The year was 1985 and it was my seventh birthday. That year I got exactly what I wanted: a bike! Once I laid eyes on it, I became disinterested in the party happening around me. My plan was to hop on that bike the minute everyone left and ride it all through the neighbourhood, and that’s exactly what I did. What a present!
Fast forward to January of 2003 when I was gifted with a daughter! My journey as a dad had begun. Then came my son in February of 2005. What presents these kids were — and still are — to my wife and me, but parenthood has not been without its struggles along the way.
“Provide for us!”
“Fix stuff around the house!”
“Keep us safe!”
Beneath the daily responsibilities, I heard these and many other demands shouting within me. This was not coming from my wife or kids; it was from the pressure I put on myself. I believed that my greatest gift to my family was what I did for them. This is not to say that earning a living, fixing things or protecting your family is wrong. But these are only part of the picture. There is so much more to being a parent than what you do! The best gift we can give our families is to be present.
The word “present” can be defined in two different ways, which for me frames what it looks like to be a fully-present parent. The first definition of present is to be “in the moment, current or existing.” Your presence is a wonderful gift to your children: being home for dinner, going to events at their school, taking an interest in their latest hobby, and simply hanging out as a family at home.
The presence of a parent allows children to feel like they are seen, which in turn, leads children to value themselves. As parents we are reflections that help our children see who they truly are. My wife will often tell our kids, “Let me see your eyeballs.” This might sound like a strange phrase, but it is all about connection through reflection. This gives her space to see the kids and them space to see themselves in and through her eyes.
The enemy to the gift of presence is busyness, and it’s not always the parent that is too busy. These days some children have busier schedules than their parents. We fill our (or their) calendar with activities, and in doing so, we edge out the time for being present with them. The way we spell love to your kids is T-I-M-E. What would it look like if we walked through our home more slowly? What would it look like if we paused and initiated more impromptu discussions with our children?
The second way to define present is as a gift, one meant to be given and consequently opened by the recipient. Parents, we are the gift and our children are the recipients. We must allow ourselves to be opened and our children to look inside us. Opening ourselves as a parent can be expressed in numerous ways, but it always involves vulnerability.
- Vulnerability looks like us saying, “I’m sorry” first.
- Vulnerability looks like us acting silly in the presence of your kids.
- Vulnerability looks like us saying, “I’m scared too.”
- Vulnerability looks like us sharing what God has been teaching us.
Your children may never verbalize this, but they desire to see who you are on the inside. The enemy to vulnerability is shame. As parents, if we are ashamed of who we are, how we parent, or what we’ve done, then we leave on the wrapping paper, covering up parts of who we are. Jesus absorbed our shame on the cross. When we see ourselves as God sees us, we are shame-free and confident that we stand perfect in His righteousness! As we open up ourselves to our children, we give them permission to do the same back to us.
At my party back in ’85 when I saw my new bike gift-wrapped and topped with a bow from across the living room, I was excited. I hadn’t opened it, but I was thrilled it was there. The presence of that present compelled me to open the gift and engage with it. I got on the bike and it took me places I could not have gone on my own. As parents, when we are present to the extent of opening ourselves up vulnerably to our children, we will take our children where they have never been before.
Parents, you are a gift! Not only are you a gift to your children, you are a gift from God to your children. Every good and perfect gift comes from God. You are a good and perfect gift to your children. Be present in their life and allow your children to see inside of you. Be the gift God intended you to be for them!