I had a brief exchange with a coach recently who’d posted about how he’d seen something new around being accessible in his business vs being visible. I was curious about this. To be accessible, you have to be visible right, otherwise how will people know about you?
Well yes, that’s true we do have to be visible to be accessible, but more than that, accessibility is about how we show up in the world to the people that we want to align with. We should be asking ourselves questions like:
- How we present ourselves?
- What tone do we use when communicating?
- How, where and when do we communicate?
- Do we speak in a way that engages our audience?
- Are we being authentic or are we repeating what others have said?
In fact, as somebody who’s worked in marketing for all of my career, it struck me that this was actually a bit of a personal branding exercise. How we are showing up in our business can either attract or repel the people we want to work with. It’s something that we can easily overlook when we think that just being visible is the key to a successful business.
But business aside, this exchange got me thinking about visibility vs accessibility in other areas of life, in particular parenting and I reflected on what I thought that meant and whether I was being both, one or none to my children.
Being visible to your children
Being visible is the extent to which you are physically present for your children. In today’s fast -paced world, being a visible parent can be a challenge. With so many demands on our time and attention, it’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and in doing so we become unavailable to our children.
I’m lucky enough to be able to work flexibly so I can drop them off and pick them up from school. I’m able to attend assemblies, sports days, help out at school events and go on field trips. I am incredibly grateful that I can be around for my children’s school years.
Of course, there are times when I’m not able to do things and that’s fine. Parents need space and children need to foster independence, so 100% visibility isn’t healthy in my opinion. There are also times when they don’t want me around and I get that, and that will only increase as they get older, which is why I embrace being around for them now as much as I can.
So in being curious about this it struck me that we can be very visible to our kids by being present physically, but be distracted by work, chores, life stuff and not be present emotionally, which got me thinking, ‘What does it mean to be accessible?’
Being an accessible parent
To me, being accessible means being available and approachable to my children in all aspects of their lives. It means creating a safe and nurturing environment where my children can come to me with any questions or problems. Reflecting further, here’s what came to mind for me.
Active Listening: Active listening is quite a skill and it’s one of the most important things you can do to become an accessible parent. Often, we’re not actually fully present when we’re listening because our mind is chattering away – perhaps we’re distracted by a work problem, maybe a thought pops up in response to what your child has said and then your mind goes off on a seperate train of thought or perhaps you’re listening to respond (What can I say to her to make her feel better?), rather than just listening!
When your child is talking to you, give them your undivided attention. Put down your phone, stop working, and make eye contact. Be present. This shows your child that you are interested in what they have to say and that you value their thoughts and feelings. It helps them to feel heard and validated, which can build trust and strengthen your relationship. As a youth worker, listening is definitely one of the things that young people value the most.
There will of course be times when your children will want your attention, but the timing isn’t right. There have been many times when my children have asked me for something when I’m elbows deep in flour and eggs, in the middle of cooking dinner or I’ve just got on a work call. It’s important in these instances, to acknowledge them: just let them know that you’ve heard their request, but right now is not a good time and as soon as you’ve finished the task in hand, you’ll be all ears. That’s absolutely fine. Unless it’s an urgent matter, it’s OK to say, “I can’t talk right now, but give me five minutes to finish up here and I’ll be right with you!” The power is in the acknowledgement!
Be empathetic: It’s important to understand that your child’s experiences and emotions are valid, even if they may seem small or insignificant to you. Things look very different through a child’s eyes, so put yourself in their shoes and empathise with whatever it is that they’re struggling with. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything they say or do, but it does mean that again, you acknowledge their feelings and provide support and guidance when needed.
Set boundaries: Setting boundaries for your child and taking care of your own needs is healthy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, it’s okay to let them know that you need some time to yourself. As the metaphor goes, ‘Put your own oxygen mask on first before you help others.’ How can you be available to others when you are suffering yourself? In letting your child know that you need some space, you’re teaching them to be patient, the importance of self-compassion and self-care and you’re modelling a healthy relationship.
Be open-minded. Be willing to learn from your children. I’m astounded sometimes by the words of wisdom that come out of my children’s mouths. Be open to new ideas and perspectives, step into their world and importantly, be willing to admit when you’re wrong! With an open-minded attitude, you teach your child the importance of curiosity, empathy, understanding and critical thinking. Being open-minded, ensures that the lines of communication are always open for discussion around any topic and your children will feel safe and comfortable approaching you.
Show your love. Finally, being an accessible parent means regularly showing your child that you love them. This could mean saying “I love you” at bedtime, at school drop off or randomly throughout the day. Leave post it notes or messages in their notebooks. Hug your child frequently and do something special for them unexpectedly. When your child knows that they are loved and valued, they will feel comfortable and secure in their relationship with you.
Parenting = lifelong learning. We don’t always get it right all of the time. I know I don’t, but I do my best to be a conscious parent and be accessible to my children, but I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never been caught out and there’s nothing like hearing your child say, ‘Mum just put your phone away!’ to snap me out of my distraction and back into the present moment.
Being a visible and an accessible parent is not always easy, but it is one of the most important things you can do for your child. By understanding their needs, being present and engaged in their lives and setting a positive example, you can help them grow into confident, successful, and happy individuals.