Picture this holiday moment: you’re getting in the car to attend a long-awaited holiday event when things quickly go south. One child is writhing in her car seat, refusing to be buckled in. The other child is whining loudly about her itchy dress. Suddenly, the magic and wonder of the season is eclipsed by the very real challenges of parenting young children.
The cool we may struggle to maintain during ordinary days can be more tested during the often chaotic, holiday season. One tool we can use to maintain a calm mind during stressful times is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. That’s all it is! Not, some major commitment to meditation or any time-consuming, complex process.
And, yet… Is this very idea even possible while being a parent? By necessity, we must plan ahead, project into the future, think about scheduling of naps, eating, and play dates. Are being a parent and being in the moment at odds with each other? While being a mindful parent is definitely challenging at times, and is definitely not possible all of the time, it is definitely possible sometimes and helpful to practice.
What does it look like with your child? Allow your child to fully lead you in play without holding back or guiding. Your job is to watch, listen and respond in the moment. Catch the spirit of their play and dive in. You may feel bored or restless or be thinking about the other things you need to do. But catch yourself in that moment, without judgment and then go back again to the moment you are in.
Part of the point is practicing non-judgment, allowing yourself to just be, without correction or adjustment to what you think you “should” be doing instead. This is a powerful practice and also builds connection between you and your child. But, it can be really challenging depending on your personal tolerance for boredom and lack of control. So, perhaps this is best practiced while giving yourself a time boundary. Say, 15 or 20 minutes of uninterrupted time to get lost in your child’s world. This can be really valuable time!
On your own, mindfulness can look like meditation, prayer, going through a breathing exercise, or being in nature. The key is practicing being fully present. Again, when you drift back to your “to do” list or to a worry, bring yourself back to the moment, without judgment. Practice dealing lightly and gently with your “monkey mind.” This is a wonderful Buddhist term meaning "unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable” i.e. how many of us spend far too much of our time! Try dealing with this “monkey mind” with humor. You can gently say to yourself, “There it is again, taking over. Now, let’s go back to finding the present.”
Some ideas for practicing personal mindfulness include:
- Meditation classes, yoga classes, prayer groups or religious services
- Meditation apps for your phone—offering very brief to longer guided meditations
- Turning off your phone. In our busy, noisy world, this can be a radical choice. Some people have a technology hiatus on a regular basis during each day or during the week. This also teaches us self-restraint and models full attention for our kids.
- Practice doing a task with full attention, whether it be the dishes, the laundry, gardening, walking or running. Try not to let your mind go other places but be fully present in the moment.
- Sometimes, the most simple opportunity is the best. Practice taking a few seconds to breathe fully and deeply with your eyes closed, giving focus to your breath at different points during the day. Some people choose to do this as they enter and leave the car to create a regular practice.
The holiday season is undoubtedly a special time of year, when we revisit old traditions and nurture new ones. But, it is also a time of busy schedules and high expectations. This holiday season, I hope you find some of these tools helpful in maintaining your calm so you can really enjoy this special time with family and friends.