I’ve realised something recently about the way I parent. As a stay-at-home mum, the kids are always with me, but my default is very much for them to follow me around as I do the things I need to do. I’m not very good at just stopping, and playing, and being.

Last week I brought it up with one of my best friends, and someone who I thought would struggle with this too since she is very much a “doer”: someone very driven, more career-oriented than me and always thinking about the next step or the next goal. However, turns out that this act of being present with her daughter is something her husband really encouraged from the start, so she was able to teach me a lot about stopping and enjoying one’s child. She helped me to understand that sometimes this is more important and has more long-term effects than getting to those tasks right this very minute, or checking my phone for the millionth time.

I also spoke about it with another close friend who has her own makeup artistry business, and who has recently launched a podcast too. How was it that she gets all this done but when I give her a call during the day, she is spending relaxed time with her almost one-year old? She shared with me that she’s been waking up super early to get in a few hours of work before her baby wakes up. That way, during the ups and downs of the day, she could prioritise her daughter without rushing to get to the next thing. I was so impressed by this effort to be a truly present parent. 

Many articles are quick to point out that we are a more physically present generation of parents, but perhaps one that is less emotionally or mentally available. Compared to my parents’ generation for example, mine is distracted with our smartphones and screens, we are not as willing to give up our careers  and busy social lives, and we are trying to live up to the seemingly perfect social media mums out there.

I’ve noticed that the times I find my kids the most frustrating are the times when I am thinking about me – when I’m trying really hard to relax with that cup of coffee, or that book, or that TV show.  There is such a tension between being more selfless in our moments together versus fulfilling my own needs. I don’t think there is any harm in waiting for their nap or bed times, or when I’m out without them, for my time. I know I’m not a bad parent, but I’d really like to be more present with them now as they grow up, and to foster a strong relationship.

All my daughters want is my attention: for me to watch what they’re doing, to have a tea party with them, to chase them around or be silly or throw a ball with them. “Mummy, watch this!” is something that comes out of their mouths multiple times a day, and I want to listen with both my ears and my eyes, as I’ve heard it said. And to be honest, the more I try to be present with them, the more I feel I enjoy them. I’ve had one week of intensive effort in this area and I really feel like I’ve truly delighted in them much more than usual. They’re not pests buzzing around but funny, interesting little humans who I can develop a real friendship with, and help form to be their best selves with a little bit of my time. 

I think a story from a page I follow on Facebook, For Want of Wonder – A Life with Trisomy 21, sums it up the best. Mum of three kids, Amelia, talks about waking up earlier than usual one morning, much to the delight of her eldest:

Cecilia couldn’t believe it…From that point she was so excited. She rolled and jumped around in our bed and could hardly contain her eagerness that I was up to watch her favourite show with her. When I went into the kitchen to get coffee she followed me just to be by my side. She chattered all morning and it was clear that me being up to spend the morning with her was just the best.

…It did just highlight how MUCH my kids love my time and company. If she got nothing else all day but me, it would be the best day ever. One hour of extra time with her today made her giddy with excitement.

So today I made sure I moved a little slower and spend a little more time on her level. I know that’s not always easy – because kids are exhausting and let’s face it, relentless. Sometimes it seems like it never ends.

But today I was reminded that, with littlies, the days are long but the years are short.

Tamara El-Rahi is an associate editor of MercatorNet. A Journalism graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, she lives in Australia with her husband and two daughters.