When I worked as a first-grade teacher, I had an unspoken pact with myself. Any time a student wanted to show me their work or something they created, I promised myself that I’d stop what I was doing and go see their work.

Why? Because I remember being a kid. I remember the pride of my first accomplishments, and what it meant to have someone listen.

I don’t believe I broke my rule all year…then I became a mom.

No longer do I work from 7–3 pm. Every moment of every day is now my work schedule. And sometimes, applying my rule is just not feasible in daily mom life. Especially with toddlers, attention is like fuel. If you’re like me, it can be tempting to zone out when the need is too great.

But listening to our children is essential to their emotional health, self-esteem and confidence.

So how does this work on a practical level? Honestly, I’m still figuring that out! But here’s one thing I do know—as moms, we must get better at recognizing what I call essential moments.

Essential moments are when my child’s need for love trumps my own agenda.

Hard to do, I know. And I can’t stop and cater to my toddler every second of every day, but I can get better at recognizing those moments of critical need.

Here’s a good example. The other day, my daughter woke up kicking her door at 6 a.m. I begrudgingly got up, greeted her with a smile and started my mom gig.

After breakfast, I had my heart set on a cup of coffee and some journaling time in my comfy chair. I put on Winnie the Pooh, and no sooner than I sat down, the little monkey was all up in my business.

I tried switching places by letting her have my chair and Pooh—what more could she want? Still, no deal.

After a few battles with my pen and the hot cup of coffee, I finally stood up, annoyed at her lack of respect for my personal boundaries. No sooner had I sat down again when she was crawling on my lap and sitting on me, which she rarely does in the morning.

It was then that I realized—this was one of those essential moments.

I was still annoyed. I was sorely lacking in sleep and patience. But I put everything down and held her, and I’m so glad I did.

It was a special moment for us.

Tapping into these moments requires discipline and selflessness. There will be times when we miss the boat. But together, let’s aim to make that the exception. Essential moments are fleeting—let’s tune our ears to them before they slip away.