Recovering from the chaos of the holidays, “improve mindfulness” or “be present” may be on the top of your New Years Resolutions list. I know it’s on mine! It’s especially hard to be present as a parent, when we’re pulled in so many directions – sometimes literally. As someone who gets stuck in her head a lot, I’ve worked on this quite a bit. Here are some approaches that have helped:
A surprising proportion of my conversations with other people are in my head. They aren’t the words being spoken so much as how to respond, what needs to happen later, or something else entirely. It’s easy to miss what the other person is saying!
This is especially true when talking to little kids, who struggle to find words, have rambling stories, and often make little sense. But just taking in what your kid is saying without judgment or comment can be revelatory.
A few days ago, Sprout was making a “kid’s pizza” out of play dough. He rolled it out, cut it, and said he was putting it “in a big oven with a tiny fire.” He then told me that the oven was going to boil the dough. I wanted to correct him and say it was going to bake the dough, not boil it. But instead, I just nodded and said “Mmmmhmmm.” Correcting him would have brought his pretend play to a halt. Instead, I fully participated in his make-believe scenario.
Capturing mental photos
Sometimes we’re so preoccupied with taking digital photos that we don’t use our own mind. Back in the days when cameras only held about 50 photos at a time, I traveled through Europe for three weeks. After the first week, I transferred my photos into a CD. It broke in my backpack halfway through the trip. Yet I still have marvelous memories because I paid such intense attention the whole time.
Taking a mental snapshot requires clearing everything else away and paying rapt attention for just a few moments. Take in every detail, not just the visual ones.
This tactic is particularly helpful when a camera just isn’t appropriate, such as when there isn’t time to get it or it would disrupt our flow. (Sprout is a huge ham.) Plus, I find out that my own memory is sharper when I do this rather than take a real photo.
Remove yourself from the devices
This is sort of obvious, but it’s so easy to “just” check email or Facebook when our phone or tablet is right in our pocket. When I play with the kids in our basement after work, I try to leave my phone upstairs. Even when I bring it down to listen to music with them, I put it away from me on a table or bookshelf.
This is less about being “in the moment” as remembering those moments for later. While baby books are great for milestones, they don’t capture the little moments. Plus, they’re often hard to find on short notice. So when there’s a particularly funny, lovely, or surprising moment, I write down a couple words that can remind me of it later. On my phone, I have two files in the “Notes” part of my phone called “Cute things [Sprout] has done” and “Cute things [Little Bird] has done.” Most of the time, that one little phrase or snippet of conversation is enough to bring back a fully-formed memory.
Discuss “favorite things”
Each night, Chris, Sprout and I discuss our favorite things from the day. As Little Bird gets older, we’ll do it with him as well. Looking back over the day forces me to find something good about a crappy or mediocre day. Unlike a more general statement of gratitude, “favorites” ties thankfulness to a specific moment. Currently, Sprout usually responds with a ridiculous answer (“Poops!” is his current favorite). But even though he doesn’t contribute much, I think hearing our reflections helps him understand the importance of being thankful. This thoughtful conversation also provides us a built-in time to be present with Sprout alone, especially on busy days.
Let go of “doing it right”
This is by far the hardest one for me. I get wound up in my own mind that whatever we’re doing will have dire, huge consequences. On the other hand, my husband proudly practices “idle parenting,” where he does a wonderful job taking care of the kids, but is much less concerned in general. He mainly follows their lead and his own instincts. There’s plenty of space for active learning and integrating in concepts, but it doesn’t have to be all of the time.