Three Keys to Staying Present with Your Child
It seems we all have differing levels of ability to be present. Some of us are more heavily resourced than others, financially, physically, emotionally. I know moms who have full-time housekeepers and husbands with high-paid jobs, and still express a sense of failure at not being present enough with their children. I know others who run from day job to night school with no financial support and only the childcare that comes from public school and paid daycare programs. They want to be more present with their children, too, and not just physically. I am a work-at-home expat mother breadwinner, myself, and I am striving to be ever more present with my toddler while keeping house, keeping up with my freelance work, being involved in my community and figuring out how the heck I’m going to handle a second child, and so on. I know I’m not alone.
Here, I offer up the three keys to being present with my child, skills and habits I’m strengthening as I go. I’ve learned the power of these directly, and through my mama community. May they be helpful to you, no matter your life circumstance or current level of presence.
1. Slowing down
I spent most of my young adult years (16 to 25) working as a waitress/student. I started out at a short-order small town joint a couple blocks from my house in a little town in Michigan. At The Country Inn, we were expected to burn the ba-juices out of our fingers and arms from carrying a half dozen mugs full of boiling coffee entwined in the fingers of one hand (no joke) and courring hot heavy plates from the kitchen to our mostly retirement-aged customers stacked up our forearms from our finger-tips to elbows (I could do four per arm on a particularly confident spiderman-like day). The point of this colorful story? I learned multitasking self-sacrifice like a pro. A PRO.
That habit haunts me to this day. Sometimes, when I’m trying to get dinner on the table I catch my self rushing and stacking and balancing and cursing (there’s a lot of cursing in restaurants, and tasteless jokes, and… don’t let your daughter work in a restaurant, moms – oh, but I digress…)… and I remind myself: I am no longer a short-order waitress. Neither are you, mama. By slowing down our steps, releasing the urge to stack things up and moving through those would-be rushed tasks of the day with gentle dignity, as if we are the queens we are, serving other dignitaries, we offer ourselves greater health, greater ease. We also offer ourselves the room in those moments to look up, be present with the sweet smiling (or crying, or begging, or simply completely messy) faces we are doing it all for.
When we slow down, we may think we will get less done, but I’ve noticed (and heard from others, too) that we get more done in the long run – more attention, more presence, more quality, and even more tasks checked off the list as they’re done more completely, less haphazardly. We are worth that. We are worth less for more. We are worth slower for deeper. I think this to myself from time to time, when I remember, when I take that “slow down” breath. Moreover, I think, “She is worth it.” I remind myself that my daughter is worth more right now, and also that I’d like to model that worth for her. I want her to grow to learn inherently that the daily things are worthy of her majesty, and she of them. So I slow down and get more present. When it means I get less done, I remember no. 3 below.
2. Enjoying what’s happening right now
Kids are fun, right? They are so enjoyable – their curiousity, their interpretations of us and adult life, their rapid growth and sweet voices. Even though no one needs to tell us this, I don’t think we spend enough attention marveling at them. But then again, I don’t think we spend enough attention marveling at lots of things in life. With all the worry and pressure and push to please and earnest wishes for all things good for our families, the day-to-day is often a grind away from “the grind” without much marveling room. But delighting in the simple things, as a practice, can bring us into the presence of joy, more into the presence of our children. We need not stop and stare for long periods of time. We can just (no. 1) slow down a bit, sway our hips in the kitchen, sing out the lyrics as our toddlers laugh, and enjoy the feel of the leather of their shoes in our hand as we put them back on again… and again… and (please darling, don’t take off your shoes) again. There are lots of sensory toys all around us, for adults. We are worth this enjoyment, too. So are they.
Actually, enjoying what’s going on right now, and moving through life enjoying it with your little in arms is what Boba’s “freedom together” is all about. From enjoying the in-house day-to-day together to getting out and enjoying the world beyond our doors and map lines, this freedom is about joy. If we’re not enjoying it, why are we doing it? Enjoying together gets us present, and being present gets us joyful. “More joy,” is a mantra around our house, actually. I’ve even got a little sign up that I painted with the words, “Happy, not perfect.” So, on to no. 3…
3. Continuously realigning expectations
Not one mother I know doesn’t recount hectic trials and tribulations of getting. out. the. door. Be it one child or four, we inevitably leave our house in a rush every time, totally late more often than not. I rush us out the door because even after two years of motherhood, I actually still expect to be… wait for it, wait for it… (cue Nickelodeon-esque bucket of reality a.k.a. green slime from the rafters)… on time! Buuuuuahahaahhaha! However, something is changing in me. By (no. 1) slowing down, (no. 2) doing a better job of enjoying the moment and (bonus, below) cultivating more mindfulness, my attachment to being on time is dissolving bit by bit. I still try, because I respect others’ time, but I don’t yell at anyone or grab up my meandering toddler in a huff towards the car anymore. Maybe you aren’t attached to being on time like I am, but if not that, I bet there are other habitual expectations that could benefit from a little realignment, a little more relaxation.
I also work to have a more pliable relatedness to the umpteen one-off expectations that string together a day. When I ask my toddler, for her own safety, to get down from the stool she’s drug over to the counter where I’m cutting vegetables and she refuses, I have two choices: push my expectation that she get down, resulting in a possible tantrum, or reconfigure the situation. This weekend, I both let her cut some things with me (relaxing my expectations of preparing lunch quickly and that a toddler should never use a sharp knife), and alternatively created a game for her out of throwing the squash skin in the trash, piece by piece. Being the type-A character I am, I’m constantly realigning my expectations of efficiency. I am now more playful, more pliable, and more present to what the situation truly calls for. I’m more present to my girl in the process. Yay!
Bonus: Cultivating awareness and that inner “Zen”
The benefits of relaxation, of contemplation, of states of mindful awareness are many. There are health benefits, physical and emotional, benefits to our relationships and benefits to our overall sense of well-being and connection to the world. The slowing down, cultivating joy, relaxing expectations and being more mindful are all connected and they all feed each other. I’ve found that having a formal, personal mindfulness practice has helped me a lot in applying no. 1, no. 2 and no. 3 to my life.
I used to spend a fair amount of time meditating every day. That was very helpful then. I’ve had times in my life when yoga was an important part of my well-being. I’ve also spent a lot of time in prayer. These days, I do a very simple practice throughout the day (whenever I remember to do it) of relaxing my body and mind for a short moment. In that moment, I touch in to something bigger than myself, bigger than my family – something that connects us all and reminds me that the little things that snag me need not snag me, or at least not for long. The more often I remember to take these little micro breaks, the more peaceful my day is. I’m also lucky to be connected to a community of people who do a similar practice and lean on each other for support to grow our perspective of life. Maybe for you this looks like a spiritual community, or just an awesome group of friends who are trying to be more conscious.
Whatever the practice you are drawn to, and whatever shape a community of like-minded individuals takes, having some kind of formal way to get right here, right now can be a key factor in being successful at being present with your child. Here are a few links to a variety of mindfulness resources that may be interesting to you. I invite you to comment with what works for you already or in the future. Between us, we have a deep wealth of ideas and resources with which to benefit each other.
- Mini-meditations for busy moms: http://spryliving.com/articles/43-mini-meditations-for-busy-moms/
- One-minute de-stress meditation: http://life.gaiam.com/article/how-de-stress-1-minute
- Family meditation: http://familymeditation.com
- Contemplative prayer: http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree/centering-prayer
- Healing and centering breathing: http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/2844
Also, here’s a helpful article from LIfeWorks, an employee benefits program, with some specific tips on being fully present to little ones at home (like not being on your phone, etc.)
Enjoy! I wish you a beautiful extra-connected day.