At some point all parents have heard, "appreciate these moments with your children, they go so fast." This is usually heartfelt and well-intentioned advice, but sometimes it can leave a feeling of unease.Enjoying the moment is simple in concept, but not necessarily easy to do.
To really appreciate moments and be present for our children, we need to understand mindfulness-the practice of being present, of being right here, right now. We may think we are here, but most of the time our mind is elsewhere.
Mindfulness is about glimpses. It's a moment when you feel great happiness or gratitude; it's a moment when you fully realize the beauty of your child; it's a moment when you find courage you never thought you had or a moment when you realize what is most important in your life.
Three things to keep in mind
You may think these glimpses are flukes, but this kind of mindfulness is always an option: it's a clear and more present way to view any situation.
Although there are many different ways to experience mindfulness, here are three simple practices to get your started:
1 Breathe. Nothing brings you in tune with the present moment quite like a full, deep breath. Our body can breathe without our attention (just like our brain can think without our attention), but when we bring attention to the breath, it connects body and mind and allows us to be aware of the moment. It also allows us to let go of fear and worry.
If our children frustrate us, we can take a deep breath before we respond. If we are late for a practice or sporting event, we can take a deep breath in the car so we drive more consciously. We can take a deep breath as we look at our kids so we fully experience who they are in that moment-their age, their beauty, their voice and everything else we love about them.
Once you incorporate deep breathing into your life, teach your children. Remind them to breathe when they are upset to help calm their body down, remind them to breathe when they are nervous before a performance or a sporting event, or remind them to breathe if they are feeling frustrated by their homework. Help them incorporate breathing into their everyday experience so this tool can serve them for a lifetime.
If the practice of deep breathing is difficult for you or you aren't feeling the connection, consider taking a yoga class or a pranayama (breath work) class where you are guided through the process of breathing.
2 Be quiet. Life is busy and loud, and there is always a computer, television or phone buzzing around us. We are constantly bombarded by noise, billboards, music or anything that can take our attention away from ourselves, so finding quiet has to be a decision and a priority. Being quiet, even if it's for five minutes a day, can bring you back to a state of calm.
You can enjoy quiet for yourself and you can practice being quiet with your children. When you are together, you don't need to fill up the space with chatter or noise-just be quiet sometimes and enjoy the stillness. For some, this initially feels uncomfortable because it's uncommon, but eventually it becomes a comfortable space.
Teach your children to appreciate the value of downtime and quiet. They don't always need to be active or doing something, sometimes they can just "be." Children usually do this naturally, but as they move through life and become overscheduled or overworked due to school, activities or our insistence, they begin to lose touch with themselves.
To find quiet, you can connect with a specific meditation practice or you can just sit quietly at some point during the day. Don't make it more than it needs to be and don't place a lot of expectations on your experience. Accept it for what it is-time away, time for peace, time to balance, time to breathe.
3 Smile. This simple practice is a mood shifter and it easily brings you back to center. You may be about to scream at the top of your lungs, but a smile can push the energy into laughing. You may be ready to throw something, but a smile allows you to release what you are feeling in a less aggressive way. Smiling is a confidence booster and it reminds you to reconnect with your joy.
And smiling is a simple gift you can offer your children. Smile at them when they walk out of their room in the morning, smile at them as they speak so they know you are listening, smile at them as they attempt something difficult so they feel supported. Smile at them as they play sports, play with their friends or participate in activities so they know you really see them and appreciate who they are.
It's amazing how many parents walk around with a scowl on their face when they are with their children (start looking, you will notice).
Be in the moment
The practice of mindfulness is a step toward truly being present in the moment. Children live in the moment, so they are always waiting for us to be present and look them in the eye instead of being consumed by our endless worries and list of to-dos.
When we are in the moment, our kids connect to us on a deeper level because they know we are listening-they feel the attention and validation we have to offer.
Of course our words make a difference, but how we move through life with our children makes more of a difference.
If we go through life mindlessly, we indeed will wake up and wonder where the time has gone. But if we breathe, are quiet and smile, we may discover a deeper, more connected relationship with ourselves and our children.
Give a listen to Cathy and her husband Todd talk about this column on Zen Parenting Radio.
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
See more of Cathy's stories here.