In the end, it all becomes clear.
The life advice from hospice patients provides insight into how the rest of us should consider spending our time. Among the biggest regrets people express on their deathbed is wishing they had been more understanding, caring and present for the people who were important to them. They would also strive to be a better spouse, partner, parent or child if they were given the chance to do it all over again.
The things that matter most in life require your engaged presence with those who matter most to you. No one ends up wishing they had worked longer hours or spent more minutes on Facebook.
As parents, our presence is the most impactful gift we can give to our kids. They crave it more than they show, and they need it more than we can comprehend.
Below I offer seven ways to be more present with your kids and family. These have helped me when I've struggled to stay engaged with my sons on a daily basis, and I hope you find them useful, too.
First of all, the silence of an early-morning household is a golden opportunity to clear your head, sip your coffee and prepare for the day. But nothing beats greeting your children with hugs and kisses, as well as being actively involved in their first activities of the day.
If your schedule doesn’t allow for this, do your best to find a time of day that you can consistently be with them to maintain a fun routine.
Presence is a function of an uncluttered mind. And while being organized and adept at time-management is important, I’d argue that nothing clears the head better than elevating the heart rate, even moderately, through physical exercise. Yoga and Transcendental Meditation are also great ways to center yourself. Just do it.
Being immersed in your phone always looks the same: you are lost to everyone around you. It doesn’t matter if you're on Amazon shopping for your child’s birthday or mindlessly scrolling through Twitter. Your intentions don’t matter. Your lack of presence does.
When arriving home from work I leave my phone in the car until we put our kids to bed just to ensure I’m not tempted to use it. I doubt that I’ll ever regret missing a call or text more than missing out on a single dinner conversation.
What’s your passion? Got it? Good. Now share it with your kids. And don’t get upset if they don’t like doing it themselves. Their interests will ebb and flow over time. The key is to find a way to share your favorite activities in any way that creates togetherness.
Being the authority figure doesn’t mean you can’t also get your silly on. Kid’s love it when you out-fun them and make the effort to see the world from their perspective. It’s also can be a great stress reliever.
We all imagine the potential of our children’s future selves, and we all have wishes for how our kids could change their behavior. These thoughts can occupy us in a way that steals from the present moment.
Take a breath, appreciate that the road is long and embrace the children you have in this moment. They will change over time with your guidance (or maybe in spite of it). Your role is to accept them for who they are today and focus on the example you’re setting for them, right now.
We get into a rhythm of expectations with our kids' interaction. We have snap answers to the same old questions that they repeat every day. Our ability to start fresh and stay fresh every day is a struggle.
Nothing beats curiosity: asking them questions and listening to responses without jumping in to correct them, just asking more questions, and being patient when their attention wanes and wanders, because you know it will.
What will you say on your deathbed, if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity? Wouldn’t it be great to reach the finish line without regrets — especially when it comes to your children and family?
It may not seem important now to think of how you’ll feel in the end, but it is.
Just ask anyone who’s there.
Slade Wentworth is a leader, coach and mentor in publishing and healthcare recruiting. He lives in Florida with his wife and two sons, where he also writes about family life when he's not making a mess in the kitchen. You can find his humorous takes on parenting and marriage on Twitter @SladeWentworth or connect with him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/sladewentworth.