So if there was a “post secret for mommies” or a “mommy confessional,” I would have a laundry-list of indiscretions to get off my chest:
I sent my son to school knowing he woke up under-the-weather because I couldn’t miss work; I fought with my husband [and dropped a few angry f-bombs] in front of my kids; I sit on the couch and eat tons of ice cream after the kids go to bed (but doesn’t everybody?); I haven’t given the kids a bath in four days, I haven’t cleaned the master bathroom in over three weeks; I let the kids eat Cheetos, apples, and raisin bread for lunch; I regularly pick up chunks of popcorn with my fingers and call it a day since it’s easier than hauling out the vacuum cleaner; I miss out on way-too-many moments because I’m ridiculously addicted to my damn phone… and on and on.
BUT I think the most important one is this:
I have three kids; My oldest is almost six; And I am just now learning how to play with my kids.
“What? More important than not dropping the f-bomb in front of your kids and regularly bathing your kids?” you might ask.
And I would answer, “Yes. More important than anything.”
See, the problem is, like a lot of parents, I have a completely restless instinct against “being in the moment.” Instead of grabbing the knight figurine and racing him up the drawbridge with my four-year old, I’m thinking, “That pile of toys needs to be cleaned up;” “The dishes from lunch need to be put away,” “What are we going to be doing later? I’ve got to think of something to do (even though we are already doing something);” “What should I be teaching him? Maybe that the K is silent;” “What should my agenda in this activity be?”
It’s pretty obnoxious really. I am not sure if it’s because I am used to years of “play therapy” in which I need to be three steps ahead, with a total agenda every time I engage in “play,” or if it’s just because I have wild difficulties sustaining my attention on anything that doesn’t throw maximum stimulation at my brain. What I do know is that my inability to be “in the moment” is interfering with the most important job I have as a parent: to see, honor, and be witness to my kids.
What I am doing, effectively, is steamrolling right over my kids all-together, not seeing or experiencing them, but rather being stuck in my own head with my own agenda, nowhere near the present-moment. It’s ironic that I call it “playing with my kids,” but my experience has nothing to do with my kids at all.
So at first I started practicing this, but I realized I needed a little help effectively executing the concept of “playing with my kids.” Seriously. I needed help learning how to just be with my kids.
I checked out a couple books and articles. Most of the suggestions I found were things like, “Take more walks” or “Have Taco night,” which just left me frustrated and thinking, “But you don’t understand! I am not with them when I am on the walks or making the tacos! THAT is the problem!” …
…But I did find a few helpful guidelines to help me be in the moment with my kids:
1) Pick a realistic amount of time to play. Sometimes with brothers constantly interrupting, five minutes is all I can realistically manage. If during that five minutes, a brother interrupts or the microwave beeps, I intentionally just keep going, and tend to the interruption at the end of the five minutes.
2) To go along with the previous suggestion, no distractions allowed within the time designated for “play.” Whether the laundry bell goes off, the phone rings, or you just remembered that you didn’t pay a bill, stay intentionally engaged in the activity for the entire time. If your other child needs you, and it’s not an emergency, let the child know that you will be with him in ten minutes. If it is an emergency, make a conscious effort to tend to the distraction and get right back to the activity.
3) Silence. Practice not saying anything, but simply listening. Tolerate the times when there is no “action” in the activity. Be okay with silence, and be okay with sometimes being an observer. Kids don’t always have to have a play-agenda or a learning moment.
4) Proximity. Sit next to them. Make sure your eye-level is even with their eye-level.
5) Eye contact. If your child is talking, make a conscious effort to look him in the eye. If you have an observation to make, intentionally make eye-contact with your child.
6) No directives unless your child is doing something dangerous. Resist suggesting that he learns how to crank the drawbridge or makes the knight a good guy. Resist making any suggestions whatsoever. Just follow his lead.
7) No questions. Resist the urge to ask him if he knows what letter “knight” starts with, whether he wants to be the good-guy or if there are alligators in the castle moat. Just allow him to offer the information he finds important.
8) The only time you should speak is to make an observation. Make factual statements observing what your child is doing such as, “So now you are making the night ride his horse up the drawbridge. Oh! You just closed the drawbridge. I see that you put an alligator in the moat.”
9) Practice mindfulness, even when you’re not around the kids. Practice focusing on one thing, like your breathing, and basically telling all the thoughts that come into your mind to “go away.” (Then just go back to your breathing). I try to take five minutes (usually before bed or while I’m in the shower) to practice visualizing any thoughts that come into my mind floating away on a hot air balloon…. over and over and over, since there are many, many thoughts that flood into my mind within five minutes. This gets us used-to being aware of unwelcomed thoughts that interfere with being “in the moment,” and gets us in the habit of letting those intrusive thoughts go.
10) Keep the phone far, far away. So since I am totally addicted to enjoying moments through the camera function of an i-phone, this is mandatory. For me, I can’t just keep my phone in my pocket. I have to keep it on the kitchen table inside the house when we are outside; Or i have to intentionally keep it in the upstairs bedroom when we are playing in the basement. Yes, that’s just me, and as we already established, I have a problem with the distraction of technology.