual needs of children are part of it.

  16. oh yes, and it is freeing (for me anyway) to see my child grow, and need more space. i think i posted about this in "why we walk" a few months ago. those stroller rides can be the only time of day that i know he is completely safe and content, and i can freely let my mind wander & focus on my own dreams. then i can be fully present when we veer off the trail - and spend 30 minutes admiring roots in the creek bed - his new obsession. totally worth it when he sits down, puts his little hand in mine, and says, "mama z z thanks".

    the levels of presence are interesting to think about. it can be easily assumed that because i am home with z, i give him full attention all the time...or that i should be able to hold a full time job from home (as a few friends do with several kids), and still give him what he needs. determining (over and over again!) how to find a balance in giving to him, and to myself will certainly be the challenge.


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