Be Emotionally Present
June 11, 2015
Filed In: Fatherhood
Growing up, one of the staples of my day happened just before bed. As I lay in bed, my dad would come into my room and we'd have a "goodnight talk." These few minutes just before I fell asleep would be full of conversation, jokes, and inevitably, some tickling. We could discuss whatever I wanted, I could ask any question because it was my time. Perhaps my favorite goodnight talk would be when my dad "made" me into bread, which was essentially a few minutes of tickling, rolling, and general silliness. There's so much talk in parenting circles today about the importance and impact of strong fathers and my dad's goodnight talks could be a case study in effective parenting. Perhaps the most difficult part about his being deployed so often was that we'd miss out on many goodnight talks.
In a world of distractions, it's critically important that we, as husbands and fathers, be ready to drop whatever we're doing for our family. We know that downtime is often filled with surfing the internet, mindlessly playing a game on our phone, or any number of other activities. These distractions tend to leave the family in a group of silos, each doing their own thing completely cut off from one another.
While alone time is certainly a good thing, time together is also a good thing. Spend some of your free time doing something together, like watching a movie without phones or reading together in the family room. Yet, the danger is not in the time or the activity itself. The danger is becoming so engaged in something, that you're unable to be emotionally present to your family.
Being emotionally present is the same as being emotionally available. The lives of your entire family, though moving in the same general direction, are essentially different timelines. That means that while you're grilling on the deck, your daughter might get into a fight with a friend. While you're reading a book, your wife might be in a place where she really needs to process an issue from work with you. While you're planning an important project, your son might need to talk to you about a situation he's found himself in. If you're emotionally present to your family, you're able and willing to stop doing whatever you're doing, at any point, and give your full time and attention to the family member that needs you.
While this may seem to be an inefficient time management technique, the fact is that you'll still have plenty of time to work through whatever you're working on. Problems aren't constantly boiling over and requiring your attention, and honestly, it's far more important for your family to know that you're available than for them to actually use your availability. Just the fact that they know that they can come to you at any time, for any reason is really all that they need to feel secure, and to be better able to work through their problems independently before bringing them to you. Beyond being available, have dedicated times for communication, like my dad's goodnight talks. This will create a chance for your wife to share whatever is going on her in life and for your kids to be reminded, again, that they're loved.
Having an emotionally present husband and father is a huge asset to your family. Your kids will be more stable and better able to thrive in their environment and your wife will know that she can rely on you at any moment when she really needs you.