As summer winds down, you know that it’s also time to get the kids ready for the back-to-school routine. You have to get them the things that they need to succeed for another year in academia, another year of sports practices and games, all while managing your own scheduled life. Then, you turn on the news and there’s another heartbreaking story, and you are overcome with feelings of frustration, disappointment, stress. Your fear response kicks in naturally and you don’t even realize it; it just happens; it’s a part of your day, and you just keep going because it has become your routine. When the evening news ends, your daughter comes in and tells you that she needs to get a book for summer reading (right now tonight). How do you respond? You were just watching the news, you already made dinner and cleaned up, and you’re ready to wind down and relax for the evening. Maybe you react, then feel guilty because you should’ve been more proactive, but then again, every time you brought up summer reading she didn’t want to read any of the books you suggested on the list. Now all of sudden she needs to go NOW. Or maybe this is just another part of parenting and you suck it up as such. Or maybe you are thinking that you suck at parenting….
Regardless of the situation, when you are always on go and the kids are always on go, how do you find space to recharge, and how do the kids recharge? Most of all, how do you teach them the importance of a recharge?
My suggestion is that you MUST build it into your already busy schedule. Like anything in life that you work for, if you want it bad enough you need to make time for recharging and you will make it a priority. If you are looking for more peace of mind, make it a priority. Enough with the excuses. Once you make “peace of mind” a part of your routine, it becomes a habit and an easier state of mind to access when you do find yourself in high-stress situations. As the parent, you set the limits. Sometimes there is an emergency and you need to act with haste; however, if every situation becomes an emergency, then everyone is anticipating the next disaster, even if there isn’t one.
The mind is an amazing facility, and science has shown that our physical responses to a situation that we perceive as stressful is similar to if we were actually facing a real physical threat. What we perceive, our mind makes real in an effort to protect us. But we can elicit control over that response with awareness and with practice.
Let’s go back to the last-minute reading project, “why didn’t you tell me this earlier” now all my plans and expectations for the evening have been altered because this project is due. And “if I want my daughter to succeed at school, this is something that has to get done.” The thought comes with the same urgency as the question. Maybe this specific example does not apply to you, but consider any situation in which you “think” something has to get done right now, or “feel” a sense of urgency related to your children. Notice how you react. There is an overabundance of information and outside influence infiltrating our homes. The demands that are placed on our children are high. So a cultivation of that awareness and the work of taking mindful action is of an even higher importance.
Practicing mindfulness is just that, a practice. It is like a mental exercise to slow down. This might sound like a contrary concept, exercising to slow down; and that may be why it is so difficult for some people because it goes against everything we’ve learned about getting things done, and productivity. When technology speeds up, the world’s problems come into our bedrooms through our phones and through the internet. These global issues become our personal problems, so it is our responsibility to differentiate and prioritize what in fact presently requires our attention. What presently requires your attention, I will tell you, is what you are presently doing. Structure your day, anticipate what you need to accomplish in a day, and what your children need in a day. What do you need in order to feel good about what you’ve accomplished today and only today? Be realistic about this.
The world takes 24 hours to go full circle, we need at the very least 6 hours of sleep. Sleep is a survival skill, like food and water; without it you cannot survive for long. Mindfulness and meditation is being talked about more and more, and the best times to practice are in the morning first thing, or at night before bed. Taking 10 simple minutes, to sit in silence and focus on the breath, or 10 minutes to reflect in gratitude and practicing this daily will show a significant improvement in your ability to address this day. It might be difficult at first, but discipline will pay off. If you are able to set loving limits with your children by teaching them that it is ok to sit in silence and reflect, and that it is part of taking care of yourself, then they, too, will learn to take time for themselves to look inward for answers before reacting on impulse to situations. Children learn from you as you demonstrate an ability to navigate difficult and uncomfortable situations. Take notice of how you are doing this, before you react take a breath and then respond, take your time when getting things done, take notice of your surroundings and how your body feels, if you are holding tension, or if you are breathing deeply. Mindfulness is a skill that helps us enjoy our journey, when we get lost, or break down, being mindful brings us to the moment and helps us appreciate what is right in front of us.
Now you can go get that summer reading book, or get it tomorrow. Either way your daughter will learn a lesson, and you will both be okay.
About the author:
Hillary E. Hess holds an MS in Counseling and Clinical Health Psychology. She specializes in Mindfulness based strategies, Yoga and Cognitive Behavior Therapy at the practice she runs along with Winden Rowe, Hess and Rowe Counseling, in Kennett Square, Pa.