One week ago I way lying in a hospital bed with my mother, holding her hand, my cheek next to hers, wading through an illness that had stopped her in her tracks. I thought about how it must have felt to be a baby in her arms so many years ago. I looked at her skin — so beautiful to me. She thought she needed makeup, but to me she was just perfect without it. I thought about how I’d always wanted her curly hair when I was a little girl, mine so straight then. I asked her what her favorite moments were with my sisters and me when we were growing up. Eyes closed—as if transported to another world—she recounted her joy in making oatmeal cookies with us for a 4-H program, picnics by our pond and days spent at a local pool. “Just spending time together,” she’d said wistfully. I asked her about my father, about her favorite moments with him. She told me the story of him getting ready for a ceremonial event in the Navy and how he’d had his dress whites on but she had to send him back into the house to change because he had put on underwear that was bright in color and could be seen straight through his pants. She thought it was very funny. I had never heard this story before.
When I saw my children again after that week away I felt elated. I had never been away from them for more than a night or two. We were all in the car together and I kept turning to them from the front seat, soaking in their brilliance, the tremendous light in their eyes. I felt flush with the excitement of being reunited and I was overwhelmed with the love I felt for them. In the days that followed though, my head began to feel cluttered. I was trying to be in two places at once — one part of me with my mom—thousands of miles away—another part, here at home with my children.
I’ve needed to draw on my devotion to mindfulness again and again in order to stay in the present and through this I have begun to observe the methods that I use to get there—or, right here, rather. I have also reflected on the signs that I can take note of when I am not living in a present way. All families have challenges and we all go through our ups and downs. My hope is that these suggestions may come to mind when you next find yourself drifting—getting caught up in the worries of life and the world around you—and in need of returning to your children again. I hope these ideas will help you come back to the joy, back to the light, back to the beautiful moments with your children—in all of their glorious perfection.
10 Signs you may not be Present with your Children:
- You find yourself talking to your children but not connecting with their eyes. You are talking at them but not to them
- You are speaking, maybe even saying the same things over and over again, but not connecting to the meaning behind your words. Playing games and reading books, maybe, but only going through the motions
- You are checking your phone or email more than necessary, maybe incessantly
- You find yourself physically forcing your child to do something (get dressed, leave somewhere, etc.)
- You are counting the hours until the end of the day
- You are not having any fun and neither are your children
- There is a tightness in your chest or abdomen and you catch yourself holding your breath
- You are saying “no” more than “yes” or generally have a negative or critical attitude
- You have slipped backward on previously successful breakthroughs in your parenting efforts
- You are judging your day based on a single moment or experience
10 Suggestions for Returning to Mindfulness with your Children:
- Start Again! You always, always, always have the opportunity to begin again in life and to begin again with your children. Hug your children, hug yourself and simply start over. Your dedication to a mindful approach to parenting means so much. Forgive yourself, breath deeply and recommit to this beautiful path and know that it is worth it.
- Breathe! Make a commitment to breathe throughout your day. If you need to, set a timer for every 30 minutes or so to remind yourself to check in with your breath. Oxygenated brains function better and deep breathing promotes relaxation. This change alone will set you back on your right path.
- Commit to responding to your children instead of reacting. Live in the pause between your children’s actions (“good” or “bad”) and what you say or do afterward. Allow this space to inform your response.There is great wisdom to be found in waiting.
- Slow your pace dramatically. Take in all of your surroundings. Feel the texture of your children’s clothes as you dress them. Inhale an orange once peeled. Notice the wind or even a slight breeze as it touches your skin when you step outside.
- Become acutely aware of your children’s words. Stop and really listen. Soak in what they are telling you. What you say back is less important than their sensing that you are truly listening. Respond the first time when they call out to you.
- Plan a day at home in which you are fully focused on your children’s needs. If you can, forget about bills and correspondence, cleaning and errands for a single day. If you cannot commit to a full day, set aside a few hours and do the same.
- Reflect on how you want to experience your children. Consider how you want for them to experience you.
- Get some exercise. Try to find twenty minutes to burn off your worries and allow a sense of peace to come over you as your body moves and bends and breathes.
- Revel in the memories of your children’s first days. Remember the promises you made. Remember their preciousness. They are as golden and as perfect as they were that very first day.
- Be gentle and kind with yourself. Find at least one thing you could do for yourself to care for your own inner child. A warm bath, quiet writing in a journal or a long talk with a friend, will go a long way. The way we treat ourselves translates into the way we treat our children. Love, forgive and celebrate all that you are and all that you can be.