We always went to her house.  I’d invite my friend down for a coffee, but she’d always say, “Why don’t you come up to mine?”  I’d started to wonder whether there was something objectionable about my house (beyond, you know, the obvious stuff like crumbs, dust and general untidiness) when she revealed her reasons.  Though her daughter and mine were the same age, she had two older sons, teenagers at the time.  “I like to be around when they come home from school, just in case they need me.”

At the time I thought it was absurd.  How could two self-sufficient teenage boys need their mother in the few hours after school?  After all, I’d been a latch-key kid.  I’d spent every after-school afternoon doing homework, watching TV and talking on the telephone while my parents were out working.  But I was really rather wet behind the ears when it came to parenting: my daughter was less than a year old at the time.

So my friend and I would have coffee, and every so often one or both of her sons would appear.  One might express frustration with an essay; the other might come down for a pre-dinner pizza (oh, their appetites!) and talk a little about his day.  My friend always stopped our discussion to give them her full attention, and I didn’t resent it: in fact, I learned so much about the importance of presence in parenting from her.

A_baseball_and_glove

This experience sprang to mind today when I was driving home from the hairdressers with two of my children.  My daughter and I were having an in-depth conversation about a book we’d both read.  She began to talk about her experiences at school, telling me stories I’d never heard before.  She named feelings I didn’t know she’d had.  When we pulled into the driveway I felt as though I’d glimpsed a golden moment.

Then later, while cuddling my two younger children off to sleep, my seven year old drowsily told me about something that happened to her this morning as we were getting ready for our day.  What? Really?  You wait ‘til now  to tell me?!   Just before sleep is one of those times when the most sensitive parts of my children’s days rise to the surface, as though they are skimming them off and telling me so that they can sleep easily.  This sacred cuddle time is prime time for those golden moments.

And though the pre-sleep skim is fairly regular, the timing of other golden moments is usually rather unpredictable.  They don’t happen when I decide I’ve got time to listen; they happen when the child decides it’s time to talk.  And a child isn’t going to talk if I seem unavailable.

Looking at something on my laptop, checking my phone, re-reading a recipe, pushing a plug plant into soil, reading a book, scanning a newspaper, sitting in meditation, cabling a complicated stitch… and my child begins to speak.  I’m concentrating; it’s hard to draw my attention away without a teensy bit of “what now” impatience.  But those words fall like the raindrops I didn’t expect.  They appear suddenly like the first crocus of late winter.  They weren’t there… then suddenly they are.  They operate on their own innate wisdom.  Being physically present is important, yes, but being receptive to every one of my children’s offerings is essential to me.

I began to realise that what my friend was doing when she made sure our coffee dates happened at her house rather than mine was simply ensuring her availability. It was all so effortless.  It was just about being casually present just in case. Just by being around, she ensured that she was there with the net when the catch came in.  She was ready with cupped hands when the tap switched on.  She was waiting for the batter to hit that ball straight to her glove.  She knew that she needed to be ready for the moment her sons decided to invite her into their world.  She made sure she was more than just there: she was ready.

© Lisa Hassan Scott 2013.

Photo credit: By John (originally posted to Flickr as ball and glove) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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On being available and receptive
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12 thoughts on “On being available and receptive

    • 29/05/2013 at 9:04 pm
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      Thank you Kim!

  • 29/05/2013 at 9:33 pm
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    Oh Lisa, this is so true. And such a good reminder for me to stop, to put things down, and to listen when those words do actually come.

    A friend of mine with teenage children once told me something similar. She said that they would come through while she was working in the kitchen, hang around a while, pottering about, making tea or whatever, and would eventually come out with what it was they wanted to say. She was present there all that time and just waiting for when they were ready to speak.

    Another friend of a friend apparently worked while her children were infants, but then stopped working when they went to school, in order to make sure she was always present, available and not busy when they were home from school, and might want to share.

    • 30/05/2013 at 9:28 pm
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      Thanks Kirsten– yes, someone else on facebook shared that her grown children still sometimes text her at bedtime! Thank you for sharing these stories. I’m encouraged that presence is so important for others too.
      xx Lisa

  • 29/05/2013 at 11:56 pm
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    Thank you Lisa, as a mum to 2 boys this really resonates and makes me understand why I am here so often apparently unneeded!
    Sara x

    • 30/05/2013 at 9:29 pm
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      Thanks for commenting Sara! I suspect that even if it seems that you are unneeded, your presence is noted and appreciated deep down.

      Lisa

  • 30/05/2013 at 11:21 am
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    A really insightful post which reiterates everything I always say about parenting – you have to be fully present. And prepared to be engaged. For it all passes and you cannot ever grab back the times you didn’t bother!

    • 30/05/2013 at 9:29 pm
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      Hi Ross,
      I always appreciate the perspective you bring. I love that phrase: be “prepared to be engaged.” Thank you for sharing it.

      Lisa

  • 31/05/2013 at 2:39 pm
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    Lovely post, and so true. My son often shares his thoughts and fears at bedtime, and sometimes I’m just so ready at that point for my own space after a long day. I have to remind myself that he’s offering me an invitation to his world, one he’s not always willing to share when it’s “convenient” for me. Thank you for this reminder of what a gift he’s actually giving me.

    • 01/06/2013 at 8:28 pm
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      Oh thank you for sharing your experience with your son at bedtime. YES there is that feeling of being ready to end the day and get some time and space to yourself… I know what you mean. But as you say, it doesn’t always happen when it’s convenient for us. I’ve now come to relish that time with my little ones because it helps me feel closer to them.

      Lisa

  • 02/06/2013 at 9:40 pm
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    Thanks again Lisa for your beautifully-written reminder about being present and available. The white noise of ‘every day life’ and social media is so invasive and relentless I imagine our little ones get rather tired of dragging their mamas away from all the work that ‘needs to be done’…

    Best wishes, M x

    • 07/06/2013 at 10:17 pm
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      Hello Marija,
      My apologies for coming so late to your comment. Here I am tonight and I find your lovely words. Thank you for taking the time to visit!
      Lisa x

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