I stare at my baby’s face, trying desperately to be REALLY PRESENT with her, to drink her all in. It goes so fast, after all– everyone tells me so, and I want to remember these sweet baby moments– to hold on to them for when she’s bigger and isn’t as excited about cuddling with me.
It’s hard, though. It’s hard to find a moment to catch. I try to take a mental picture of her to keep with me, but she never stops wiggling, cooing. Her temperament changes as soon as I land in a good moment to bask in and suddenly she’s hungry or reaching for the kitty or squealing at her brother.
I focus harder– I will want to have been present now when she’s grown. I’ll regret each moment I spent on my phone or spent thinking about the dishes or spent doing anything other than staring at her sweet face, I tell myself. BE HERE WITH HER. YOU WILL WISH YOU HAD BEEN PRESENT WITH HER MORE.
And in some ways, this works. I look at my phone less. I look at her more. I try to notice my breathing and think less about the dishes. But I’m still missing the point of mindfulness. I’m paying attention more to each moment but I’m not doing it for the moment. I’m doing it for some distant unknown future moment when I’m afraid I will regret not having done it.
That isn’t truly being in the moment. That’s thinking about the future, albeit in a tricky roundabout way. Oh, that monkey mind.
I thought I had figured it out– I don’t usually wish for my days to fly by or constantly look forward to the next milestone. I don’t always try to escape to other thoughts when things are tough– when my toddler screams or my baby cries. Mindfulness has helped me “stop wishing for things to be different.”
It was a game changer for me when I realized that mindfulness isn’t about some magical way of soaking up all of your experiences to enjoy at a later date. It’s about enjoying them NOW. And still, often, I find myself trying to use mindfulness as a way to cling to things I love– which is ironically one of the things mindfulness is supposed to help us stop doing!
Here are a few tips I use when I catch myself!
When my son was a baby I had this same internal struggle (another tenet of mindfulness is non-striving. That I’ve had this revelation before and am back in this place is a good reminder that mindfulness isn’t supposed to GET me anywhere. There isn’t something we’re supposed to achieve– we just keep doing it.). My sister-in-law told me that when my oldest niece was a baby, she would just stare at her while she nursed and think about how thankful she was for her. She still remembers everything about those times, she said.
Gratitude has a double benefit, then– we often DO remember the things we are grateful for, when we think about them consciously. Also, though, it is hard to be caught up in the future or past when you are viewing the present through a lens of gratitude. Instead of looking at my daughter’s perfect features and thinking, “REMEMBER THIS TINY FACE” I try instead to just soak in my awe and thankfulness for each perfect part of her and for getting to be her mom.
Catch yourself. When you’re practicing presence with your children, are you thinking, “I want to be present with them. I would regret not being present with them. It goes so fast. This is the only day they’ll be this little” and on and on? My mind can reel with these thoughts and suddenly I’ll notice my son has asked me a question and I didn’t hear it.
This is normal– minds wander! But if you catch yourself getting caught up in these thoughts, congratulate yourself– you noticed, and that is a mindful moment– and then go back to what is actually happening in the moment. Not “my kids are growing up” happening, but “My son is laughing” or “my baby’s arm feels soft on my skin” happening. Note it– if it helps, you can actually say what’s happening to yourself (or not to yourself! Saying things like, “I hear you laughing!” or “Oh, your arm is so soft on my arm” are actually great ways to let kids know you are present with them and to help babies develop language skills.)
And then when your mind wanders again, come back again.
Expand Your Awareness
I sometimes feel guilty for paying attention to anything other than my children. I have learned, though, that mindfulness involves acknowledgement of all of my experience. I try to pay attention to lots of things that are happening in the present moment. Noticing, “I am thirsty. I am tired. The water feels cool. I have the urge to look at my phone. I’m looking at my phone and making a mindful connection with my friend,” are still about being in the moment.
When you are doing activities with your child, being aware of things around you– the yellow flowers on a bush, the smell of wild sage, the feeling of the wind on a walk, for example, will all help you be more present– more WITH your child, than staring at his or her face and obsessing over how fast he or she is growing up.
You can’t be fully present with your kids unless you are fully present with yourself.
This is a hard one for parents, I know! Especially with very young kids. I’m a big proponent of working mindfulness into every day activities. BUT finding a time to practice formally– for me after both kids are asleep, for 10-20 minutes every day, has made me a more patient parent and has also helped me be more mindful throughout my day. Even a five minute daily practice can be wonderful.
Remember, though, we’re not trying to get anywhere– even to some perfect state of non-clinging. We can just breathe and do our best to be in the moment FOR the benefit of that very moment we’re in.