I love seeing my daughters perform. I feel tremendous pride when I see them get up in front of a crowd and participate with such enthusiasm.
I make it a priority to attend all of their performances — school presentations, ballet recitals and gymnastics activities. When it is a special event, I am able to be fully present.
In the day-to-day moments of life and work, however, I’m not always as engaged. When I pick up my girls at the end of the day, I try my hardest to let go of work, and focus solely on hearing about their days at school — what they did in art class or what their friends said at recess.
But often, I’m still thinking about that meeting that didn’t go so well or the phone call I still need to return.
And then, when we walk through our front door, it gets even harder as I am confronted with all that awaits me at home. I truly want to connect with my lovely girls, but there is dinner to cook, dishes to clean, baths to give, and laundry to fold.
When I’m preparing dinner and one of my daughters “interrupts” to ask me a question for the 99th time or when my girls are arguing over the game they are playing, sometimes it takes everything I have not to snap at them.
It takes tremendous effort to let go of everything racing through my mind, and the tremendous feelings washing over my body, to return my focus to the task at hand, and to my children whom I love so dearly.
One of the perks of working at a mental health organization is that I learn about many of the strategies our therapists offer our clients. One that has particularly resonated with me is mindfulness, a practice that helps us refocus our attention and notice our feelings.
I have learned from our therapists that through a mindful approach, we can create separation between “stimulus” and “response.” In other words, when I feel triggered by another whiny request, if I am mindful, I can take a deep breath and choose to calmly let my daughter know that I will give her my full attention shortly.
That sounds so simple, right? But honestly, it’s very difficult for me to achieve.
Mindfulness is as important in providing therapy to traumatized children as it is to being a successful parent. Our therapists at CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) use mindfulness skills every day to help children cope with their overwhelming feelings, to manage their fears and to choose how to respond to triggers.
Over the last few months, I have begun to apply some of the techniques we use at CALM to my own parenting approach.
Two of our therapists, Denise and Christine, shared with me one of the relaxation exercises they use with kids. They say: “Pretend you’re a piece of spaghetti that hasn’t been cooked. You’re tall, straight and hard. Now, take a deep breath and become a cooked noodle. Help your body relax and soften.”
When a child (or a parent like me) is sad, scared or angry, they tend to clench their body and feel stiff. When I’m feeling stressed or frustrated, I can feel so brittle that it seems like I just might break.
Like our CALM clients, I am learning to take a deep breath and relax, so that both my body and my mind can become more flexible and resilient. (And yoga classes help, too!)
And, believe me, I am a work in progress. Like anything worth doing, parenting with mindfulness takes practice. The more I practice noticing my feelings and paying attention to what my body is doing, the better I can re-direct those feelings to being present with my kids.
It allows me to loosen up, stay in the moment and enjoy my children that much more.
If you are curious about mindfulness, CALM is hosting its fifth annual CALM at Heart fundraiser on Nov. 10. This year, the theme is mindfulness, and guests will have the opportunity to not only learn about mindfulness intellectually, but to also experience it at the event. I can’t wait! I hope you’ll join me there. Click here for more information about CALM at Heart benefit, and to purchase tickets.
As a working parent, I spend many hours of the day away from my children. When I’m with them, I strive to be fully present.
When I feel overwhelmed or triggered in any way, I am working hard to notice what I feel, to acknowledge those feelings, and then choose to respond in a productive, loving way. At CALM, I am learning real skills that I can apply towards being a better, more mindful parent. For that, my children and I are forever grateful.
Click here for a list of 10 things that are more important than discipline.
— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.