Parenting with purpose

Really being present as a parent takes work but is worth the effort.
Really being present as a parent takes work but is worth the effort. Photo: Getty Images. Models shown.

When Sam Cawthorn almost lost his life, the then Youth Futurist for the Australian Federal Government decided grab the crisis and turn it into an opportunity to redefine what was important in his life. He talks to Mel Hearse about life and parenting after death.

In October 2006, Sam Cawthorn was involved in a major car accident, where he was pronounced dead. While he was ultimately resuscitated, he was also left with an amputated right arm and a permanent disability in his right leg. He spent five months in hospital, and during this time, he was told he may not survive, and that if he did, he almost certainly would never walk again. His injuries where horrific, his book – Bounce Forward details how his car was struck at great force (colliding with another at the combined speed of over 200 kilometres per hour), leaving him fighting for his life, and contemplating all he was about to lose. “I’m a father to two little girls, and I was devastated to realise there was a good chance I wouldn’t be going home to them.” It was this thought that gave Sam the focus he needed to stay strong and fight. It was also the moment he became aware of how much he took for granted, that his long working hours meant he often came home tired and distracted. “I was always loving towards my girls, but I wasn’t necessarily very present.”

It’s a common picture played out in many homes – mine included. We get bogged down by the day to day responsibilities, rushing to achieve all we have to achieve. But Sam says we don’t have to have a near death experience to step back and think about how we’d like our lives to look, and make a shift in that direction. When it comes to our parenting, the things we most often want to help our children achieve are a happy and healthy life. The good news is, it’s a pretty simple shift – Sam himself is still a busy man, now an in-demand keynote speaker and author, but he has also tweaked the way he parents, for his own enjoyment of life, but also to ensure his girls grow up to be confident, happy and resilient.  

Sam Cawthorn's first book chronicles the events that reshaped his life.
Sam Cawthorn's first book chronicles the events that reshaped his life. 

One of the changes Sam has made is to embrace and utilise all five of the languages of love.  For the uninitiated, Sam explains they are: 

Words of affirmation – This means saying things to express your love. Everything from ‘I love you’ or ‘I love how kind you are to animals’ through to ‘you have a great personal sense of style’, or ‘what a great job you’ve done on that assignment.’  

Quality time – this doesn’t necessarily mean doing anything special, but when you do, giving your full attention to the moment. Simple example? Playing a game of cards with the kids, without your smart phone in the room.


Gifts – This doesn’t mean replacing time or affection with goods, and is not to be confused as materialism, rather it means the giver expresses their love through the thought and care put into choosing a gift. Gifts can also be used to show you are thinking of someone, for example, when your child has completed a task they find hard, or you’ve been away on a trip, a gift can be way of saying ‘I appreciate that was a big deal for you, I think you did great,’ or ‘I was thinking of you even though I wasn’t with you.’

Acts of service – This is the day to day running around you do, the housework, the nourishing meals, cleaning and caring for clothes and toys, or the driving back and forth from weekend sports matches.

Physical touch – This means everything from arm pats, head rubs, to cuddles or sitting next to each other on the couch – basically a physical connectedness.

Sam says the different ways we show love help build confidence and resiliency in our kids, which are protective factors for issues like bullying and depression. “I believe fear is a big contributor to depression – fear of what people think of us, fear that we aren’t good enough, or that we don’t fit in or belong. We are often quicker to accept others for who they are than we are ourselves,” says Sam. Parents can foster optimism, self love and resilience, and reduce the risk of depression and low self esteem, in some really simple ways, Sam says.

Body language – maintaining eye contact when talking to your kids, standing with our bodies relaxed and open, with shoulders back, chin up and a relaxed, happy expression.

Choice of wording – Sam says it’s important to be mindful of the way we say things. “For example, when your child has done something naughty, it’s good to clarify it’s the behaviour you don’t like, or that is naughty, as opposed to saying they are naughty.”

Shift your focus – it’s natural for parents to focus on the things that worry them about their kids. But Sam says what we focus on in life is usually what we get. If you’ve ever caught yourself in a worry cycle – “my child has a quirky dress sense and might be teased” or “I’m worried he doesn’t do well enough at school, he won’t get into university,” Sam says it’s time to shift your focus. It might seem like there is no need to concentrate on the positives – that’s the stuff that’s clearly working out just fine without your attention, but imagine the boost of confidence you and your children will feel if the positives are your focus, and they learn by example to make it them the focus for themselves. Imagine how much more confidence you’ll all have at tackling issues that arise, when you are all filled with the confidence that comes from acknowledging your strengths above your weaknesses?

Just a note for the sceptics – it is absolutely not about ignoring negatives that need attention, it’s about ensuring they are not the focus of your attention. If you’d like to read more about Sam’s inspiring journey and the lessons he’s gained after almost losing it all, check out his website at