“Your family and your love must be cultivated like a garden. Time, effort, and imagination must be summoned constantly to keep any relationship flourishing and growing.” — Jim Rohn
As a father of two with a busy corporate career, I’ve struggled with being present with my family. I’ve lost my patience, I’ve been emotionally absent, I’ve wondered how with all my effort and intentions my family did not feel my presence.
Presence requires a consistent focus, and I’ve discovered some tools to help me be more present with my family. I’m far from perfect, but my family now feels my presence more consistently and they’re very thankful for it.
I’ve outlined some of the keys I’ve discovered to being present with my family. I’m excited for you to try these and see what a difference they can make for you and your family.
I’ll walk you through three primary areas of presence:
1) Mindset — how to think about and prioritize presence
2) Habits — actions to help you be consistently present
3) Adjustments — how to be present in tough moments
Within each section I’ve included examples from my own experience which have worked well for me in becoming more present.
You can be more present with your family. If you’re ready to learn what has helped me then let’s go!
Mindset — How to Think About and Prioritize Presence
The most important factor in determining whether you will be present with your family is your mindset. Your beliefs about the importance of presence with your family will determine how focused you’ll be on showing up for them.
These three beliefs have served as the foundation for building my mindset on presence:
1) Know Why You Want to Be More Present with Your Family
This sounds simple, even obvious, but have you ever actually taken the time to think about why you want to be more present with your family? If you do not deeply understand why you want to be more present with your family, you will be less likely to prioritize showing up for them. There are too many distractions to wing it when it comes to presence. Knowing your why will keep you focused. Some questions to consider:
· How does each member of my family feel when I am more present?
· How does each member of my family feel when I’m not present?
· What message am I sending my family when I’m present?
· What message am I sending when I’m not present?
· How do I feel at the end of a day in which I was truly present?
· Why do you want to be more present with your family?
This exercise will help you connect with the feelings of each member of your family. The real goal with presence is to ensure you and your family feel the presence. Intentions don’t mean much here, it’s all about how you and your family feel. If you don’t like thinking and talking about feelings… you had better learn to. You won’t get to the level of presence you’re capable of without connecting to how your actions make each member of your family feel. Take this seriously, challenge how you’ve thought of feelings and presence in the past and remember that your family desires, more than anything else, to feel your presence. You can do this! You were designed to do this! Push yourself to go deep here. You and your family will reap the benefits.
Example: Why do I want to be more present with my family? To ensure my family feels loved, valued, and heard by me. To ensure my children grow up to understand their value and importance in this world.
2) Know Your Priority Hierarchy
Where does your family fall in your hierarchy of priorities? There are many areas of life which require your focus. Deciding where your family falls, and being honest with yourself about your hierarchy, will help you prioritize presence. As a dad and leader of your family you’re balancing some or all of the following areas of life: faith, marriage, children, health and fitness, career, hobbies, friends, finances, etc. The list is long and demanding. Deciding where your family relationships fall on this list and reminding yourself of that hierarchy often, will help you be present in the face of distraction. Making a commitment to your hierarchy will help you remain focused. This doesn’t mean the categories at the end of your list are unimportant, it just means that you will not allow them to overshadow those which are higher on your list. Know where your family ranks and remind yourself of that ranking often.
Example: My priority hierarchy is: marriage, children, health and fitness, finances, career, hobbies/friends.
3) The Small Things Are the Big Things
You’ve probably heard this, but to your family the small things are the big things. You may have seen this quote: “Enjoy and be grateful for the little things in life, for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things.” Really believing this will help you meet your family where they are. Their interests may not seem very important to you, but to them they’re everything, especially for your children. Show them their interests, dreams, desires, and passions are important by giving them your focus and attention. Imagine how your children will live if they grow up believing their interests, dreams, desires, and passions are important. Imagine what they will pursue. Imagine the obstacles they will overcome. Imagine the confidence they will have. Contrast that with how your children will live if they believe their interests, dreams, desires, and passions are not as important as other trivial things that capture your attention. That path is one of struggle for your children. Imagine how difficult it will be to connect with your older children if you’ve never shown them how important their interests, dreams, desires, and passions are. You are the leader of your family, and your wife and kids will believe about themselves what you show them about themselves. Show them how important they are. Show them their interests, dreams, desires, and passions, no matter how small, are important and should be celebrated!
Example: To ensure I focus on the small things, I regularly ask each member of my family open-ended questions about their day. My children are young, so I sit on the floor or eye level with them and connect with them. I seek to understand what they enjoy, what they dis-like, what they fear. In short, I try to remember that I am a student of my wife and children and seek to learn more about them each day.
Habits — Actions to Help You Be Consistently Present
While mindset will help to ensure you prioritize and fight for presence, your habits are the actions that bring presence to life. There are five fundamental habits which are key to ensuring you’re able to be present consistently. If you’re goal is ensuring your family feels your presence, consistency is a must. These habits will help form the foundation necessary to be present consistently:
1) Be disciplined with your time, and know when to say “that’s enough”
My single biggest struggle with presence has been, and continues to be, carrying a feeling that I haven’t done enough of the other tasks, projects, or goals which fight for my attention daily. There are limitless competing priorities, and as a goal-oriented leader it is easy to let my thoughts and energy wander to what I “should” be doing. When I began intentionally planning time to focus on my top tasks, projects, and goals, I noticed I became more present. But something was still missing. The real power came when I paused at the end of each task and gave myself credit for the focus and effort, then told myself “that’s enough”. Being comfortable with my effort and knowing I had given my tasks enough attention for that day or time slot was huge! This allowed me to transition into family time knowing that I had already given enough to other priorities. I had already decided “that’s enough” on those items, which freed me to really focus and be engaged with my family.
Example: I now regularly schedule time in my day for specific tasks, projects, hobbies, etc. which are important to me. I honor that time, give myself credit for the effort, and recognize that it’s enough for that day.
2) Know Your Limits and Honor Them
The better you understand your triggers, the things that make you angry, anxious, upset, worried, etc., and can plan around them, the better you’ll be able to separate from them and show up for your family. What are the things in each day that set you off? Who are the people you encounter who will make you angry or anxious? Look at your day and evaluate where within the day you’re likely to be in an emotional state which is draining your energy. Plan time following those meetings, calls, or tasks to re-center and work through your emotions.
As an illustration, think of how you maintain your car by changing the oil regularly. You know how often your car needs fresh oil to ensure the engine runs well. If you do not change the oil, the engine will eventually lock up. Now, apply this same principle to your life. Learn to recognize when you need to “change your oil” and get yourself back to a regulated emotional state before you reach the point of locking up or exploding.
Another illustration would be to imagine your anger, anxiety, and other emotions as water being poured into a bucket throughout the day. What situations and scenarios will dump large amounts of water into your bucket? How can you schedule time to empty your bucket before it overflows, rather than waiting for it to overflow on your family?
Example: I now regularly review my calendar and schedule 10–15 min “recharge” time for myself following any meetings or conversations which have the potential to leave me angry or anxious. This time allows me to feel and work through these emotions and not carry them into my time with my family. During this “recharge” time, I often meditate, or listen to calming music to reset. This has helped to ensure I don’t carry and unload these emotions on my family.
3) Family & Personal Gratitude Journal
Gratitude is one of the keys to happiness, but unfortunately, it’s typically one of the easy disciplines which is often overlooked. There are many people speaking on the benefits of gratitude and there are many thoughts on how to focus on gratitude daily. I do incorporate daily gratitude which helps tremendously, but I wanted to take this a bit further. In doing so I developed a Family Gratitude Journal. This simple journal allows me to focus daily on the things I noticed about each member of my family that I was thankful for. It could be something someone said, did, or even just something I noticed about someone in my family that I hadn’t noticed before. This practice not only helps me to be grateful for each member of my family and their unique giftedness, but also helps me be a student of each member of my family and teaches me to look for the good in their actions, personalities, and accomplishments.
This is a simple journal. If you’re interested in my format, message me and I’ll send a PDF version. You can also create it yourself using a Moleskin type journal simply list each member of your family and begin writing what you’re thankful for or have learned about them each day.
Example: I write in my Family Gratitude Journal each evening to remind myself what I’m thankful for and what I have learned about each member of my family.
4) Affirmations Daily
Who are you as a husband? Who are you as a father? What do you believe about your relationship with your wife? What do you believe about your relationship with your children?
Affirming your identity and remembering who you are daily will do a lot to help you see yourself as a present husband and father. So much of what we do and how we act is determined by our identity and what we believe about ourselves. You can shape your beliefs about yourself by affirming them daily. I encourage you to write your affirmations and read them daily, preferably at the beginning of each day. Better yet, record yourself reading your affirmations in a positive and energetic tone, then listen to yourself each morning. These affirmations do not need to be overly complicated. In fact, the easier and simpler they are the better.
Example: Among other affirmations, I remind myself daily that I:
· Trust my God to lead me even when I do not see where the path is going
· My wife is the most important person on this planet
· I will show my children how to be brave, strong, pursue their dreams, and serve God and others
· I will ensure my family feels loved, valued, and heard
Two additional habits which will help as you continue to become more present are:
· Remember to have fun. There is so much fun and joy to be shared with your family, remember to bring and seek the fun in each day and in each person. While being present is a challenge, don’t forget that life with your family can and should be fun!
· Forgive yourself when you fall short. You will continue to have moments and days where you struggle mightily to be present. You will fall short from time to time. When you do, forgive yourself quickly. Few things will cause you to spiral further away from presence quicker than negative self-talk and beating yourself up when you fall short. Trust me, I know from experience. All your family wants from you is your love and attention. When you fall short, forgive yourself quickly and go back to your mindset to reset and start fresh in the next moment or day.
Adjustments — How to Be Present in Tough Moments
You now have some mindsets and habits to help you focus on presence. I believe these will help immensely, but I also know there will still be moments when presence will seem incredibly difficult. You’ll have moments in which you’re tired, angry, anxious, worried, etc. and your emotions will fight for your attention. Here are a few tips which help me in these moments.
1) Transition Well
How do you transition between activities? When you leave work, do you take time to think about the transition? Or do you just move from one situation to another? Taking just a few moments to think about your transitions can make a huge difference. Take a few minutes when you transition from work into family time and remind yourself of how you want to show up. Remind yourself of your affirmations and who you want to be for your family. Remind yourself that what you’re transitioning from was enough, and now it’s time to be the husband and father your family deserves.
Example: Before I transition from work to family time, I remind myself of my affirmations and that I want my family to feel loved, valued, and heard. This helps me move past my work stress and into being present with my family.
2) Slow Down
When I feel I can’t remain focused and present in the moment, I try to slow down. I slow my breathing and slow my movements. Ideally, I step away for a few minutes, but when I can’t I slow down in the moment. I’ve believed most of my life that thoughts and feelings drive actions, but I’m learning more now about how actions can drive thoughts and feelings. If you show your body through slower breathing and movements that you’re in control and there is nothing to fight of flee from, your response and presence in the moment can be in your control.
Example: In tough moments where anger or anxiety are competing for my attention, I slow my breathing and movements for a few minutes to remind myself that I’m in control and show my thoughts and feelings that there is nothing to fight or flee from.
3) Dance Parties
This is a fun one and it works most of the time! Music can do a lot to change your emotional state. When you feel the energy shift in your family, use fun music to get back to a positive and fun state. Choose your favorite dance songs, or let your kids choose theirs. Dance in the kitchen, the living room, or any other place you can. You don’t have to be a good dancer (I am far from it), you just need to move and have fun. Choose upbeat and high energy songs to get you moving.
Example: When I feel the energy in our home shift, I play fun and upbeat music and start a family dance party. We can run circles in our living room around our couch, so we’ll often also do races around our living room to fun songs.
One additional note on music, if you do have time to step away from tough moments you can listen to some songs which ground you. If you have any songs which are important to you and your wife or kids, you can play those songs to help you re-focus on what truly matters. I have a playlist I use in these moments and the first two songs are Divine Romance by Phil Wickham (the song playing when my wife walked down the aisle at our wedding) and Watching You by Rodney Atkins (to help me remember that my children are watching how I respond and react in difficult moments).
I truly hope this helps you to be more present with your family. Remember, you belong here, and you are designed to be a great father and husband. You have what it takes to be present with your family. You have what it takes to create an exceptional legacy.