Parenting is a big job. As our children grow, we can get lost in the tumultuous tides of worry. Many parents are busy trying to balance careers, relationships and households on top of the daily trials that parenting can bring. With all of the many details that pile up, it is easy to lose sight of the priceless moments that pass as we strive to keep up with all that life demands.
And yet, ask any parent what their favorite part of having children is, and rarely will you hear things like "planning a weekly menu," or "keeping the kitchen floor clean." I have yet to meet a mom who proudly declares that "keeping tabs on my son's screen time" is the highlight of her job as a parent. We feel most fulfilled as parents in those precious and fleeting times when our whole heart is filled with the thoughts of how much we love this little person.
I certainly do not mean to undermine the importance of planning or discipline. I am proposing that we slow down and learn to be mindful about where the majority of our thoughts are focused. As a single mom, I frequently find myself so caught up in the practical "to-dos," that our lives can lose some of the magic that really feeds me as a parent. When I practice mindfulness, I am much more plugged in to what my children's real needs are and how to be fully present in each moment. It is a healthy place for me personally, and it makes me a better mom.
Worry is a misuse of imagination. Dr. Edmund J. Bourne, author of The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, describes worry as "a form of trance." He says that the longer we allow ourselves to dwell in the negative spiral of worry, the more difficult it is to break the spell. It requires deliberate action, and for parents on the go, that means the action of being mindful to what's important in ours and our children's lives.
Mindfulness is living
Being mindful does not require you to set aside a chunk of time. It is not another item to add to your task list. Rather, being mindful can happen right here, right now. It can happen while you're waiting in the carpool line or while you're cooking dinner. Instead of allowing the spiral of worry or planning to consume you, exercise the process of carefully observing your mind as your thoughts move across your current circumstances.
Be where you are
Take deep breaths and be consciously aware of the air entering and exiting your body. Find a comfortable position so your body can rest and not be a distraction.
How do your clothes feel on your body right now? How are you positioned in the room you are in? Can you feel your body in the context of this larger space? Consider the temperature or the weather. How does the wind feel on your face? What sounds do you hear around you? If anything disturbs you or distracts you, take note, but do not fixate on it. Simply move your thoughts back to the moment.
"The practice of mindfulness is about getting in touch with your own experiences moment to moment in a defused and accepting way," says Dr. Steven C. Hayes, author of Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. As you practice mindfulness, you may find that worry and problem-solving are very persistent. Take the time to acknowledge your thinking patterns, without the compulsion to judge them. The effort should not be put into worrying and then beating yourself up for it, but rather to simply identify the worry and deliberately allow your thoughts to turn to something else.
Practice healthy rituals
As you make the effort to be more mindful throughout the day, your instinct to go directly into worry will have less power. Set aside a specific time where you are able to do some thoughtful planning, but give yourself a definite stopping point for that period. Find healthy affirmations or prayers that you can use to bring you back into a state of mindfulness when you are tempted to go into obsessive worry, such as "Let go and let God" or "This worry is just a thought - it will fade away" or "I will release this negativity."
Worry happens when our natural protective instincts go a little overboard. In reality, there is only so much we can control about our lives and our children's lives. Practicing mindfulness will help us replace those wasted hours of worry by cultivating more of the moments that are precious to our family. Be present with your family now.