Do You Cling to Moments as a Parent?

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.

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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!

Practice Gratitude

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.

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Just Observe

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.)

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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.

Practice Formally

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.

 

 

An Interview with Hunter Clarke-Fields, Mindfulness Mama

Hunter Clarke-Fields of the Mindful Mama Podcast spent years as a stressed out mom. She says she “muscled through” her first natural birth. She spoke with me about discovering a better way.

Hunter shared tips for birth and parenting, overcoming fear, finding time for self-care, and for practicing self-compassion when parenting squeezes you.

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When I asked about her birth experiences, Hunter told me:

“I have a tendency toward anxiety and I have a tendency toward being sensitive so the first birth was really intense. I just remember hanging on to my husband and being like, ‘Get this out of me. I’m done!’ and using my muscles to push through. My second birth I thought, ‘Ok. I can do this. I can learn from it. I can make it better. I had a whole different attitude, like, ‘I can practice.’ It was a whole different experience. It was pretty awesome. Very gentle.”

As a mom of two, Hunter knows how challenging it can be to find time to practice. She suggests:

“Create a habit even if it’s super small like a three minute sitting meditation practice and a two minute yoga practice. Something that’s your own, where you’re staking a claim in the ground to your self care. It’s so essential. You’re saying, ‘This is my time. I’m going to cultivate this time. I’m going to create a habit where I deliberately care for myself. Where I’m very deliberate about nurturing my good seeds and about sending myself love and compassion.

If you can build something that’s really small but consistent, as your child grows and you can shave more time, that will feed you even more enormously. As they get to be two years old..you have your practice where you can come and you can start to reduce that stress response. You can reduce that reactivity.”

I asked Hunter to say more about self-compassion for parents. She said,

“We are so hard on ourselves as moms. We are a continuation of our parents and of our grandparents and of our culture. We are an amalgamation of all these things we’ve absorbed throughout our life.

We may decide, ‘Ok, I want to parent in this certain way and yet because we are a continuation our parent’s voice may come out of our mouth. We don’t realize when that happens– it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault that you were conditioned and you have suffering and you may have said something unskillful. You can choose to be a peaceful parent and then you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to mess up. You’re going to yell. And being hard on yourself and being blameful and shameful upon yourself is not the way to start to shift towards more compassionate parenting.

The way to shift towards more compassionate parenting is to actually use those moments where you’re inevitably going to make those mistakes and offer yourself compassion. You’re not going to be in the habit of offering it to your child if you can’t even be in the habit of offering it to yourself.

When you have an orange and you squeeze it, what comes out? Orange juice. Not pineapple juice, not cranberry juice or apple juice. When we’re in those moments when we are squeezed as parents, and you’re going to have so many of them… When you have those moments when you’re squeezed, what’s inside is what comes out. We have to practice that compassion inwardly.”

You can listen to the whole interview here.

You can find Hunter, the Mindful Mama Podcast, free resources, and more at HunterYoga.com.