Why I’m Giving My Daughter Presence This Christmas


“Mommy, put your phone down. Pway with me.”

Those were the words that made me reassess who I am to my daughter.

When I first moved to Chicago ten years ago, I remember reading an article in the back of O Magazine* where Oprah, while shopping, recalled overhearing a kid repeatedly ask her mother to put her Blackberry away. As I remember it, the daughter was trying on outfit after outfit in the store’s dressing room and then coming out to show her mom how she looked. But instead of looking up at her daughter and providing feedback, the mother was busily texting on her then-cutting edge device. The girl was exasperated. She just wanted her mother.

*FACT: Everyone is issued a subscription to the Oprah magazine the moment they sign their lease in the Windy City. Shortly thereafter, you are made to align yourself with the Cubs or the White Sox. If you refuse, you are banned from ever consuming a hot dog within the entire Chicagoland area. The stakes are high, my friend. Very high indeed.

The article wasn’t one of condescension: Oprah reflected on her own growing insatiable appetite for connectivity and how easy it is to cut ourselves off from the very real relationships we must nurture every day so that we can answer that proverbial one.more.text. It was a problem then, and ten years and six iPhone iterations later, it still is. I can only imagine that it’ll get worse as an entire generation grows up with the image of their parents’ faces illumined by a screen.

I remember reading that story and thinking to myself, not me. One day when I’m a parent, I‘ll never callously place anything – much less a phone – in front of my kid.

The truth is that we are far better parents before we have kids, right? At least I was. Twenty-two-year-old Emily knew what was right all the time, and she was pretty quick to judge. She had never been married, she had never had a crappy first job, she had never really traveled, and she had never looked at her child and felt pure joy and utter frustration at the exact same time. Yet, despite all these things that she had never done and all the shoes she had never walked in, she was totally equipped to make I’ll never statements all over the place.

Of course she was. That’s just what makes 22-year-old kids (let’s call them what they really are, ‘k?) special.

My friend Melissa took this picture of C and me earlier in the fall. Is it sweet? Well, yeah. But does it capture how available I am to my daughter all the time? Not by a long shot.

My friend Melissa took this picture of C and me earlier in the fall. Is it sweet? Well, yeah. But does it accurately depict how available I am to my daughter all the time? Not by a long shot.

So when Cee asked me to put my phone down, I realized that, once again, I am not the mother who I vowed to be when I was a lot younger. I am not present all the time. Sure, I’m physically there for her, but how many times has she wanted to connect with me only to see my nose buried in my phone? I can tell you all kinds of warm-fuzzy stories on my blog recounting the depths and profundity of my love for her, but from the mouths of babes comes the truth.

Sometimes, I’m that mom that Oprah saw in that department store ten years ago.

It doesn’t have to be the phone. Sometimes I close myself off to her by falling prey to exhaustion. I don’t take time to care for myself like I should, I get exhausted, and then I become listless around her. Sometimes I close myself off to her by allowing the provenance of her challenging age (two, going on 14) to get the best of me: she’ll scream at the top of her lungs or slam doors all over our house, and I’ll check out in frustration. There are so many ways that I find to not be present in the moments of her life.

That’s why for Christmas this year, I’m resolving to give my daughter my presence. (See what I did there? Wordsmith McWordsington at your service.) Even though I set the parenting bar high for myself ten years ago without the knowledge of how insanely difficult it is to just turn the freakin’ phone off for a second and be with your child, I know that that bar should be set high for a reason.

These days? These days are precious. Many would argue that the toddler years have an even higher premium attached to them because our kids still actually like us and have that effortless capacity to learn from us. Why would we knowingly give them anything but our best?

Doc McStuffins may be awesome, but I’m pretty sure what Cee really wants and needs from me is me. So this Christmas, I’ll be turning my phone off and tuning in.


  1. That’s the best present you can give! I remember my younger daughter saying “Mommy would you please stop playing with those dishes and come over here.”
    Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

  2. Merry Christmas! And i still unfortunately even HAVE a blackberry. Stupid corporate phone.

  3. Well said, and yes all your daughter truly wants is you. In the new year maybe you can make a goal for yourself to give her 30 undivided minutes in the morning and 30 in the evening so that she knows how special she is to you. The fact that you realize that she wants more from you is half the challenge and just proves how much you love her. Have a wonderful holiday.


  4. I needed to read something like this today. My nose has been buried in the computer and my phone way too much lately. I’ve been getting the same request for my kids as your kid. Starting today I will put my phone away and check myself out from social media for the hours of the day my kids are awake.

  5. Good for you and better for C. This time will never come again. She adores your countenance. I do, too,

  6. My four-year-old son was clamoring for my attention as I sat typing.
    “Turn off the computer and stop acting like a teenager and LOOK!”
    I assumed he means my iphone6 addicted teen, so I turned it off to play with him!

  7. Merry Christmas Emily! A beautiful post, and a meaningful gift… that so many of us can learn from! You rock: as a mother, a writer, and a friend; all the best in 2015! xox

  8. Presence. That is the best gift to give. This is what they will remember most. I too am guilty. The iphone is a drug. Glad you posted this we all need a reminder. Happy holidays!

  9. Sounds like the perfect gift. Thanks for the reminder you clever wordsmithisizer you. ;)

  10. As a kid, I always wanted my mom to be one of the volunteer moms at the school. She never did because I am the oldest of 4. I wanted her to be the mom making copies for the teachers, quizzing on sight words, etc… I set time once a week to help my daughters’ teachers out. The girls like it when I’m at the school. My child self likes it too. But the phone thing…yeah, I should probably get off it too.

    1. It is beautiful how giving to others what we lacked somehow retro fills the heart of our inner child and satisfies our present self and our recipients. Great comment.

  11. So, so true – all of it, and a great reminder. It’s much easier to parent before you actually have to do it, and it’s much easier to make lofty vows if you don’t need to hold yourself to them.

    I think most parents try to give their kids their very best because they love them so much. But when I see parents screaming at their kids in the aisle at Wal-mart, it reminds me that we sometimes give our kids our worst, as well.

    We parents have all the power in the relationship, especially when our kids are little. That’s unlike any other relationship in life: with a spouse, boss, friend, etc. Those people can and do make demands on us, and there are consequences when we let them down. I love the concept of “quality time.” Would a boss buy my argument that 1/2 hour on the job is just as good as all day because it was “quality time?” No. But we use that justification all the time when we don’t spend time with our kids. If little kids get shortchanged, they can’t do anything about it.

    Happy new year, Ms. McWordsington.

  12. Hoping your new year is happy and prosperous, Em.

  13. Excellent post! I managed to be present with my kids when they were young … and my girls and I were present with each other when they were teens … I’m having a much harder time with my teenage boy – but I’m not the one constantly behind the screen, he is. It’s frustrating that I haven’t found a consistent positive way to connect with him. Definitely enjoy this age, Em, it truly goes like the wind.

    Happy 2015 to you and your awesome family!

    P.S. Your window to let me give you a tour of Nashville is quickly closing. In June, 2015 we will be relocating to Hilton Head. How do you feel about the beach? ;)

    1. Seriously? I have to get over to your neck o’ the woods! Nothing like a ticking clock to get me moving ;)

  14. This is great, Emily! It’s such an important topic…this tech boundaries issue.

    I adore turning my phone off. Good for you!

    Emily Grace

  15. Just followed you and saw this awesome post! It’s definitely too true, I realized the other day at dinner with friends that I was checking my phone way too much. It’s important to remember to enjoy the people of the company we are actually with!!

  16. That is an awesome read! :)

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