I’ve spent the past week taking care of two sick children. Since Monday night, we’ve had one trip to the ER, two trips to the pediatrician, several nights of coughing, and multiple sick days cooped up at home. Needless to say, I have been exhausted, and I let my self-care lapse. I haven’t meditated in over a week. The frigid weather and sick kids at home made exercise a challenge—one that I didn’t take seriously enough. My fatigue and mindlessness led to poor dietary choices (that’s code for way too much chocolate and sugar). I didn’t notice how everything was affecting me until tonight, when it all fell apart.
Tonight was the kind of parenting night that led me to mindfulness practices in the first place. I was distracted and impatient, snappy and frustrated. The girls responded in kind; they were whiny and grumpy, they weren’t listening or following directions. It was a mess, and by the time I put them to bed, I felt like a terrible mother.
Before I started studying mindfulness, I probably would have beaten myself up about tonight, eaten some more chocolate, watched some TV, and gone to bed. But now I know there is another way to approach this evening, and tomorrow evening, and the next one after that. I can be kind to myself and remember that it has been a hard week during which I have been worried about the health of my children and sleep deprived. And I can also remember that every day is a new beginning, a new opportunity to start again.
I know that starting new habits isn’t easy, which is why I need to remind myself of the benefits that I have previously experienced from my mindfulness practice:
I am more patient with my daughters. I find that things that usually annoy me (such as both girls singing the same song over and over and over again at the top of their lungs) don’t get under my skin quite as quickly.
I am less reactive, and more responsive. When I react to my daughters, I am likely engaging with them from a place of fatigue or frustration, or I may be replaying old tapes, old stories that I don’t actually want to live by anymore. When I respond, I take the time, even just a few seconds, to breathe, center myself, and engage from a place of thoughtfulness and kindness.
My anxiety isn’t triggered as much. Tonight as I was making dinner, I got an email about a work project that is overdue. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but my anxiety spiked, and I immediately snapped at my daughter when she came in the kitchen to ask for help dressing a fairy doll. When I am practicing mindfulness, I tend to get less anxious in the first place, and when I do get tense, I am more likely to take a few mindful breaths and make a better choice.
I am more kind—to myself, my husband, and my daughters. I’ve been thinking about kindness a lot lately, and Henry James’ words have been echoing in my mind: “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind.” I’d love to tell you that I’m always kind, even when I’m in a reactive place, but it’s just not true. Mindfulness helps.
I have more fun! This one surprised me, but it’s true. I am more likely to sit down on the floor with the girls and truly enjoy their company when I’ve been practicing mindfulness. In those moments, I realize that I am becoming the mother that I’ve always wanted to be.
So, tomorrow I’m going to start again. As Sharon Salzberg reminds us, “we can always begin again.” Thank goodness for that.