Last week, I read a post by Jamie Dunlop Khau called My Three Gifts To My Daughters This Christmas that stopped me in my tracks. Her first gift – the gift of presence – made me think, it made me cry and in the end, it inspired something that I really hope will change the way things go down around here.

You see, I’ve felt sorry for my kids for some time. I think the first time I felt a tug at my conscience was when my 3 year old daughter heard my cell phone beep and, like a robot, jumped up, walked over to where it was, and brought it to me. “Your phone, Mommy!” she exclaimed, no doubt pleased with herself at having done this very grown up thing. Ugh. Is that what grown ups do?

Yup. Look around you. If you are in a public space, how many people do you see with their heads in their phones? Probably a lot. And unfortunately, the ones who compete with these handheld devices are the ones who deserve a heck of a lot more than that. How many times have my husband or I been ‘yanked’ from an email or text message by a child needing our attention – a child who has repeated our name 3 times before getting a ‘Hmmmm…just a sec….’? And how many times does this happen without our even being aware of the disappointed looks on their faces?

I’ve justified my attachment to my smartphone by telling myself I’m a stay-at-home mom who’s simultaneously raising children while growing a freelance writing business. Much of my work is online and I don’t have huge chunks of time where I can be in front of a computer, getting everything done at once. So, instead, I grab minutes here and there to respond to an email or read an article or look up the submission guidelines for a publication. Unfortunately, those minutes sometimes coincide with a story my daughter wants to share about her day, or time parked in the car with my son before his preschool opens. I’m thinking about how much nicer it would probably feel to them to have my attention first rather than have to ask for those moments. What if each shared moment is like a coin in their piggy bank that they can store up and take with them into adulthood? What if we are only taking 75% of the opportunities to add to their bank when we could be giving more?

The day after I read Jamie’s post, my husband and I had a really exciting conversation about some of the changes we would make to re-align ourselves with our values of family first and being present. We had lots to talk about because I had also just read Christella Morris’ post called The Gift of Not Giving A Thing. In a nutshell, she has asked her friends and family to give her children gifts of experience rather than more toys, clothing and stuff that they just don’t need. Take them out for a movie, or to the park, or hang out at home…and really hang out with them. No phones, I might add. Just complete engagement.

My husband and I would much rather the important figures in our kids’ lives give the immeasurable gift of time and attention…presence not presents. As Christella mentions in her post, what if, one awful day, something happens and we can no longer be with our kids? They will be placed in the care of people we have chosen for them. But how can we ensure they have the easiest transition possible? By making sure they have a strong and real bond with our family and close friends. I’ve always believed it takes a village to raise a child.

So, for the last few days we have been practicing presence which is so much easier to do with our phones out of sight; they’re not even around when the kids are. We’ve essentially removed the thing that, even at rest, poses a threat to our family connection – because you never know when it will beep and detract from an experience, a conversation or simply just the pleasure of being together.

Without stealing these moments to put toward my business, I have to work more efficiently before the kids wake up, when baby naps and once they are tucked into bed (like now), but it’s worth it. And soon, it will be time to leave my baby for a few hours a week in the care of a trusted babysitter like I did with my son when he was a toddler at home with me, so I can work during normal hours and not turn into a zombie. In the end, we just have to do what works for us as a family.

And we’re hoping our friends and family will embrace the opportunities to spend quality time with our kids who are growing at lightning speed. Let’s pack ’em full of good memories, loving embraces, eye-to-eye conversations and the very best we have to give them – the fuel they will need to forge their own paths as adults.

taslim jaffer writer