What’s the most hectic part of your life as a parent? Here’s a good one: getting the kids out the door to school in the morning while getting yourself ready for your day at work.
The clock is ticking. Did the kids eat? Is their homework and lunch packed? The bus will be here any minute (or we have exactly one minute to be out the door without risking a “tardy”).
When we are getting ready for school in the morning, my youngest son has a ritual he does before leaving the house: say goodbye to the dogs. He likes to take his time, giving them a kiss and little a story about how he’ll be back before too long.
One day it was past time to leave and I felt that familiar wave of stress enter my body. Thankfully, I was able to stay quiet and let him have his sweet goodbye kisses with the pooches. It wasn’t always this way.
Many mornings I have raised my voice in irritation that my boys were moving too slowly, only to have them show up to school frazzled while I went on my way to work or home, feeling guilty and sad. I realized it’s often only my impatience and desire for things to move more quickly that causes the drama of the morning rush.
I’ve spent many years practicing mindfulness and meditation while becoming more self aware of my rushing mind. I’ve made it part of my practice to slow down — in how I speak, how I make decisions, and even my walking pace. My two boys have been my best teachers. They give me a chance to practice being present. It’s as if they are saying, “slow down mom, everything is fine.”
That’s the whole point of living mindfully in a messy world — keep treading water, remember to breathe, and keep our eyes and hearts wide open. Here are some tips to incorporate mindful practices into your life as a parent:
Commit to practicing awareness — This is easier said than done, but so worth the effort. By awareness, I mean notice what is going on in and around you as the day unfolds. Start observing your own thoughts and feelings with curiosity, especially in response to the people around you and the situations you face throughout the day. Notice how your thoughts come and go, how your emotions rise and fall, and which sensations are most alive in your body. As this becomes a habit, you may find that you can see emotional reactions coming on before you feel overcome by them.
Try this 1-minute centering practice — Sit in an upright dignified posture. Take a few deliberate breaths focusing on your breathing as you inhale and then exhale. Allow your body to feel gravity. Notice your weight on the chair or the ground. Allow your jaw to relax. Now, have your mind ask your body a question: What would it be like if there was a little more ease in my being right now? Repeat this practice as many times as possible throughout the day or when you are feeling stressed or frazzled.
Create and practice family rituals — When we are all at the dinner table together, (which admittedly doesn’t happen every night), we have a tradition of holding hands and sharing something for which we are grateful, even if it’s only one word. Then we pass a hand squeeze around the table. It’s an opportunity to pause, sense each other’s presence, express gratitude, and listen to each other. Sometimes the kids are super-goofy about it and so we just have a giggle and move on. Other times we find a moment of unique family resonance and relish that for as long as it lasts.
When my boys began walking to school alone together, it felt strange for me to no longer be guiding their way. I felt like something was missing, and I began pondering what kind of ritual we could share before they left the house. So we agreed that before they left, we would stop and hold hands. We take one breath together, then squeeze hands like we do at the dinner table.
By creating a moment to reflect on our entry into another part of the day, this enables us to feel truly connected before we venture out into our own individual lives. Particularly on the mornings when we’ve had any kind of family struggle, this ritual ushers in a much-needed sweetness before we say goodbye and head out for our day.