10 Ways to be Mindful with your Children Again

 

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:

  1. You find yourself talking to your children but not connecting with their eyes. You are talking at them but not to them
  2. 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
  3. You are checking your phone or email more than necessary, maybe incessantly
  4. You find yourself physically forcing your child to do something (get dressed, leave somewhere, etc.)
  5. You are counting the hours until the end of the day
  6. You are not having any fun and neither are your children
  7. There is a tightness in your chest or abdomen and you catch yourself holding your breath
  8. You are saying “no” more than “yes” or generally have a negative or critical attitude
  9. You have slipped backward on previously successful breakthroughs in your parenting efforts
  10. You are judging your day based on a single moment or experience

10 Suggestions for Returning to Mindfulness with your Children:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Reflect on how you want to experience your children. Consider how you want for them to experience you.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” — W.B. Yeats

I have come to fully believe in the magic of life. I thought that I always had, often the ethereal friend toting a pack of tarot cards in my bag on a weekend away. But it was my son Jonah who truly opened my heart to all that it means to truly believe. Two years ago, just before his second birthday we celebrated his second Christmas. My entire family was visiting from around the country and therefore present as Jonah and I crouched by the fireplace setting out cookies and milk for Santa Claus and carrots for the eight, flying reindeer. In a video we have from that Christmas, I can hear myself laughing nervously as I explained to Jonah about how Santa would be entering our home through our chimney and why that was ok. I remember catching my sister’s eye in that moment as she took this all in skeptically. At that time she hadn’t yet become a mother and later that night she teased me, questioning me about how I felt lying to my son for the first time. My sister is one of my dearest friends and I respect her immensely and so I could take her comments lightly and tease her back about, “just you wait until you have children.”

As Jonah’s second year unfolded, his inner world began to open exponentially. He frequently approached me or my husband, stuffed animal in his grasp, saying adamantly, “I want he to talk!” And so my husband and I mastered a wide array of animal voices. According to my husband, all of my voices sounded exactly the same — high pitched an squeaky. He had become more skilled than I, demonstrating a wider body of characterizations but Jonah was perfectly content with either of us as long as his animals were coming to life, making his world that much richer. Any difficulty convincing Jonah that it was time to go upstairs for his bath was easily put to rest when he heard that Panda had already started climbing the stairs and he was not alone. Beside him climbed Giraffe and Hippo and Elephant too. Later, the stairs transformed into Mt. Kilimanjaro. Two toy airplanes became brothers flying across the globe. I couldn’t help but notice that big brother airplane came to life just as Jonah was becoming accustomed to his new role as an older sibling. We traveled across the deserts of Africa, to Alaska, Maine and Aruba. When we weren’t flying to Aruba, we were taking our toy box turned motorboat there – that is unless we were taking that same boat to Mama’s favorite place – Coffee. Jonah discovered Coffee himself. I wonder how he knew?

In these cases, Jonah was often leading our journeys but then about midway through his second year we began telling him stories during dinner and baths. He liked it best when he was the main character or the main character was thinly veiled as an animal or vegetable that closely mirrored him. I watched in amazement one evening as I told him a story about a little boy who was able to become strong enough to do a pull-up at the park with his Daddy because he began eating his vegetables. Jonah gobbled up his spinach pizza eagerly as I shared this story. Later he would request that I retell this story when spinach pizza was on the menu again.

Through storytelling we’ve explored issues such as going to bed peacefully, treating other family members with love and exploring the excitement of adventure and learning. It has been such a surprise and gift to discover that I may be welcomed into Jonah’s psyche so readily simply by communicating in a way and to a place where I can be heard. It is so tempting as a mother to assume that our children are little adults, mirroring our inner thought process and therefore attempt to tell them how to be with a lecture or wordy explanation. I am still “guilty” of this at times but overwhelmingly I have discovered how wrong that assumption would be. I am so grateful for this realization and only wish that I had come to it sooner. I am not a psychologist and nor have I conducted any research, but I have observed my children closely and I am certain that my sons are more connected to the “other side” than we adults are. Through stories, through their imaginations and through an attention to the magic that surrounds us in our every day world, I work to preserve that other-worldly connection in them for just as long as I possibly can.

In recognizing the depth of their inner world, I have come to experience a renewed feeling of magic all of my own. I remember rocking my littler son Adrian in the night, after a long period of illness, and being enamored by the faint sound of bells ringing. At first I tried to figure out where the sound was coming from, but I couldn’t. I imagined that I was having auditory hallucinations from lack of sleep. After a few nights I decided to just enjoy this very slight — yet beautiful — music. I imagined that the love that I felt for Adrian, the love that kept me at his side for so many long nights, had offered me an opening to another, higher plane, where I entered and was refueled with images of Angels keeping watch over us in the dark of night. It wasn’t long after this experience that I was given an actual white, sparkly, decorative angel with a little battery-operated light inside of her — lighting up her heart. I found this not to be a coincidence at all. Never before in my life had I been particularly drawn to angels. I was then and I am now.

It was wintertime again and my what a difference a year makes in how we perceive the world. As Christmas approached again, and Jonah approached three years old, together we discussed Santa in great detail with much excitement and anticipation. My heart, like the angel’s, was filled with light and I was fully engaged in the inner world of my magical little boy. I had no qualms about sharing in the mystery of the season and knowing full well that the stories I was telling him were true. They were true to me. They came alive with my belief. They came alive with the love with which I told them. They came alive in the heart of my son.

The glowing angel became a favorite fixture in our home and graced our dining room table for weeks after the holidays, surrounded by an earthy wreath peppered with berries. She looked beautiful sitting there. I loved her and so did both Jonah and even our little baby Adrian who accidentally bit off her wax nose one day in a moment of excited expression. When he later accidentally pulled off one of her wings, I gasped in disappointment. Jonah saw my reaction and his little eyes also filled with tears. I worked to fix her wing with glue but I was unsuccessful. I knew what she had come to represent for our family. She stood for our connection to a higher place. She stood for our sense of wonder. She stood for our being watched over and loved. And so I went online and made my first purchase from QVC. I rushed my order and spent a pretty penny to replace our dear angel as quickly as possible.

To my surprise when I opened the box from QVC there appeared not one, not two, but three lighted angels! In my haste, I hadn’t realized that my purchase was for a set of three angels. I saw this as a sign of the abundant number of angels who are constantly looking over us. I chose one and placed her in the center of our table, encircled by her wreath of red berries. When Jonah saw her, he said, “you fixed our angel!” I explained to him that I had not been able to fix her wing so her sister had come to take her place and look over our family while she was away healing her wing. Jonah was completely content with this explanation, happy to have an angel back looking over us again. I was comfortable with this story too. I knew that it was true.

“I wish that life should not be cheap, but sacred.  I wish the days to be as centuries, loaded, fragrant.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I awoke one special morning it was still black outside. Silently I rolled out of bed, pulling on a pair of scratchy, woolen socks and a cozy sweater. My littlest boy Adrian — still an early riser — urged me to greet the day while the rest of the house laid in quiet slumber. His voice called out to me through the monitor by my bedside — religiously attended for nearly two years now. Together we traipsed down stairs, eventually brewing coffee and greeting our kitty Autumn with a rub between her ears. Finally we came to the shade opening part of our morning ritual and through our front window we glimpsed a shimmering, white coating gracing our porch steps. Snow. My heart lightened. For me — a little girl still at heart — snow is a magical offering from nature. I turned on the outside light so that Adrian might better see. His eyes brightened at the sight, a sweet smile coming across his face. He’s taken to squinting his eyes when he smiles. Does he think he needs to be even sweeter than he already is? Our forecast had been for rain and so this crisp, white frosting was a treat. It came in gracefully for us, not like for those still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. For those souls, I wished for warmth. I wished for dryness.

About an hour later, well caffeinated now, I heard Jonah, my bigger boy, calling to me from upstairs. He had made his way to our bed in the night and so he was all wrapped up in a too big comforter in a too big bed, his voice still groggy from a deep sleep. I liked the way his body looked so little that way in our oversized bed. It helped keep him small, young, in my mind. I’ve been mourning his grown up words, his grown up ideas, of late. I climbed in with him whispering that it had snowed. There was a slight pause and then he popped up in the bed, a contrast to his former sleepy self. His wide, strikingly blue eyes scanned the various windows in our bedroom overlooking a wintery scene. He wanted to go out and play right now! Within moments I had granted him permission to go outside as soon as we had eaten breakfast. I did this despite the fact that I have a book proposal due in less than a month, not a word written, and that morning was one of few that I would be able to get started. I did this also fully aware that it would be impossible to allow just one brother to depart on this great adventure, leaving my littler one behind.

I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I could dress Jonah for the weather. He was eager, therefore cooperative. Adrian was a little more challenging. He stepped into his snow pants without coaxing. The coat had to be negotiated though and then the poor fellow had to stand in his seven layers at the front door sweating as I ran through the house trying to find the appropriate clothing to keep me toasty for what was sure to be a lengthy excursion. Children rarely notice their purple lips in the way that we adults do. I nearly slid down the stairs a couple of times in my haste. I discovered a pair of old ski pants and a coat that I had to step into with its broken zipper. There, ready. Adrian and I bounded outside and found Jonah already halfway through the shoveling of our steps. He is most happy when given a job. I sunk into our play forgetting about my plans for the morning. I became much more interested in the giant carrot we had chosen for our snowman’s nose, and how we might plant it deeply enough into his frosty face so that it might stay. A babysitter was supposed to be arriving and on some level I knew that she would cancel.  Adrian dug in the snow with a small sand shovel and every now and then he would call out to me from just a few feet away, “alk.” I would go over to him and help him to “walk” to a new spot. He was still acclimating to this novelty of snow. Jonah toyed with his first real snow-ball fight. He knows generally that we don’t throw things at people and so he experimented with how it was ok now. I threw a snowball at him and accidentally hit him directly in his mouth! We both managed to laugh and I rushed to clean his face and make sure none of the snow went down the front of his jacket. I remembered that feeling. Snow somehow making its way into my winter jacket, down my turtleneck. I didn’t want for him to feel that.When we came inside I saw on my phone that our babysitter had cancelled. I was relieved. It was a good and cozy day for staying in.

It was a day full of reading and relaxing together. It was a day full of play. A snow day as I remember them. At one point we turned on some music and we were taking turns putting on dance shows for each other. My “smart” phone was on the coffee table and Jonah picked it up. He wanted to look at pictures. I am that person that Mac store employees loathe for keeping every photo and video I’ve ever taken on my phone and wondering why my phone is protesting.  Jonah and Adrian giggled at a video of Adrian at five or six months old — he still glowed with that other-worldly quality of new babies. I felt a slight lump form in my throat. Oh how beautiful that time had been. We sat for a while, the three of us, looking back on our lives together. I wished I had a picture of us growing so cozy now on the couch. Eventually, Jonah managed to find his way to a video taken of him when he was just two years old. It was nearly two years ago but I remember the moment distinctly. It was July and Jonah and my husband were mopping our deck, ridding it of pollen and muck. Jonah appeared to be in charge and was demonstrating his love of a job even then. There was something about the quality of that video and of Jonah captured in that moment that said to me so clearly, it shouted to me, “you can’t go back.” You can never go back. There with my two boys cuddled on either side of me, I choked back a deep sob.

On days like today, challenging days, days where I have a cold, where I have been up since 4:30 am and feel like all of my words have fallen on deaf ears, I think of that moment. I remember that joyful day. How days can be. I remember that even these hard days, these very days of breathing deeply to maintain my presence, are ones that I might wish that I could go back to. And so I nurse my cough, fuel my soul with words and know that these are precious times.

 

10 Steps for Taming a “Tantrum” With Love

We’ve all witnessed it – our serene and blissful child transforming before our eyes over a seemingly small disappointment or discomfort. His freshly built, wooden bridge toppling over with little brother’s touch. Her sock being situated incorrectly within a shoe. The cookie denied. Suddenly our little one’s breath becomes shallow, tears spring to their eyes. Perhaps they let out a howl. Perhaps they flail their arms or legs.

There are so many reasons why a child may find himself in a rapid release of overwhelming emotions, unable to see things in a rational way. Maybe yesterday they had a long ride in the car, energy suppressed, all cooped up. Or maybe bedtime was late with an early rise for school. Now they’ve lost their ability to process things in a balanced way. Maybe they were so excited for school, they couldn’t focus on breakfast and their blood sugar is sending them on a roller-coaster ride. Maybe they took in too much television, toys with bright lights or sugary snacks. Or maybe they are experiencing tremendous development, seeing the world through new eyes and fearful of all these great, new challenges. Whether exhaustion, hunger, over-stimulation or natural development is the cause of a child’s break with their ability to process things peacefully, their ability to overcome these moments – self-worth intact – is all in the hands of their caregivers. These moments can be beautiful and transformative, filled with a parent or caregiver’s love and understanding or they can be sad and lonely times for a child.

When these moments occur in our home, I am learning to bring a more steady and observing energy to the situation and gaining in return a deeper closeness with my sons once the storm has passed. Positioning myself as a headlight in the distance allows my children to be guided back to the individuals we both know they really are, positive sense-of-self intact, feeling loved. It doesn’t work all of the time and sometimes I forget. This is a journey and all we can do is put our best foot forward again and again.

These are a few ways that I have helped my children when they have been overcome by their feelings:

1. When emotions run high there is always time to take a moment and decide how you will proceed. There is time to take a breath and center yourself before responding. Breath deeply, maybe sit down or kneel beside your child and collect your own thoughts and emotions. Maybe find a memory of a time when you have lost yourself and remember how scary and powerful that moment can be. Find a place of compassion within your being. Soften your eyes and release any feeling of needing this situation to be over. It will be over in good time.

2. Resist the urge to convince your child not to feel what they are feeling. Instead, in your most understanding tone, say something like, “that is a very big feeling you are having.” If you mean it, they will know. Then just sit and observe for a moment, concentrating on your breath. There is time for this as well, for waiting, for looking on and being steady. It doesn’t matter if you are in the grocery store, the doctor’s office or in your front yard. Most people will understand your situation. Try your best to ignore those who do not.

3. Without words, stroke your child’s arm or offer to pick your child up allowing them to choose whether or not your embrace will help. Validate their sense of loss or disappointment, upset or confusion with a simple phrase like, “Oh, I have felt that way before too.” “I can understand how you must feel.” After all, aren’t children mirrors of the emotions they witness in the world around them? Often they are simply demonstrating exaggerated version of the very same emotions we experience as adults.

4. For the younger child who may not understand these phrases, try instead saying something like, “Mama knows” a few times and wiping their tears oh-so-delicately.

5. Designate a safe place within your home that you may go to recover from incidents such as these. For instance in our home, we’ve created a “peace circle” (thanks to the suggestion of a wise babysitter and kindergarten teacher). This place is a sometimes circle, sometimes oval, crafted out of various pillows and balance boards where we spend time when we are struggling. As your child begins calming down, you may suggest that you go together to this special place for some comfort. Walk slowly, gently with your child to this space, setting the tone. Spend time there reading or playing quietly throughout the day so that your child’s special place has a positive association. Once the idea of a sacred space is established in your child’s mind, you may create this same sort of place anywhere you go, simply by giving it the same name.

6. Know that these caring gestures do not mean that you should “given in” to the demands, request or situation that brought on the episode. We are not called as parents to allow our children everything they want or think they need but to stand by instead helping them to experience their own – very significant – feelings  in a safe and loving way.

7. Observe your inner dialogue when these issues arise and notice whether or not you might be able to loosen your grip and allow for things to unfold in the most natural way possible. Notice any tension throughout your body. Notice where anger may arise. Work to recognize these feelings, validate them and  then allow for them to fall away from you. So much of how we respond to our children has to do with our own upbringing. Make certain that your response is in alignment with your present-self, not your child- self.

8. If things are not quieting down or are escalating, try stepping a few feet away from your child and beginning a tactile task. Folding clothes, stacking blocks, braiding yarn. These activities may draw a child out of themselves and allow them to begin again with something new.

9. Allow your child to rebound with dignity maybe saying something like, “wow, that was a very big feeling you were having!” “I am so glad you are feeling better now.” “Let’s go and …..” Try not to lecture your child as to what they should have felt or done differently.

10. And, finally, most importantly, know that what your child needs more than anything when they are falling apart is to have someone by their side who loves them and knows how to put them back together again. Knowing they aren’t alone, knowing someone understands them, the presence of these things, will create fewer and fewer falling-apart moments and allow for more wholeness in your home and in your life again.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault

My son Jonah began taking swimming lessons alone for the first time this summer. It has been so exciting to see him at a distance, his little head just-barely bobbing above the water, a mixed expression of joy and anticipation crossing his face. He is very social, chatting gregariously with the other children in his class, testing out the echo of his voice across the massive aquatic center. I am so proud of the way he follows the instructions of his teacher and I observe her closely, looking for pointers. I too feel a mix of joy and anticipation. Joy for all that Jonah is on the cusp of discovering in his new life as a budding pre-schooler. Anticipation for the letting go that will come along with it for me. I bob in the shallow end of the pool with my younger son Adrian. He loves the water too and seems to want to dive out of my arms. I can still see Jonah, so clearly, on his very first day of life. And yet, now, Adrian, born two years later, is ready to swim already? Tears come to my eyes with a mix of emotions. I think about how the days are long but the years are short, as they say.

Later, the three of us go to the family changing room and my two boys take their first shower alone together. It is one of the most precious moments of the summer for me, their two unclothed bodies shivering slightly at first and then slowly steadying as the water warms. I notice that they have their own language between them now. Jonah enjoys his role washing off his baby brother with a hand-held sprayer. Adrian is in a state of pure pleasure, laughing wildly and acclimating to this novelty that is a shower. I can only imagine the cacophony of laughter and shouting that can be heard on the other side of the door.  I dry and dress them both with surprising ease – given the environment – and as we are driving home I give thanks that everyone is clean and ready for bed, all cozy in their car seats, busy with their snacks. I give thanks that I am able to derive so much pleasure from observing my children in such a mundane task as showering and getting changed after swimming lessons.

As the mother of these two little ones, I almost never sit in meditation. Instead I discover an inner silence in the space between filling sippy-cups and cleaning up crumbs. I focus on tiny fingers placing magnets on the refrigerator and the varied expressions of my children’s faces. I often listen to their words with peaked attention noticing the hairs on my arms rising up with this heightened awareness. The opportunity for bliss in a mother’s life is vast; we only need to truly see what is before us in order to experience it.

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” – Audrey Hepburn

When I was a young girl my grandmother took great pride in teaching me to set a proper table. She knew just how to place things and she was very proud of the vast collection of treasures she’d accumulated over years of military and personal travels in faraway places. There were bowls from Saigon, plates from Paris and linens from Thailand. Her home was crisp and clean, with hospital corners on the bed and the smell of gardenias wafting from her dressing table. It was gritty too, at times, after an afternoon of boating on the Potomac, catching crabs off a dock just a stone’s throw away from her home. My grandmother was devoted to gardening and homemaking and her lifelong love of entertaining culminated with a lucrative, late-in-life real estate career. I remember my cousin once comparing me to her. I took it as a high complement. I hope that my home is a fraction as lovely as hers was and that I may share with my children the importance of creating beauty like she did. She had a way of honoring the things that she was blessed with.

I remember when she died reflecting on all of her beautiful things, some of which would come into my care. I saw so clearly and was moved deeply by the fact that not a single exquisite item that she had so adored would be traveling with her. Even in her last years, I remember, as she downsized from her home to an assisted living and then eventually to a nursing home, fewer and fewer of her treasures surrounded her. She valued people and relationships far more than any of those objects, and in her final days I came to see her so much more for her true essence, for all that she was despite her belongings and what might be surrounding her. My grandmother had studied “new thought” through the Science of Mind Magazine series for years and years and in her final room in her nursing home she had kept with her, of all the many, many belongings she had to choose from, her collection of books by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

Each day I know that I have a choice as to how I spend time with my children. It is so tempting in this culture to spend that time out gathering more things, toys, clothes, furniture, you name it. When I find myself with plans to do such gathering, I often end up changing my plans. I sit quietly and observe my boys at play. I truly see them. I see the way they delicately examine a toy. I see the movement of their legs as they run wildly. I feel so deeply within me how little the clothes I wear, the things I own, matter to me. What matters to me are the experiences I share with my family. These moments. These connections. These are eternal.

5 Benefits of Mindfulness for Mothers

I remember vividly the time in my life when I discovered that mindfulness was so much more powerful than patience. It happened deep in the night, my baby nestled in my arms like an angel, months gone by with such little sleep. And yet, there I was, finding beauty in the night itself, the hum of an air purifier, the shadow cast by a sailboat night-light, the quiet. It was in my baby, his lovely, powdery infant smell, his exquisiteness. It was in the day that followed, the wonderful pick-me-up of my first cup of coffee, “a little coffee with your cream?” my husband teased. It was in my older son, Jonah, and the thunderous call he would make from his room at dawn, “it’s waaaaake up tiiiime!” I was present in a way during that time period that I have not been able to reach since, even though I am  (slightly) more rested. In those wakeful nights with my second son, Adrian, I was transformed from someone who endured difficult situations by trying to be patient to someone who could be present and find beauty in moments regardless of how hard they might otherwise be. I received this gift through mindfulness, through a heightened attention to my senses, through my breath. It was difficult but I remember it as being so beautiful more than anything. I can only compare it to the memories I have of this same little cherub’s birth. I was able to be fully present through my labor with him in a way that I was unable to do with Jonah and although I did experience intense feelings, I road the contractions like waves and truly loved my second experience of giving birth. It was not perfectly quiet or without any moments of fear but overwhelmingly it was beautiful.

I have come to believe wholeheartedly that no matter how tired one might feel, no matter how much anger might well up, and no matter how things may appear to others, mindfulness can bring peace to any moment within a person. I realized rocking my baby in the dark all those nights that patience has limits while mindfulness does not. With patience, you may reach “the end of your rope.” You may be put, “over the edge.” In mindfulness, all is well. All is well, always. I most certainly am not in a constant state of mindfulness with my children or in the rest of my life. I most certainly am devoted to returning to what I am sure will be a meaningful moment if I can get myself there as soon as I realize I’ve departed. I’ve discovered that mindfulness itself actually offers a powerful recovery from unmindfulness – both our own and that of others. For in mindfulness you will find great love. And love heals all.

These are five ways in which mindfulness may benefit mothers today in what sometimes feels like a world too busy to recognize a moment for all that it is worth. I hope these ideas will bring you closer to your children and closer to yourself.

  1. Mindfulness will allow you to experience your children fully and remember their childhoods. Vividly. You will remember the texture of rice cereal and the look on your baby’s face the first time this mushy mix crossed his tender lips. You will remember your child’s spoken words. How they sound. The special way in which they pronounce things. There is no regret for times gone by when you have experienced it fully.
  1. Mindfulness will allow you to live forward. No more dwelling on the meltdown that you handled badly at the restaurant last night. No more guilt-tripping over using the wrong words for disciplining last year. No more worries about what you could-have, should-have done better. In mindfulness all that matters is that you are seeing your child and experiencing them right now. Given a generally healthy home, being truly with your child in this current moment can repair mistakes you might have made in days, even years past.
  1. Mindfulness will allow you to value your own judgment as a mother over the judgment, opinions or fears of others. In mindfulness you will be in tune with yourself, uncluttered by thoughts of the past or future. You will know what the right decisions are for your children because you will be hearing them more clearly, seeing them with new eyes, experiencing them as more whole beings. In mindfulness, the good and bad opinion of others of you will carry less weight.
  1. Mindfulness will allow you to forgive yourself more readily when you act in unmindful ways. Every moment, given a chance, is overflowing with love. Every moment is a miracle really. Just breathing alone is a remarkable experience given the attention it deserves. Start there. It is proof that we are so much more than what we do or think or collect. When you’ve “failed,” finding the moment may heal you in an instant and allow you to start again in love. You will find love for yourself in the moment first. Love for all others will follow.
  1. Mindfulness will set you free. You will experience more joy. You will feel happier. You will have more energy. You will be filled with love. You will realize again and again and again all that this world has to offer when we are present and looking and aware.

 

5 Ways to Return to Mindfulness with Your Children

Being mindful with your children is not about being perfect. It is about recommitting to sharing moments with them time and time again – even when you’ve gone way off of your path and have to travel a long road back to be present again. If you’ve “lost your mind” for a moment, an hour or even a year or ten years – you always have the opportunity to start again. Here are a few ways that I have found myself again when need be.

  1. Stop whatever you are doing and connect with your breath. Hold your children in your arms if you must and take a deep, stilling breath. And then another. Stay here for a while enjoying a peace that is sure to come over you. Nothing is more important than your sense of calm. Nothing is more important than the sense of peace and safety you will share with your children in this moment. Not dinner. Not the laundry. Not bedtime. In breathing we are more likely to experience compassion for ourselves and for others so that we may choose loving and kind action. And in breathing we may observe our thoughts and experience them as an onlooker, with less judgment, instead of being continually in their grip. Notice your children modeling your breathing.
  1. Look your children in the eyes and affirm that you had been gone for a while but that you are back now. Children and even babies know so much more than we give them credit for. Better not to brush over your mindlessness. Acknowledge it. Let your child know that we all lose track of our thoughts at times and this impacts our actions but that we always have an opportunity to start again. They will understand and they will follow your lead in learning forgiveness and letting go and moving on.
  1. Find an activity to do with your children that uses your hands and immerse yourself into the moment with them in this tactile way. Pull weeds in the garden. Kneed dough. Finger paint. Braid yarn. Be conscious of your breath as you play. Listen more than you speak. Allow the activity to unfold naturally. Loosen your grip.
  1. Cancel something. Too many plans, a too-full schedule makes a person ripe for losing presence. Recognize the importance of quiet, peaceful, uneventful time at home and make it a priority. Genuine friends and family will understand. You may inspire them to do so as well.
  1. Quiet your mind again at the end of the day in the absence of your children. Give thanks for them as individuals. Reflect on each of their unique, positive qualities. Imagine them feeling happy and content. Imagine them thriving. Bless them each and know that they have been placed in your care perfectly.

“The soul is healed by being with children.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

When I awoke this morning my back was throbbing and my heart was heavy. I shuffled about washing each of the many dishes that hadn’t come clean in our dysfunctional dishwasher. My husband read to our children and I welcomed a bit of time to experience myself and dive down into what was causing me pain. It was both physical and emotional. I washed a mountain of silverware. I fed my sweet kitty, wishing there were still two. I took a shower. And then I discovered that my baby Adrian – oh so quickly transforming into a little boy –was ready to nurse and possibly return to sleep having been awake since the first glimpse of sunlight. I picked him up marveling at his new ability to communicate. He has recently named nursing, “deet-deet” and his blanket is called “night-night.” When I asked him if he wanted to sleep he shook his head up and down a resounding, “yes.” We climbed the stairs. I nestled my face into his soft cheek and neck. He fought me as I changed his diaper and kept telling me, “deet-deet.” I felt my heart softening when I looked into his eyes. Who could be unhappy looking into those deep, hazel eyes? When I finished I turned on his air-filter and closed his shade. A sliver of light shone through on us, the side of the shade propelled forward by an air-conditioning unit in its path. I sunk into the rocking chair, Adrian delighted to be nursing. I found his still-plump baby hands with mine and admired the dimples at each of his knuckles. Children are so beautiful, I thought. I traced my hand along the silken skin of his arm coming into the brilliance of this moment, thinking too about the power of my children to ease my troubles. I don’t mean this in the unhealthy, they-alone-need-to-make-me-happy kind of way. I mean it in the, “how can I be in the midst of such beauty and not feel the presence of God, of something so much bigger than me?”

I found myself thinking also of the scene I’d witnessed the day before. Visiting friends at their cabin on the water I swam alone out to a giant rock about fifty feet from the shore. My friend aptly described it as, “not far but still a world away.” I’d felt so alive swimming out to that rock through crisp water. I found my footing on a slippery surface then made my way to the top of the rock and finally stood, taking in the scene surrounding me. I was technically standing on a rock in a pond but it felt more like I was in the center of a very large lake or even a river, the water passing me by like a current. I was also surrounded by tall Pines and stood for a moment mimicking their reach, arms raised upward toward the giant, bulbous clouds above me. I relaxed into the moment and finally stretched out on my back on the rock soaking in the sun’s powerful rays now poking out from behind the clouds. I gazed over at the shoreline, at my family, at my friend’s family. It was such a lovely site – each child in their own unique place of development. One decked out with snorkel gear and a life jacket knee deep in water, another sitting in a kayak popping her head in and out each time lighting up the shore with her smile. I experienced such joy thinking back to this scene. I found myself lifting from the fog that I had awakened with. Slowly, gradually I found a shift occurring inside of me. I didn’t want to miss any of this – not even one moment of these beautiful children and their brightness. The thoughts that were making me feel low suddenly began to seem less significant, surmountable. Adrian was asleep in my arms now. I rose carefully, nestling him over my shoulder. I walked to his crib and put him down, quietly giving thanks for this beautiful creature.

 

“It takes a very long time to become young.” ― Pablo Picasso

One of the best ways in which we may lift our children up in this life is to show them that the world is beautiful. We may show them shells and sunflowers, lazy days and wild adventures, delightful foods and sounds and sights to see. We may show them love and respect for self and others too. If we hope for them to go out into the world and do something profound (whether that means living a simple and happy life or making a grand discovery), they must first see the world as a safe place. And the world is a very good and beautiful place. If our children have this opportunity early in life then one day when they witness the things that may not be so good, they will know what is out of place and this will be powerful knowledge in their grasp. This is not an original thought but one that I have come to use as a valuable guide  for deciding how to present the world to my children. And for me, oh what peace I have found in the hours of digging my own fingers into sand and dangling seaweed on sticks, the endless driveway chalk drawing, dough mixing and long bedtime gratitudes. I think I may benefit most of all.

 

5 Powerful Ways to Connect More Deeply with Your Children

1. Observe your child. Find yourself directly in the moment with them and experience them more clearly now. Look deeply into their eyes and experience the color fully. Now stay there a while allowing yourself to dive deeply down into their soul through the window of their eyes. Notice their expression when they look more deeply back at you discovering your depth as well. Don’t say a word.