Mama's Here: Unconditional Presence & What Our Toddlers Have to Teach Us
One of the most mind-blowing things about children is how they are, at once, such compelling mirrors and so exquisitely unselfconscious; how much they reflect back to us how we are being, and how fully & simultaneously they are just playing, exploring—being—for themselves. They do not mean to show us, in such precise flashes, who we are. Or at least, who we are to them. But they do. Because these developmental processes of imitation & pretend play are basically innate. And they do not lie. So when my daughter picks up a plush monkey and barks at it to “LISTEN!”, I know that I (or perhaps, hopefully, my partner or a particularly tired teacher, maybe??) am on the hook for that.
I also hear my child comforting that same roughed-up little monkey; in this version, monkey has hurt himself and she is holding him close, still, with firm gentle hands and that slight, subliminal rocking motion that all parents know. “Oh, you hurt yourself?” she says, and then in response to the monkey’s imagined crying, “Oh I know, I know” and finally in hushed tones “Mama’s here, I’m here.” In that moment the spell is cast: the injury of the monkey suddenly dissipates and there is an unmistakable union between them; a shared knowing that “Mama” (played by my toddler), through the sheer force of her absolute presence, would do anything in this world to keep monkey safe, and monkey knows it.
All is well.
And as the observer (and the real-life Mama, played by me) of this familiar but downright mystical interaction, I am moved almost to tears by what I already know & somehow keep learning: it is our unconditional presence that our children need. It is the very essence of safety. Of love. And it is always right here, if we choose it. And choosing it does not require that we fix or solve or cure whatever is going on. Let’s revisit that my daughter did not come to monkey’s aid as Mama with a lot of solutions or words—she did not swoop in like, “Yikes okay so let’s find a band aid…Wonder if that’s going to need stitches? What happened baby monkey—what were you doing? That’s not safe oh my goodness…” She simply went to monkey and held him and sat inside what they both already knew: I’m right here. You are not alone. I got you.
With our children, with our loved ones, our clients, and ourselves: this is all we ever need to know.
Be. Stay. See. (Presence. Openness. Curiosity.) This is empathy in action.
And then this moment moves on to the next. (Rinse, Repeat.)
When we are in struggle, we don’t need to be lectured or “comforted” or solved.
We need to be seen & held (literally or figuratively) & to know it.
So: a shout out to toddlers everywhere—freely giving all of us this masterclass on connection & repair. I’ll be watching. I’ll be right here.