Parents: kids can really pull our minds in a hundred different directions. They’re noisy. They ask LOTS of questions. They interrupt. I just wrote three sentences and in that time period my child managed to ask a question about the movie he’s watching (make that 3), bang on the lip of his bowl with his spoon at least 8 times, and say mom with urgency 3 times so that he could tell me half a sentence before going back to watching his movie. How are you supposed to stay in the present with all that going on?!? Well it’s simple, were going to have to get rid of the kids and save our sanity (just kidding!).
Mindfulness can help us be better parents. It can help us live with much less guilt. It can help us find the time we need for ourselves so we don’t feel like getting rid of the kids is the only solution for finding “me” time. I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I can tell you what has worked wonders for me.
My son is five now. He really is the apple in my eye. But at one point I was completely overwhelmed by him. I had been a person without children for a long time and just wasn’t prepared for the amount of focus and attention that a child was going to take up. I wasn’t a bad mom, but I wasn’t taking care of myself the way that I needed to because I was overwhelmed by his needs. And when I was taking care of him all I could think about was all of the billion other things I needed to be doing, so he wasn’t really getting my full attention. All of a sudden there was more laundry, less time to cook, and so much more noise that it felt like less time to think. I was anywhere but the present.
And now that my son is five, I’d do anything to have that time back and be present in the moment for just one more day. But part of mindfulness is also not living in the past. I don’t want five year old boy to pass me by while I mourn for years lost. I want to be present with my son now. I want to focus on building our relationship today and hope that in the future this strong base will support us.
So here are some ways I practice mindfulness as a parent:
First, I’ve accepted that I do have to stop what I’m doing sometimes, and when I do I also shift focus. If I notice that my son is starting to dance around in front of me and ask a hundred questions its at that time I need to question how long I’ve been focusing on the task at hand. Is it time for a break? Sometimes kids are feeling neglected and since they don’t have the language to tell us, they use actions. So I let him know that I need a few minutes to come to a good stopping point, and then I take a timed break. I spend that time focusing on him. I listen to him and snuggle him and play with him. I reconnect with him. Then when time is up I set him up with an activity that he can enjoy. I also assure him that I won’t work forever and when it’s time I’ll take another break and pay attention to him. I should also note that I make sure that he isn’t getting hungry, thirsty or tired. We all get kinda cranky when our basic needs aren’t being met.
Second, I involve him in task that I need to do. This can be trickier with smaller children, but I’ve always done this to some capacity. When he was a baby I would put him in a rocker and bring him in the kitchen as I cooked and cleaned. I’d show him objects I was using and let him feel and play with safe objects. Now that he’s old enough ot help, he helps with the daily chores. We clean and cook together. He has a “helper stool” that gets him up high enough. And while it does take a little longer to wash dishes when your allowing a five year old to scrub, I make sure that I stay in the moment. I express gratitude for his help and offer suggestions if he seems stuck. I don’t always have time or money to take him on a special trip, but the dishes need done everyday and it’s our time to bond. If I feel my mind drifting here or there, I remind myself that this is the most important thing I can be doing right now.
Third, I teach my son about self care. The same way that I have a bedtime routine, I’m teaching my son to have his own by involving him in part of mine. It helps me as much as it helps him. There are nights when I’m tempted to skip my nighttime routine and just get in bed, but I want to be an example to him and so I follow through. We do it together. We concentrate on taking care of ourselves at the end of the day and everything else will have to wait. After dinner we may change into our bedtime clothes and have some hot chocolate or tea to unwind. Then we head to the bathroom where we floss, brush teeth and then use a rinse. Then mom washes her face and puts on her “creams”. Then we go to read a story and tuck Mac in for kisses. 10 minutes of music and he’s generally asleep or on his way. And because of the structure and routine I’m on way to a good night’s sleep too.
If you have any more suggestions, I’d love to here from you! Please add a comment below. Us parents have to stick together!