Being Present and Taking Delight in The Enjoyment Of Others

Thursday, 20 May 2021


“The Happy Family” (Het Vrolijke Huisgezin), a painting by Jan Steen, 1668. Courtesy of Wikipedia

The most meaningful life experiences don't happen in the "when",  they happen in the "now". ~Rachel Macy Stafford in her book: Hands Free Life

As a mother, one of my greatest battles is that I hardly enjoy my children in their activities. How can I? I have so many things to do! My mind can’t just sit still in the legos they are making – I have to do the cooking, the dinner time is coming!

The times they laugh their heart on the swings at the playground is not appealing for me. I’ll be too busy thinking of the next on my to-do list, or busy walking to meet my daily target. I see my being with them merely as an obligation – because I have to be them and not because I love spending time with them. And time consumed together is considered as a diversion of my goals. Even when I was close to them, my heart was hardly with them.

I’m currently reading this book called Hands Free Life, written by Rachel Macy Stafford. In the first chapter the author describes the importance of pausing from chasing our target, and enjoying the togetherness with the ones we love – before Regret comes into our life.

Rachel wrote, “Although we’ve been led to believe that our fondest memories are made in the grand occasions of life, in reality, they happen when we pause in the ordinary, mundane moments of a busy day. The most meaningful life experiences don’t happen in the “when,” they happen in the “now.” (page 26)

Giving this suggestion a thought, I realize I have to start taking delight in my children before I regret this wasting time. But being with them without enjoying them will be a mere superficial companionship –  I have to enjoy being with them, I have to enjoy doing things with them!

Interest comes from love

Do you remember the time you fell in love with someone? Suddenly the boring and unappealing stuff like fishing or soccer took your attention. You wanted to know more, you wanted to understand more. But why? Why bother trying something that is out of our interest?

We look into other people’s interests because we want to engage deeper with them. We want to  make conversation, make connections, make them happy to spend their time with us. And even when those reasons are not enough, we try just because we love them!

The first reason why a mother stops and sits to share her children’s interest should be because she loves them. Love should be a good start to jump deeper into their world. When you hesitate to join them, remind yourself that you love them!

Loving is giving, sacrificing

The world which our loved ones like to be might seem uninteresting, especially when we have many responsibilities to meet. But remember, one part of loving is giving, sacrificing.

Our times, our attention, our presence are like a gift for our children. We think that it won’t make any difference if they’re doing something alone or doing it with us – but in reality, our presence counts. A child can be happy to play her beloved lego alone, but when she’s doing it with us she feels even happier. This is the kind of memories the children make about their childhood.

By sharing ourselves with the children we instil this idea that we’re available for them, and in the future when they’re grown up, they are always welcome!

We sit in for their benefit

My son is currently learning piano, and as all children he has his up and down. There are times we have to ask him to stop playing because it’s too early in the morning or it passes bedtime. But everyday, we also meet this challenge to get him to practice the songs he got from his teacher.

I obviously can see it and yet I keep trying to deny and reject it – my son loves to practice when I’m sitting at the piano with him! Sitting beside him for twenty minutes, rehearsing every bar and repeating difficult notes are far from relaxing for me. I’m impatient with his mistakes, I’m irritated by his reluctance. My brain yields to do something else, and yet when I lower my ego and sit together with him, I have to admit that he progresses much faster than when he practices alone.

Many things will attract us more than being with our children. We have many obligations, and even when we have this thing called spare time, we think – and yes we do – that we deserve to do “our own things.” These things are reality, but still, when we struggle to give our presence to our children, we may remember that we have the chance to instigate goodness in their development and growth.

Being present and building interest in learnable and doable!

It takes an effort to hit the stop button and join the children in their world. But this is a good news for us all: it’s doable, and it’s something we can learn!

Being present means making connections, and one thing we can do to start this is making eye contact. I come from the eastern side of the world who used to believe that making eye contact is considered disrespectful. Raising my children in Europe requires me to unlearn and relearn many aspects. I learn by looking my children in their eyes, it is easier for me to engage in what they are talking and doing.

Another thing is listening to every word. As a well experienced adult (at least that’s what I tried to believe), I believe that I do understand the point of my children’s every sentence even when they’re not finished with talking. When they are busy explaining things and trying to complete their lines, my mind will be busy screaming, “just get to the point!”

By doing this I have missed many opportunities to interact and make connections. Children need our presence, not only our decisions and solutions for their problems.

When I become ‘present’ and listen intently to the words in their sentences (instead of jumping to conclusion), I become aware of more things about my children other than what they are talking about. I get to see their feelings about something, expectations, interest, and many more.

Being present is something learnable, it’s a skill that can be built and upgraded. We just need the will to start, and slowly get it into a habit to disconnect ourselves from the busy buzzing sounds inside our minds and pay attention to the people around us.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

My son complained why we had to go to this new Asian supermarket in another town. He found it’s nothing – definitely not interesting. He wanted my husband to play football with him, or at least to bring him to a playground. To somewhere that is more to his taste.

I had to explain again and again to him, that’s the thing about being a family. Sometimes the children have to follow their parents to a boring event/place. But in reality the parents go many miles to places that bring happiness to the children. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, I told him.

But his complaint left me pondering about my presence in the children’s life. Have I been blindy demanding them to be joyful in the things I love to do, while at the same time they can see clearly that I struggle to be happy sharing my time with them in the things they like?

As important as it is to teach the children this ‘take and give’ concept, we have to examine ourselves too, whether we have been doing our part in ‘giving’, and whether we have been doing it with a gladful heart.

When all else fails, at least be nice

My husband is an avid football lover. He finds it important to follow the news and watch the matches. He finds it exciting and it gives him happiness to sit in front of TV watching twenty two men fighting for one rolling object.

On the other hand, I find football boring. No matter how hard I try to understand the rules, watch the games and try to catch any excitement from cheering spectators – I still can’t see what to like about this game. This game is absolutely nothing for me.

After a few years trying and failing, I accept the fact that I just don’t like football. I still go to the length that I play football with my son when no one would or could play with him, but nothing more. But I learned that even when I fail to fall in love with this subject, the least I can do is let my husband enjoy his hobby. 

Many people share the difficulty about their spouses who aren’t supportive of their hobbies. Partners that spit out snarky comments about things they love. It’s not always easy to share our happiness in something we don’t enjoy – but even so the least we can do is be supportive in other’s interests.

Ten years of marriage my husband never furthers his knowledge in sewing, but he let me do what I like. He supports me when I want to take lessons, he closes his eyes (most of the time) when I buy fabrics and sewing notions. At the end we learn to respect each other’s choice and as long as we keep the healthy line of having a personal interest, we will support each other.

Me for you, and you for me

The thing about being a family is the enjoyment of doing something together. I’m often mesmerized by the sight of a family going out together: father, mother and two or three teenagers. It’s easy to dictate a family activity to younger children, but tenageers usually have their own mind.

Seeing these people happy and enjoying themselves makes me yearn to have the same thing later when my children grow up. I realize this is something that we have to build up together as a family, sharing happiness but also giving up ourselves to one.

Just like the once-famous theme song from Barney: I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family…. Happiness is everybody’s business in the family. Let’s start from us!

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