It was sports day at my daughter's school. I had forgotten, and it was a particularly difficult day to find the time to go. It proved to be more difficult to tell my daughter that I wouldn't attend, so I decided to make it work despite many to-dos and too little time in the day. I arrived at sports day distracted and a bit stressed.
Have you attended events without really being present? At high risk of attending in body only – my thoughts, plans and feelings of urgency took any joy or presence out of the moment – it was necessary for me to regroup.
I needed to acknowledge that although the day wasn't going as planned, I could still be there for her and for myself. Practicing presence in the busy-ness of life isn't easy.
Being mindful is a constant battle for many of us. As a parent, we must manage competing schedules and meet varying needs. Despite this we can find presence, even in the chaos, if we are intentional and practice it. Those times when we are so in the moment that the contrast is remarkable and often rare. You think, “Hey, I am here! I am really here!” and it is special, but often fleeting.
Practicing being in the present moment means letting go.
We struggle with yesterday (Why didn't I respond in a lovingly to my child's behaviour?) and tomorrow (How will I handle the co-op meeting tension?). We are missing out on the right now by looking forward or back with our should've, could've, would’ve or the conjured-up outcomes that simply could happen.
Your child is resilient (and you can always change this for the future and apologize!) and your co-op meeting hasn't happened yet. Besides, the rare times where you are in the middle of an event or crisis, the reality of this present moment is usually okay. Reality helps put the past and the future into a proper perspective.
You are all right, right here, in this now.
As parents, living in the moment is not only important for our personal wellness, it’s a crucial lesson for our kids. They look to us for future coping strategies, self regulation is being modelled, and if we are constantly running, distracted or lost in our thoughts, they will normalize this as a way to live. Luckily, our kids are naturals at practicing presence. We can learn so much just from watching them. They really stop and examine bugs, they run free, they embody the abandon of play.
This is rarely what I look like. I will acknowledge the beauty of my daughter's presented flower while still wondering where I put my keys, I half-watch the playground antics while double checking my to-do list, and I can even engage in crafts while worrying about the mess. At some point in our lives we lose this present focus, and we feel stressed.
Here are four ways to help you focus and practice presence for you and for your kids:
This is admittedly a tough one, especially with kids bounding in at the crack of dawn. But if you can, get up a bit earlier and write down your thoughts. Use it as a time to get clear: park some worries, get organized, and express your conscious and subconscious thoughts. A great guideline is to read about Julia Cameron's morning pages from her book The Artist's Way. I find it really helps me and my clients to process and prepare for our day.
Casey O'Roarty of Joyful Courage, a positive discipline parent educator and coach, says that she uses modern technology to keep her in the present by scheduling in reminders to practice balance, gratitude, and presence throughout the day.
I reminded a teen client once about using breathing strategies in a time of stress, he smiled and said “it is always down to the breathing isn't it? And it works.” He is right. Breathing is such a useful centring practice. A very simple technique is to breathe in for 4, hold for up to 7 and out for 8.
Laurie Joy Kingwell of Joy in the Home parenting education says that parents need to get in the right head space before they see and interact with our kids be it first thing in the morning or before school pick up. She suggests taking a few moments to consciously let go of the busy--ness and set intentions to be fully engaged and available for them, making this an intentional part of your daily routine.”
“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.” -Walt Whitman