My youngest granddaughter is about to turn 1 year old. I get to see her, and her older sister, for a few days later this month – and I can’t wait. While I enjoyed being a parent – being a grandparent is ‘the bomb’. The contrast between parenting and grandparenting, for me, caused me to reflect. Why did I like parenting, but love grandparenting? Was it because I was letting my granddaughters get away with murder, or sugaring them up – to then hand them off to their parents? Nope! It is my approach to grandparenting and presence that has me enjoying it so much. It has also created a lesson that I am using in the rest of my interactions.
As a parent, I wanted to spend ‘quality time’ with my kids. But frequently, my to-do list, or what else was happening with my life and the rest of the family would intrude. Everything else going on influenced how much attention, or presence, I was able to give in that moment with that child. I was so busy ‘doing life’ that I wasn’t always able to just ‘be’ with the child.
However, as a grandparent, it is different. I am taking that first moment and clearing my mind – setting down whatever I have been carrying, whatever is next to do, or whatever else is demanding my attention. I know that when it is time to pick these things back up – I can do that. But while it is set down, I can be freely and fully present with my grandchild. Making presence a deliberate and conscious choice is freeing and supports me being only ‘in this moment with them’. And I believe that my granddaughters can tell when I am fully present and when I am not. The not present usually pops up with bratty behavior designed to grab my attention.
The truth is that everyone can tell when you are present and when you are not. They can tell when your eyes break contact or your voice trails off or even on the phone when you are watching Stephen Colbert instead of listening to your partner’s difficult day. The lesson is to bring conscious presence to all encounters. Put down the phone, turn off the instant messaging pings, close the door, and mentally set everything down so that you can be in the moment and present for the other person. It is a behavior that communicates respect and builds trust. It is vital to establishing and supporting an inclusive work culture and can be done even with remote relationships and conversations.
Marshall Rosenberg, American psychologist and author, said “Your presence is the most precious gift you can give to another human being.” So, the next time you have an opportunity to interact with someone, ask yourself, ‘what is best for this conversation?’ Is this a quick chat that we can have like a drive-by? Or does it require focus, attention, and presence? If the latter – become the grandparent. Consciously set down whatever has been occupying your mind and just be present for that other person. Give the gift!