“A child is going to remember who was there, not what you spent on them. Kids outgrow toys and outfits, but they never outgrow time and love.”
I love this quote because it puts things in perspective, and it’s true not only for kids but for all of us. Sure, shiny things are nice and appreciated, but what we all really want is love, and time with the people who mean most to us.
presence is the best gift we can give. How can we do that?
Fully listen—even if it’s a story you heard a million times before.
Everyone wants to feel important, seen, and heard. Give your full attention instead of just waiting to talk, even if it’s a story you could repeat verbatim because you’ve heard it many times before.
We often retell the stories that bring us the most joy—or alternatively, rehash the situations that have brought us the most pain.
You don’t have to be an all-day sounding board for repetitive complaints (boundaries, remember?), but it could make a huge difference to lend your ear, your compassion, and your support, even if just for a while.
Talk first, tech later.
These days we’re all essentially living double lives—the one where our feet take us from place to place and the one we’re our hands swipe from dopamine hit to dopamine hit. (For those who are unfamiliar, dopamine is essentially the “feel good” chemical that gets activated when we experience some type of reward—i.e.: social praise.)
I know how seductive tech connection and social media can be, but try to be fully available to the person right in front of you—even if you’re tempted to text other people “Happy holidays!” during a real-life conversation, or post your ugly Christmas sweater pic on Instagram.
As I’ve said before, your texts will be there later, but the person in front of you will not.
Notice the little things.
When we’re caught up in our heads, dwelling on the past or anticipating the future, or otherwise distracting ourselves from the moment, we miss the details.
You can only compliment your sister’s taste in holiday décor if you look up, look around, and take it all in.
You can only notice your grandmother’s new broach, if you’re not just looking at her but really seeing her too.
We all love compliments, and the best ones come from people who pay enough attention to notice the little things.
Let people know their presence matters.
Okay, so this one isn’t really about giving presence but rather appreciating someone else’s. Because really, that’s what this all comes down to—showing people they’re important to us.
I didn’t go home this year, and my family knows this has weighed on me. So each of them sent me Christmas cards with gift cards inside.
Inside the card, he wrote, “Not home, but not forgotten.” Cue the waterworks.
Not that I didn’t already know this, but this reinforced that I’m an important part of my family. My presence matters. I matter. I can’t think of a better gift than that.
Get people talking about their passions.
While it’s a beautiful thing to give people the gift of your presence, it can be equally beneficial to give them the gift of their presence—and most people find it much easier to be in the moment when they’re talking about something they love.
When someone’s passionate about something, it’s like everything else falls away, kind of like in the movies when the spotlight turns on, the background noise fades, and it’s just the start, the light in their eyes, and the story they can’t tell.
One of my cousins is really into theater, and she’s in her early twenties, so she’s just coming into her own and figuring out who she wants to be. Whenever she talks about plays or auditions or the many impressive things she’s doing to give this a go, her enthusiasm is magnetic.
And not only does this get her excited, it reminds me to keep pursuing what sets my heart on fire—to keep dreaming, keep trying, and keep filling my life with possibilities. So really, this is a gift we give and a gift we get.
If you have trouble being present, just be present with yourself.
Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we struggle to do all the ‘right’ things. I’ve often been hard on myself when I struggle because I want to do everything perfectly. I want to be perfectly considerate. Perfectly open-minded. Perfectly compassionate. Perfectly present.
But we’re only human. Sometimes all these great practices are just plain hard to apply. Sometimes we’re tired, or sick, or overwhelmed, or anxious. Sometimes we can’t let go of the pain someone once caused, or can’t stop thinking about the pain that might come.
And I’ve decided that’s okay. It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to briefly be present and then gets lost in our head for a bit. It’s okay to accept someone in front of us then judge someone else—so long as we eventually recognize what we’re doing.
All we can really do in these human moments is to be aware, accept ourselves as we are, and give ourselves permission to be perfectly imperfect.