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Intentional Parenting Check-up

5 Real Ways to be More Present

During every stage of parenting, it seems that some well-meaning stranger has stopped to tell me that these are the best times. When I had my new babies, more experienced mothers would tell me to treasure the sweet little snuggles. Later, on the sidelines of a soccer game, a grandparent would suggest that I enjoy this time before sports become too serious. While navigating a hectic shopping trip with all three of my children, I’ve been told I will miss these busy times in the future.

Years of parenting have shown me that indeed, they were all onto something! In the midst of busy seasons – like the holidays! – I want to appreciate the time with my children. Here are five ways to be intentional about enjoying the present. 

1. See the World Through Their Eyes

My youngest daughter is four years old, and there is something wonderful that happens the moment I try to see the simple joys of life through her eyes. She loves a rainy day. Not only does she get to wear her pink rain boots and carry her child-sized umbrella, but there are also puddles to jump in. She has changed my perspective on so many things, and I love the innocence and wonder at this age and stage. I now have my own pair of rain boots, and I have a great rain jacket I like, too. I step right into those puddles – because, why not?

Just recently, my preschooler discovered how fun it is to go to a movie theater. I am not sure what she loves more – the big screen or, as she calls it, the yummy, salty popcorn. I tend to say I’ll wait until it comes out on DVD. But through her young eyes, I am reminded that it really is more fun to see movies on the big screen and to be completely engaged in the story – with no phone buzzing and no laundry to fold while we watch. 

There are many things that seem mundane – even insignificant – to me, but looking at them through my little one’s eyes, they are exciting again. 

2. Hug Them All the Time

My 11-year-old son sleeps in a twin-size bed, and he’s quickly filling it up. I remember when we bought the bed for him after he outgrew his crib-sized mattress. The new bed seemed much too big for him at that time. His little body didn’t even take up a fourth of the space. At that young age, he would ask me to come lie with him in his bed before he fell asleep. There really isn’t much room for me to snuggle up beside him anymore, but what I enjoy now is that my pre-teen will still come to me for hugs every day. Full embraces. Now, there are some days when those hugs are not quite as appealing! My son will threaten to hug me when he has just returned – sweaty and dirty – from soccer or basketball practice or after playing outside. That’s when I let him know where to find
me – after he takes a shower. 

It is so easy to forget that our older children need healthy affection at home, even though they are not crawling into our laps like toddlers anymore. My son is just three inches shorter than me now, and I hope that our full-hearted embraces continue, even when he has to bend down to give them to me. 

3. Be Grateful for Their Growth

My older daughter is fourteen, which in my mind equates to just four years before she’ll leave the nest for college. That’s difficult to fathom, but instead of mourning the loss of the previous age and stage, I have intentionally focused on being grateful for the newest things she is stepping into. 

For this, I took a cue from my husband, who is a roller coaster enthusiast. My enjoyment of amusement park rides is more in line with my youngest child’s tastes, so when my teen daughter was tall enough to ride the real roller coasters (and was excited to try them), I was not thrilled and wanted to hold onto the safer kiddie-ride stage. In contrast, my husband said, “I’ve been waiting years for this!” He was ready to embrace this time when he could finally have a roller coaster-riding partner. During a recent family trip to Hershey Park, the two of them quickly set their sights on the biggest coaster there. 

I am now savoring all of the new stages she is entering, from attending school dances to earning her own money. I’ve cherished our conversations about responsibilities, social media, and friendships – and having a chance to guide, nurture, and parent differently. I am seeing the beginning of a shift from being the mom-manager to a trusted advisor, and I am grateful for the journey. 

4. Keep the Little Traditions that Matter

A few years ago, I wanted to add some flower boxes to our backyard patio area. I took my children with me to Home Depot, and I told them they could help pick out the flowers. I ended up purchasing three large flower boxes (one for each child), and they each selected some annuals. The result was a beautiful hodgepodge of colors and types. It surprised me how much my children loved the process of filling the containers with soil, planting their flowers, tending to them, and watering daily. Now, each year, they ask me, “When are we planting our flowers?” It’s become a tradition. 

We’ve also created a tradition of making reindeer food on Christmas Eve. We have lively discussions about what should go into the food. Then we take time to strategically spread it in the front yard and back yard for maximum impact. Santa has never missed our house, so we’re doing something right! 

We all look forward to special occasions and vacations – those things that require more time, money, and planning. However, I’ve realized that my children count on these small, simple traditions for reliable sources of joy. The holiday season is a perfect time to be more intentional about honoring traditions with your family.

5. Experience New Things Together

We do love our traditions – during the holidays and all year long! – but we like to explore and try out new things as well. 

Believe it or not, my children and I have started exploring antique shops. It’s true that I must say, “Look with your eyes and not your hands” at least five times in each shop, but we all enjoy checking out the shops now, especially near our home in Ashland. Sometimes we come home with a great find, and sometimes we don’t find any winning pieces, but we are happy exploring. At one shop, my children discovered some antique phones, and one of the phones looked exactly like one I had received for my fifteenth birthday – it even had a cord!

Recently, my son and I tried out a class at the cooking school at Publix. Not only did we have a great time there, but it also led to making the delicious recipes at home for the rest of the family. I am so grateful for that time connecting with my son, and I’m glad it inspired more experimenting in the kitchen for him. 

I am focused on sharing more new experiences with my children. For each new phase and each new season, there are things to celebrate, share, and cherish. No matter where you are with your kids, remember, these really are the best times! 

Photo: Scott Schwartzkopf

Real Mom Cheron Smalls lives in Hanover County where she enjoys the outdoors with her husband and three children. She balances family life with working as the HR director of a major RVA investment firm.
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