Through my foundation, Thru My Eyes, and the trauma work that I do utilizing EMDR and other trauma-based treatments, I’m faced with treating individuals whose lives change instantaneously through death and other types of traumatic experiences. Typically absent for them is any preparation or closure. The number one regret I hear most people reporting is not spending enough time and being present with their loved ones.
There’s always so much on the agenda, so many temptations, and an abundance of distractions. There’s technology and social media, working 24/7, and being overscheduled, which saturates our lives daily. Some of us refer to it as a “rat race” and others think about themselves “like a hamster on a wheel.” We wonder why we have difficulty organizing ourselves and remembering even the most mundane things.
Life moves so quickly. Think about all that goes into planning a special event. In hours it passes, with fleeting memories, and rarely any time spent being in the moment, taking everything in, and just being. Think about how quickly our children grow. We turn around and ponder, “Where has the time gone?” and “How have I gotten to this place?”
People often ask what the hype is with “mindfulness” and the pursuit of being present and in the moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it as, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
Current research verifies the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. It was proven to help with cognition, anxiety/stress, high blood pressure, chronic pain, and sleep. It also helps with regulation of emotion and emotional processing, decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, decreases depression, and assists with body awareness, self-awareness, and acquiring compassion.
For parents, mindfulness can be especially helpful. We can develop a better way of regulating our emotions when challenges are presented to us. We could learn to be less reactive and impulsive in our interactions. Additionally, we can grow to be better attuned and sharpen our active listening skills.
Most of us don’t take enough of those mindfulness moments. We rarely if ever take the time to asses where we are at and make shifts to be a more present and attuned parent. The value of family and connectedness can draw us in to make this a priority and commitment. There are strategies we can practice and implement to increase our focus. The more we practice them and are conscious of them, the more instinctual they become.
Tips on Becoming A More Mindful Parent:
- Consider your personal values and parenting values that drive your desire to be more present. Recall and review them periodically and assess whether and how much you are being preoccupied in your interactions.
- Take daily moments to tap into your senses and to scan your body and take notice of all the sensations that show up. Think about what three things that you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting. Also scan your body from head to toe, slowly and mindfully considering all sensations, whether they are comfortable or not. Notice if they vary due to an emotional shift or for some other reason.
- Practice grounding exercises to get you in touch with your body. Our body is a wonderful reminder of us being here right now. Our mind usually gravitates toward the past and the future. We struggle to be in the here and now. Some exercises to help you get you in touch with your body include:
- Crossing your hands over your chest and forming a butterfly and tapping your arm with your hands, one hand at a time, slowly, calmly, and rhythmically,
- Focusing on a given object like a candle or flower,
- Actively and attentively listening to another person,
- Mindfully smelling a pleasing scent,
- Imagining a calming supportive person or environment,
- Sitting and feeling your feet firmly planted on the ground,
- Engaging in the 4-7-8 breathing,
- Keenly paying attention to your breath, noting the inhalation and exhalation of your chest, and
- Stretching a rubber band between your fingers.
- Make it a point to improve on your focusing and attunement. Openly and non-judgmentally notice objects intently. For example, you could focus on a plant and just notice it. Notice it’s green, it has petals, it’s in a flower pot, etc. Your mind will go back to judging that the petals are wilting, that it doesn’t get enough sunlight and that you don’t have a green thumb. Notice those thoughts and return to just “being” and noticing the plant. It helps with focused awareness and noticing all parts of your children, rather than just focusing on their less favorable parts, especially when their behavior is challenging.
- Practice a variety of mindfulness-based activities that you find engaging and enjoyable, such as yoga, tai chi, guided imagery, mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and meditation (e.g., Transcendental Meditation (TM), Vipassana Meditation, Metta Meditation, etc.). There’s a list of 23 types of meditation practices and demonstrations.
- Invest in a meditative practice that’s realistic for you. The time factor typically deters individuals from investing. The time can be customized based on your availability and needs. To help with this you can try several books: “How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind” or “Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life.” You can also select guided meditation apps such as Insight Timer (free) or Headspace.
- Periodically listen to Dharma talks on mindfulness. These talks or podcasts tend to be short and are on topics such as loving kindness, basic goodness, fear, loving oneself and others, etc. YouTube has a wonderful collection by Pema Chodron, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Sharon Salzberg, Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tara Brach, etc. They can also be found on the Insight Timer app.
- Consciously and effortfully integrate mindful family practices. For example, when you’re eating a family meal, prohibit electronic devices in the kitchen and engage in conversation and mindful eating practices.
As parents, we always think we have all the time in the world to grow and change. I have been reminded way too often, by the individuals I work with, that things can change in a given moment, and at times when we least expect them to. Do we want to look back, regret, and plead for that time back? We must start somewhere; why not here, now, in the present moment.