One day last year, we were driving to the airport; my daughter Lucy was excited to see the airplanes. As we drove along the interstate, I could see her face in the rearview mirror peering out the window.
“I saw one!” she exclaimed. “See mama, when you pay attention, on purpose, you might see something exciting like an airplane,” she announced.
Her words reminded me of a mindful parenting class I took when she was 2 years old. I’ve always had a hard time turning off my mind and “paying attention on purpose.” As a mother, I can think of 101 things to distract myself at any given moment.
During the holiday season this feeling is tenfold. With all of the distractions and opportunities to tune out instead of tune in, the stress of the holidays can be downright dizzying. As the holidays approach, I want to make a conscious effort to parent with presence, incorporating the mindfulness tools I learned years ago.
It sounds simple enough, right? After all who wouldn’t love to slow down, relax, and let themselves off the hook, especially during this stressful time of year? If only being present and mindful was that easy. But, as I have learned, mindfulness is a practice that requires practice.
When I am struggling, I remind myself of mindful parenting expert Nancy Bardacke’s words: “The truth is our children live in the now moment, and despite what we may tell ourselves, they want us to join them there.”
We can become more present with our children by becoming more present with ourselves. One of the ways we can cultivate this is by learning the life skills of mindfulness.
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts and feelings. One way we can practice mindfulness is by simply paying attention to the breath. During trying and stressful moments that can “take our breath away,” we can remind ourselves to turn inward. As we breathe, we may notice, without judgment, any thoughts that arise, and as we exhale, we can let these thoughts go.
When we become more present and aware, we are reminded that every moment, good, bad or neutral, will pass. As Bardacke so wisely shares, “When you practice mindfulness, you become more aware of each moment, and you see the interconnections of life and all things, and you begin to realize how precious each moment is.”
Many of our parenting worries and woes, especially during stressful times such as the holidays, take us to the future. “I have to shop, wrap gifts, bake cookies, clean the house…” Before we know it, a running list of “to do’s” has taken residence in our minds, paving the way for distraction. Connecting with our breath is a wonderful way to slow down and cultivate mindful parenting.
We can pass this tool along to our children, too. Holiday meltdowns with our little ones may be inevitable, but we can remain present with their emotions by reminding them also to take some deep breaths.
Are you curious about how you can parent with presence? Mindful parenting teacher and psychologist Dr. Gina Hassan shares four ways we can cultivate mindfulness this holiday season:
- Be grateful. Try to spend some time over the holidays making a family gratitude list. You can hang this list in your house. Use it as a reminder for all your family is grateful for.
- Be present. Combat the commercial frenzy by having some of the “giving” you do over the holidays be about words or acts of appreciation rather than material objects. You can creatively incorporate these ideas into some fun gift-making activities for the whole family. For example, if you want to give the gift of love, your children can make homemade heart ornaments or heart-shaped trinket boxes that symbolize the emotional gift they wish to share with others.
- Be forgiving. Practice the art of letting go. Holiday “to do-lists” can become overwhelming and distracting. If you choose to let something go, notice how it feels to give yourself permission to release some responsibility. You might choose to take a walk with the family or have some quiet time together instead of checking things off your list.
- Be with your breath. Spend a few minutes each day practicing breathing meditation. This doesn’t have to take long, but if you practice this several times throughout your day it can help bring more presence to your life. We are all here for a certain amount of breaths, and when we realize the tenderness of each passing moment, we can embrace them more fully.