You can’t fool them, you know.

Two pudgy hands cup left cheek and right, turn your face to demand your eyes laser lock onto hers, and she whisper-stomps “Mama, you’re not listening…!”

Technically, you’re right when you coo, “Yes I am, honey, I can just do two things at once,” because you did hear her; but she’s right because you weren’t listening.

Hearing only requires ears; listening demands ears, eyes, mind…and heart. The difference is ages apart.

Your children don’t just know the difference, they understand the difference:

Something else is more important than them in that moment.

O u c h!

I grow weary from all the admonitions to focus on Christ during the Christmas season, to resist holiday busyness.  Please don’t get me wrong–I agree with that!–but then I see a believing people tangled and lifeless in sticky-webs of shopping, baking, parties and school or church programs….

And mamas are distracted…

And daddies are working extra hard to pay for everything…

And though our homes have never looked more lovely or smelled more cinnamony delicious…

Our actions are speaking loudly and they don’t always match up to our words.

Or maybe I’m the only one…. :/

* * * * *

For God so loved the world He GAVE His one and only Son….

God incarnated man becoming fully present with us to experience life as we know it.  He felt the love of his mother’s touch, he learned craft at the hand of his father, he celebrated marriage, and he cried from personal loss.  He looked his friends and followers directly in the eye and gave them his complete attention, regardless of the demands placed on him and distractions associated with circumstance.

Jesus was fully present with his family and followers.  Jesus IS fully present with his family and followers.

And so, sweet lovies, might I suggest a Christmas gift you can give your family and friends this year?  Something inexpensive but absolutely priceless?

Your time.
Your undivided attention.
Active listening instead of passive hearing.
Being fully present when you’re with them.

Close your laptop when they walk into the room.  If you’re a blogger, let go of any notion that you “owe” your readers daily postings at the expense of your marriage and family.  Silence your cell phone.  Be available to the people who need you. Be still with the people you love!

As a mom to a high school senior, I promise–learned from experience!you don’t have much time….

You...your presence–sharing tea or dinner or reading aloud or over a game of Candyland–is the lovliest of all gifts to give and receive.

Please chime in! What are the holiday trappings that threaten to divide your attention?  Have you unintentionally ignored your children or spouse while readying for Christmas?  What are your suggestions for meaningfully engaging those you love?

by Robin Dance, P E N S I E V E
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  1. 1

    It is so easy to just hear. And it does speak volumes to those not being truly heard. I want to give my undivided, laser focused attention because that is when they feel LOVED. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. 3

    I understand the ‘give them your time and attention’ much more clearly this year. I’ve been a single mom now for 1 year and about 1 week. He moved out 2 weeks before Christmas last year so that Christmas was destroyed to say the least. This has been a year of healing for me so that I could be whole and healthy for my children. I’m not complete yet but I’m working on it! So this year at Christmas we have all settled into the chaotic routine of ‘sharing’ the children and I was determined to make new memories even if the picture wasn’t of the perfect family with both parents in the home! My children and I have decorated the tree together, we have baked lots of cookies and decorated them together, played games and been out in the snow. Now that they are off school for 2 weeks I made sure I scheduled off work on the days I will have them the next 2 weeks so that we can continue to spend more time together! This coming Wednesday we are all going Christmas Caroling with our church and it will be the first time my kids have ever been! I can’t wait!
    Merry Christmas everyone!
    Lisa

    • 4

      Oh….Lisa…yours is NOT an easy situation; my heart goes out to you.

      But you know what struck me the most in your comment? Your use of the word “together” multiple times! It’s clear you’re carving out special times with your children and your intention speaks volumes. I’m sure your children will delight in your plans, and good for YOU for thinking in advance.

  3. 5

    Thank you for the beautiful post and the reminder, Robin. Today I do have baking to do, but I will close the laptop (so as to not check email like a hungry little rabbit!) and I’ll invite my 4-year-old to scoop flour along with me. And I will love every minute of it! Merry Christmas!

    • 6

      ” But I will close the laptop and I’ll invite my 4-year-old to scoop flour along with me.”
      I love this statement Michelle. So many times do we think we have to do it all alone to get it done, when we could be nurturing a heart and loving realtionship just by allowing our little ones to come along side and help. After this I too will close my email and invite my little ones to join me in my day.

    • 7

      Michelle, I think there are a LOT of hungry little rabbits devouring all kinds of internetty things! Your baking might be a little messier with four-year-old hands “helping” but to your little one? Everything will taste better! Bravo! :)

  4. 8

    I have a little role reversal here….I am the one who wants the TV off {actually I wouldn’t even have cable at all if it wasn’t for hubby} I am the one who only wants to give 3 gifts ~ like that baby Jesus received from the wise men~ I am the one who doesn’t want to give in to all the commercialism and just enjoy “time”, “each other”, our “presence” not our “presents”.

    But……

    It’s hubby who wants “more, more, more”. {His joking phrase he loves to say}

    He feels the stockings must be filled to the brim…their should be presents full under the tree….and shop til you drop. UGH! Its this way every year…we don’t agree on the way to celebrate Christmas and its a tough season for ME every year.

    • 9

      It is hard Kathy. I am thankful my husband and I agreed a few years back to no santa, 3 gifts, simple stockings, being home at christmas, celebrating Jesus. But this year I wanted to do away with it all and just “be” for Jesus. I hope next year to make more changes. But my husband too is still in the consumerism mindset most times and does not feel we can give as freely as I’d like to for those in need. And TV. We disagree on this, I don’t like TV but it is his unwind, I don’t undesrtand it but I have to respect it. He is mindful of not watching things inappropriate for the girls and doesn’t watch it much. He on the other hand doesn’t understand my desire for reading and writing in blogs. We are different. I have to remember how far he’s come in life and faith since we’ve been married and give him time to change of his own free will. God’s told my heart, I can change me and what I do interacting with our girls. I can model by reading and doing other things. (He’s recently started reading too!) I decorate for Christmas so I choose everything for Him. I read the bible verses, I instigate prayer at meal times and I encourage us all to go to church. He will go along with these It’s becoming more natural to him and I feel him really having a change of heart. I feel comfortable bringing scripture to him when I feel it will lead us in a different mindset and his heart is now seeing it, now changing. But any time I nag or complain or badger him on things it regresses the progress. So I pray God keeps my mouth only spewing god filled words and my actions showing how I want us to live for Him. I’m a work in progress too. I also took to heart an article from Sorta Crunchy blog that spoke of modeling a peaceful heart. I wrote about it here. http://shineliketheson-mymotherhoodtrail.blogspot.com/2010/12/peaceful-modeling-for-christmas.html
      It has helped me to let go of my bad attitude towards the worldy Christmas. I can only control the peace in my heart and the actions I choose. I pray for peace for you this CHRISTmas reagaurdless of what’s around you.

    • 10

      Kathy,

      First {{hugs}}; it’s much more difficult when parents aren’t on the same page about something, and I think the holidays exacerbate differences. Know what I’m praying right now? For God to change YOUR heart, not his! While I think your inclinations are good (and maybe even “right”), for your marriage’s sake, I pray God will do a mighty work in the midst of this tension; and that your heart will be tendered toward your husband to know how to best love him when it’s hard. I hope this isn’t offensive to you! I just have learned it’s hard (impossible!) to change our spouses, so all I can change is myself…and only then, when I’m surrendered to the Lord’s leading.

      xo

  5. 11

    Yes, time is a racer!
    My oldest is in college, middle a high school senior and the baby is a h.s. soph!
    I’m clinging to every last…. last game, last performance, last trip, last club party etc.

    I’m thankful that I’ve played a huge part of their lives. I will miss being “busy” all the time. :)

    • 12

      Wanda,

      Ahhh, you know exactly what I’m talkin’ about! One day we’ll have to wait days before “needing” to do laundry; I can’t imagine…. :)

  6. 13

    My son, who is almost 20 and off at school most of the time, used to love to tell me these long story/ideas that he had. They involved things like invented cars, armor, etc. that I just honestly didn’t find very captivating. And did I mention he could go on for a looong time?

    One day, I remember I was sitting at the computer reading blogs and he came up and began talking (afterall, I was sitting down!). I told him, “I just don’t have the concentration to listen to this now.” He didn’t miss a beat, just said, “Mom, you can keep reading your blogs, just let me TELL you.” Sigh. That was very sobering to me. I’ve tried harder to give them attention, even for the long made up stories that his younger siblings now like to tell.

    • 14

      Know what Beth? Your comment made me remember this: I’ve wanted to challenge bloggers to ASK THEIR CHILDREN if they mind their mom’s blog; I wonder how many mom bloggers would be scared of the response.

      I’m glad your son’s words reached you!

  7. 15

    This just happened in my house no one listens to me, i felt like that little girl. Everyone has other things to do, things that are more important. You say things and it’s in one ear out the other, my folks are so concerned with money and things. YOu feel like it really doesnt matter is you dont exist, it doesn’t. But it matters to God. I am learning that He’s the only one that matters anyway. idols take away everything from God and what He wants to do in your life. I am learning that when i don’t listen to God things go bad. But not being acknowledged is pretty selfish and wanting somebody to see you is ok sometimes you just want know if God sees you. I mean your down here and all, what difference does it make if He doesn’t even care, and its all about do you follow my rules. Rules without relationship leads to rebellion. I know this little girl is how i feel now. Being a parent is all about helping children see God.

    • 16

      A,

      I see you, I hear your heart, I’m praying for you that you continue to learn ALL God wants to show you as one of His favorite people! {{hugs}} to you, and yes! You matter! Even when it doesn’t f e e l like it!

  8. 17

    Robin, this is such a beautiful way to look at this–Christmas as God choosing to be fully present with us. And having been with you in person, I can say you are so good at this–at making people feel loved, valued, as if they belong. I hear what you’re saying, that you have your moments too. I haven’t experienced those with you but I love that you’re so real. Just wanted to throw in there that you have a gift for this and you use it well. XOXO

    • 18

      Honestly, Holley, I see YOU as one who is fully present; you watch, you listen, you hear, you respond. You teach me in your doing!

      Thank you for your encouraging words here; they’re a soul feast.

      Much love xo.

  9. 19

    You are so, SO right, and it’s something God has been consistently speaking to me about. He really opened my eyes a few weeks ago, when I realized that I was seeing my children as interruptions to my social media life. That’s ridiculous, and sad, and totally unacceptable.

    I’ve been making more of a point to be present in my kids’ lives, to interact with them and instruct them and share with them. I don’t want to miss this!!

    • 20

      “…interruptions to my social media life…”

      S i g h…so proud of YOU for recognizing this; and my heart grieves for those who are oblivious. I don’t say this with a pointy finger of accusation, but I’ve observed it for years and it continues to make me sad.

      Balance has to be intentional…because the internet is open 24/7 and it will suck every bit of time if you let it, ya know?

      Love your intention here, too, Jeni. Once we “see” we HAVE to respond!

  10. 21

    I gave up Facebook for my husband and my girls. It was consuming too much of me. I have more I need to let go after Christmas and refocus my priorities, our days will be changing to be more for HIM and more connecting (meaning less blog/email time for me.) It will be painful for me (which is a bit embarrasing) but God never said it’d be easy. Making this change now to enjoy my girls while they are so little will be far better than a few more hours on the blogs. THank you for this reminder!!!!

    • 22

      You don’t have a thing to be embarrassed about–everyone reading (in)courage has struggled with balance at some point in their lives, it just might look different from person to person! I can’t help but applaud all those (and you) who are making changes. Change is hard! So baby steps are the first move for giant steps…and you’ve already begun tiptoeing forward.

      That makes my heart happy. :)

  11. 23

    Love, love, love!!! This year, I shut down my blog for the month of December. So I can be fully present with my family this Christmas season. Yes, I’ve still been reading blogs, but by not writing, and by not looking for things to write, I’m creating memories that will last longer than my blog ever will. (although, they do say internet is forever…)

    It’s been a wonderful time of focus on family and living fully. Jesus said that He came so we can have an abundant life. Being fully present – THAT is abundant life!

  12. 25
    Beth Williams says:

    Robin,

    How very true! We don’t have kids, but often times the demands of work, church, & just wanting to “veg” out take over.

    People are too busy these days and don’t realize how much time they lose with family & friends by not “being there” for them.

    This year as in the past I have made every effort in cards I send out & e-mails to say Merry Christmas & make people realize just what the seaon is all about!

  13. 27

    Oh, yes, indeed, this is me. I realized years ago that I was not listening to my children. I was telling, lecturing, nagging, whatever, but I was not listening. My autistic son James said it all. He looked at me in the middle of some long monologue and held up his hand. “Talking is over,” he proclaimed. And it was. I began to listen.

    My youngest just turned 18, so like you, I know that our time is short. Especially when they hit teen years and even our delusion of control begins to slip, listening is the way we stay connected.

    What a great reminder during the holidays when we are especially distracted and sometimes cranky, instead of quieting our souls and listening. Thank you!

  14. 29

    Thank you so much for the sweet and honest reminder. We get so wrapped up in blogging for ourselves or for income, that we tend to lose sight of what’s in front of us. I had already been thinking of this topic and am going to take off blogging for a week during Christmas and our vacation. I may sneak in a few blog reads though….. :)

    • 30

      Double-edged sword, Leigh–OF COURSE I’m thankful you’re reading! BUT, I’m proud of you for setting limitations.

      Boundaries…are they EVER easy?

      I tell ya–commenters are challenging ME today! I love it!

      :)

  15. 31

    Robin,
    Your post is good, but the about the author description is awesome. Bouncing over to check out your blog now!

  16. 33
    Margaret Stephens says:

    Having just bought a relatively “smart” phone, I have realized how addictive it is to check every little ding and dong…to the point of not paying attention to a conversation or my family or my friends. And it wasn’t so clear to me than when my husband was having some quality time with HIS phone and not paying attention to me! It just shocked me into seeing what I was also doing to those around me. Your little reminder was just what I needed to affirm what I already had figured out!

    • 34

      Margaret,

      I DIDN’T want a smart phone for the very reason you stated; but…my husband bought me one last year for our anniversary! The thing that has surprised me most is I’m NOT always on it. Yes, if convenient, I read whatever “alert” I get, but I haven’t been as tied to it as I thought I’d be.

      I’m SO glad this affirms what you already know…sometimes it helps to hear it confirmed by a friend :) .

  17. 35

    I spent the first 7 years as a mom focusing on anything BUT my children. As the Lord has so faithfully and tenderly broken me, I am learning slowly how to be present with my girls and my husband. There’s an anxious stirring in me most of the time, to get up and get out, but God calls me to be still…and to serve.

    A few months after I had left my career to stay home, my older daughter said, “Remember mom when you didn’t pay attention to us.” It stung to hear her say that, but at the same time, I knew she had seen a change. A change that only comes from Christ.

    This. His presence. It is indeed the perfect gift.

    • 36

      Oh, Melissa! How beautiful! To me, there is NO more beautiful manifestation of Christ than to see a life transformed. Thank you for bearing testimony to that here. It blesses me, and I know it’ll bless others who read!

  18. 37

    thank you robin for offering something more than the almost all-too-desensitized reminder to “keep Christ in Christmas”. our time IS so precious. after two hard losses last year and moving 5 hours away from my family this year, i have realized how important it is to be fully present with those i love. and this thanksgiving that actually meant several games of candyland with my 3 yr old niece (:

    • 38

      Ahhh, Sarah, you were earning jewels in your crown for multiple rounds of Candyland ;) .

      I’m always grieved to hear of loss, so my heart goes out to you. B u t, I’m also convinced that’s when God can do the most with us; it might be when we most recognize our need for him!

      Blessings to you! :)

  19. 39

    Listening…THAT I could always use improvement. I am so easily distracted (look! A deer!)..pardon me…anyway…where was I? Oh yeah…listening….

    I’ve been training myself to stop typing, peer over the computer, and look the person in the eye when they are talking to me. I want them to know they are important. The subject may not interest me. The story may wander down many rabbit trails, but I want them to know I am listening because I care about them. I don’t always listen though. My selfish side tends to rear its ugly curls.

    • 40

      Hey…I resemble that remark! ;)

      Seems before you can alter your behavior, you’ve gotta recognize it needs to be altered. You’re already on step #2!!

      (I’m all about “squirrel!!” ;) )

  20. 41

    Oh yes, I have an almost 18 year old. She has alrady graduated and is attending community college, but will be going away to school next year. It is crucial that I really listen to her. We have had some major struggles lately. i want to be the grownup and do my part to mend the rift between us, and help her be prepared for leaving home.
    Bernice
    http://livingthebalancedlife.com/2010/you-cant-change-everything/

  21. 43

    ahhhh. the “b” word – balance. a never-ending struggle for me as i strive to be the wife, mom, teacher and writer God wants me to be. i have found that when i seek to be sho God wants me to be instead of who I want me to be, i am balanced.

  22. 45

    It’s funny, Robin . . . I spoke at two Christmas events this year and my talk was called “Christmas Presence: God’s Greatest Gift.” Ironic, huh? And also, the main verse I used was John 3:16, focusing on how GOD GAVE His only son. Were you there? In the back? ;)

  23. 47

    I love this post. My daughter (3 1/2) has just started demanding that we look at her when she’s talking to us (of course, she talks an awful lot, but the point is still valid). She wants us to really, really hear her and know her. She has twin brothers who are just over two, so she needs that focus sometimes because her mom and I are so busy trying to keep our boys from absolutely destroying things.

    I recently was in a Bible study where three college students (kids of three of the other men in my study) answered questions about what worked/didn’t work about how their dads did things. The biggest one: One student said ‘Work should never come first. It wasn’t the long hours, it was being so distracted after getting home with work that we knew we weren’t the priority’ (paraphrased).

    I need to put the phone out in the car, shut down the computer, and start doing more puzzles.

    • 48

      Well, in the words of the great icon Nike–

      JUST DO IT!!! ;)

      (you just reminded me to find our Christmas puzzle; something we’ll work on throughout the season. Now where is that blasted thing??)

  24. 49

    Ouch! I needed to hear that

  25. 50

    You’re spot on, as always, Robin. Mine are both in high school, too, and I can attest to the fact that it goes too fast. Put up the laptop, turn off the cell phone, and pull out Settlers of Catan, Wits & Wagers, Scotland Yard, or Monopoly. Turn on some music, grab a root beer, and enjoy some fun with the kids. {That’s the advice to myself!}

    Thanks for the reminder, Robin!! ;-)

    • 51

      Wanna hear the ironic thing? I LOVE playing games but I haven’t been able to instill that in my babies (maybe because my husband loathes them??). Only my youngest finds delight in that.

      Which makes me sad.

      Good for y’all for learning the art of Play!

  26. 52

    I love this post – mostly because I hate being online. I mean – I love to write, but now keeping up in social media so I’m not “forgotten” or my hits don’t slump – or being available here here and here — when I really dont want to be available to anyone but my 8 & 3 yr old! But … its not how it works, and I have to be always out there, a reminder … its a game. I mention you so you might mention me back – and your followers will hopefully follow me – and somewhere my kids get homeschooled, the house gets cleaned, and food is prepared. Right — I wish I wasn’t playing the game – I wish I didn’t have to play the game. I wish I believed with all my heart God would bring who He wants to bless to my blog – rather than me push it upon people. “Help me overcome my unbelief” Mark 9:24.

    I’ve lost 5 followers this month – and I’ve felt nothing more than relief! Thanks for this post!

    Stef

    • 53

      Stef,

      It’s insane, isn’t it? And wearying?

      In my own effort to achieve balance, I cut back on community; I rarely read other’s blogs, not because I’m not interested or don’t want to, but because writing takes up so much time (and I let Twitter suck it!), I’ve limited that for the sake of my family. When I see the “success” of others, and bluntly, those who can barely put two words together, I have to fight the Green Eyed Monster :/.

      You and I are in this thing together…. xo

  27. 54

    I love this post. Since my life has “simplified” itself, and pain and meds make multitasking impossible on this sad little brain, I have fully learned what it is to focus. I don’t even comment on blogs or respond to emails if the tv is on in the background. Anything I do takes focus, but I also get so much more out of every interaction… personal, online, on the phone, all of them. That’s one great benefit of my changed life that I treasure.

    • 55

      Your perspective challenges and inspires me; I see such redemption in your externally imposed “limits”; the way you’ve surrendered to God’s leading is blessing to me. Thank you for the many ways you demonstrate your love for Him.

      xo

  28. 56

    Robin, your message here can’t be shouted-from-the-rooftops enough. I want my babies to know they are THE priority, but they won’t know it if I don’t show it.

    Love, love, love this post! Merry Christmas, beautiful girl.

    And you have a high school senior? Seriously, you do not look near old enough for that to be possible! HONEST.

    • 57

      Kristeeeeeeen…

      You just filled my tank! Thank you for your generous words, Christmas greeting, and swooshy air you blew up my skirt. You’ve made my day!

      xo

  29. 58

    Girl, you nailed this. Amen and Amen and Amen, again.

    I was noticing this week as we have had some family around, how many times I have looked around the room to see people on IPhones and email and computer games and technology-this and technology-that. And I was one of them, so I’m not judging, but we have three little kids under 7 and it’s CHRISTMAS, for heaven’s sake.

    Thank you for the reminder. Tomorrow, will be different, for me. Thank you for this perfect reminder to keep the most important things, the most important.

    Beautiful.

    Laura

  30. 59

    Thank you for the reminder and for saying it in a beautiful way.

  31. 60

    I loved how you just gave me a strong word of encouragement and left me smiling, too! You know how to do that well, Robin! ;) mwah! ooxx…

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Finally, over at (in)courage, Robin put in a nutshell the reason I won’t be seeing you again until January: the most meaningful present is presence. [...]

  2. [...] It’s definitely helped me to put my focus elsewhere, on things that are of great importance. I realize it’s not the presents under the tree that bring Christmas joy. Even though we have a tree, a wreath, a nativity figurine, [...]

  3. [...] To not just hear them, but to listen to what they’re saying. [...]