“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not "washing the dishes to wash the dishes." What's more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Miracle of Mindfulness
When we're constantly anticipating the future or ruminating about the past, we miss the actual life we've worked so hard to create for ourselves. Nowhere is the idea of missing what's right in front of us more loaded or potentially guilt-inducing than in motherhood and fatherhood. Not only are parents' minds more inundated with the latest research, fears, and unsolicited public opinion than ever before, but we also hold increasingly higher standards for what we expect for our kids and ourselves as parents. It's hard to slough off all the "extra" of the current parenting culture and just be-with our kids, with our partners, with ourselves.
With this in mind, here are 6 simple(ish) practices to help bring parents back to the present moment:
1. When your toddler is having a hard time, start with taking a moment for your breath. Take a slow, deep one (or two or three) and even young toddlers can practice this with you. It's sometimes startling enough to change the course of the tantrum, too, as breathing takes some focus when a little body is that overwhelmed with emotion.
2. Sometimes parents feel tantrum-y, too. It usually looks a little different for us as we have more experience with our feelings and it isn't usually socially acceptable for us to throw ourselves on the floor, but when you feel overwhelmed with ALL of it and want to come back to here-and-now, take a moment to smell your baby (or kid's) head. Can you describe it to yourself?
3. Can you take a few things off your plate, in this moment or in the bigger picture? Can you just do less? It often feels like we should be accomplishing things all the time, but being a parent is quite a huge undertaking in and of itself.
4. Take a moment to try and see through your baby or child's eyes. Are they noticing a shadow or hearing a sound you that you hadn't? Try and see how many layers of sound, shape, color or scent you can find. Babies and children filter sensory experiences differently than we do, and notice a lot that we don't. It's more than a little magical.
5. Share a meal with your child. Can you describe the flavors, textures and colors on the plate?
6. This one's even simpler: just stop what you are doing, close your eyes if it's safe, and feel. That's it.
The tricky thing about being present is that it takes practice, but the wonderful thing is that practice is beneficial for us in ever expanding ways. How powerful for our kids to be raised by people who can model this for them. The practice is even better than the perfect.