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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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Slow Down With Your Children and They Will Show You the World

I like to joke that when the time comes for my son Jonah to choose a partner in life, I will know the right person for him because they will not be rushing him down the aisle. Jonah, like most children, lives very much in the moment and takes his time, soaking in every experience for all that it has to offer. He luxuriates in life. His baths are long and when he builds a train track we always grant time for cities to be created at every stop. Allowing these moments to unfold organically with my children and living according to their rhythm has exposed me to a wonder and amazement at the world and an attention to detail that our society often does not have time for. It is in these precious pauses that my children and I have experienced surprises and truly seen each other. With this in mind, I almost never utter phrases like, “we need to hurry.” Or, “we’re running out of time.” I might use the gentler, “please put on your Super Fast Superman Shoes so we can finish this task really, really quickly!” But only if there is a plane to catch or we are about to miss an event altogether. So my formerly, highly punctual self has had to acclimate to a fair amount of tardiness. Slowing my pace and committing to truly being present with my children is among the greatest gifts I have offered myself as a mother.

In the late winter Jonah and I were getting ready to go to his school where we attend a parent and toddler class one morning each week. We were running “late.” Our babysitter, Sarah, who was coming to take care of my younger son Adrian, entered our home just about the same time we needed to leave. She had accidentally taken Jonah’s winter hat (with a monkey face on it) home in her coat pocket the day before. She pulled the hat out of her pocket and proceeded to tell us how surprised she had been to find it there when she was out for a walk with her Mom the evening before. An adult might have chuckled at this story and then kept moving – especially if in a hurry. In his response to Sarah’s story, Jonah taught us something that morning and thankfully we had the presence to allow for the moment to unfold and recognize all that it was worth.

First Jonah enjoyed hearing Sarah tell the story, eyes wide with attention. He giggled and laughed when she pulled the hat out of her pocket in surprise. Then he paused, clearly reliving the story in his own mind and then he shared, “that’s funny!” Then he retold the story, complete with putting his own hand in his pocket and pulling an imaginary hat out in surprise. Next he asked Sarah some questions about the story, wondering if she was really surprised when she found the hat and again commenting on how it was a funny thing to have happened. We were standing in the doorway from our house to our garage as this moment unfolded and even after hearing the story, retelling the story and making some comments, Jonah still lingered. Then Sarah and I talked for a few minutes and we headed out to our car. I knew all the while that we would not be arriving at our class exactly when we were supposed to but I also knew the value of listening to Jonah and sharing in his interpretation of the story. I believe taking our time offered him a sense of importance for what his thoughts and feelings contribute to our family and his relationship with others. In my experience I have found that an unhurried approach to the world offers children a sense of peace and comfort. And I know that in particular, not rushing Jonah as much as possible fosters a sense of imagination and the space to develop his own thoughts – thoughts he expresses more and more each day. He has begun to share insightful observations recently, some prompting my husband and I to ask, “who taught you that?” In actuality we have discovered that they are his very own ideas.

We left for school in peace that day instead of in a frenzy. These opportunities present themselves many, many times each day as I interact with both of my children. I was recently nursing my son Adrian and at the same time he raised his arm up in the air, his tiny fingers finding my mouth over and over again. He would touch my mouth with his hand and look up at me with a twinkle in his eye. I saw that he thought it was a bit comical so the next time his fingers met my lips I surprised him by nibbling on them in jest. He began laughing hysterically and then went back to nursing. A minute later he lifted his arm up to my lips, now giggling with his eyes in anticipation. I nibbled, he laughed hysterically. We did this over and over again until he decided he was ready to move on. This is not what a lactation consultant might call a productive feeding! However, these are the moments that I cherish and (excuse the pun) milk, for all that they are worth.

Last night our family went out for a Japanese dinner. On our way out of the restaurant Jonah stopped to admire a very large Maneki Neko, which is a traditional Japanese sculpture of a cat, beckoning with an upright paw. He sat down next to it and I observed him as he petted the cat, gave it a kiss and stroked its’ whiskers. I had never been up close to a sculpture like this one and probably from a distance wouldn’t have noticed that it actually had clear but distinct whiskers. When he was clearly finished exploring the cat I picked Jonah up and chatted with him about our meal as we headed to the car. Some strands of my hair fell across my face and Jonah took them holding them up over my lip and said, “look Mama, you have whiskers too!” I took note yet again of the gems that I am continually presented with when I simply allow the space for them to appear.

What has your child introduced you to recently that you might never have noticed operating at your usual pace?