We connect with our children by connecting with ourselves.

“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.” – Henry David Thoreau.

Photo by M. Lee Freedman

Photo by M. Lee Freedman

I have come to greatly appreciate this quote as I begin my early mornings – especially after a night of little to no sleep, or waking up to see a snowstorm brewing before my long commute, or when our howling ginger cat has woken up the household at 4:45 a.m. because he wants his breakfast.  These are all examples of things that can “put” me in a grumpy mood and consequently colour the quality of my morning with my family – often leaving me feeling guilty and remorseful… even a touch sad that the precious little time with my family on work days was not spent enjoying each other.

As a new-ish parent (it has almost been 2 ½ years, but I still feel like a newbie at least once a day), I’ve come to appreciate Thoreau’s quote even more. I have taken the liberty of altering it slightly…

“To affect the quality of our parenting, and thus the quality of the day – that is also the highest of arts!”

I have come to see a correlation- dare I say a cause-and-effect – between how I am doing and how my day plays out with my son (and partner – but that’s for another time).  When I’m tired and cranky, I get more frustrated, impatient, less resourceful and less playful. Power struggles between my toddler and I along with tears, are more likely to occur.  His actions are completely age appropriate – exploring his growing individuality and the limits of his (and my) boundaries.  On these days, I seem to lose my ability to meet his growth with patience. Instead, I can be short and reactive, losing sight of the forest for the trees. Consequently, I leave the house feeling disconnected – with my son and with myself.

On other mornings, I wake up after a sleepless night because of a howling cat, or my son waking up numerous times because of the neighbour’s yappy dog, or a brewing blizzard and a long commute. However, there is a difference – I am able to ‘affect the quality of my day’ – well, my morning at least.  When I take a moment or few to recognize how I’m feeling, take some deep breaths, and even set an intention of not letting my mood get the better of me, I have a completely different morning! The circumstances may be similar, but my response is very different. I may notice impatience, frustration and sleepiness arising, but even while my son is exploring the edges of his boundaries (i.e. agreeing to brush his teeth only if Lola, our black cat, watches him), we remain connected. I remain connected with myself and am able to remain more patient with him. He is a toddler after all!  There are less power struggles, fewer tears, more playfulness, more laughter, more learning.

When I take the time to connect with myself, I stay more connected with my son.  I remain connected regardless of his behavior, regardless of time pressures and wailing cats and snow storms and sleepiness… oh such sleepiness. I come into a less reactive space, where I know that, on this morning, I am vulnerable.  As I hold that knowing in my awareness with kindness and acceptance, I become less vulnerable. I am less likely to flip my lid* and more likely to take a deep breath, call on my partner for a tag team or step away for a timeout if I am on my own. I remind myself that this challenging moment will pass, and that really, in the grand scheme of life, it’s not such a big deal. I won’t always be this sleep-deprived or grumpy. It won’t always be a blizzard.  My son won’t always insist on jumping on the bed while brushing his teeth… I can ‘let be’ the myriad unhelpful thoughts that have a nasty habit of popping up at times when I am vulnerable enough to believe them.

Remaining connected… why mindfulness practice has become so important to me and will always be important to me as I continue on this journey as a new-ish mother (just at different stages of life). Mindfulness provides with me a concrete way to come back to myself when I’m feeling stretched, stressed or incompetent. It reminds me to let go of the expectation of somehow becoming a perfect parent and to recognize judgment when the ‘bad parent’ label creeps in.  Mostly, mindfulness supports me to slow down and be curious about what’s going on with me and with my son, moment by moment, so that we can meet each other in connection.

*See Dan Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain for a demonstration of what happens to the brain when we flip our lids. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DD-lfP1FBFk

Mirror in Mirror

I always seem to be so busy, even when I am not…Holding Hands

I have a fourteen month-old son, and with my partner’s support, I have decided to work part-time until our son is in school so that I can spend more time with him.  The days that I work outside of the home are very busy… In the morning, getting ready, switching gears to professional mode, getting in a nurse before I leave and then an hour commute each way. By the time I get home, I have to somehow magically getting dinner on the table in 15 minutes so that we are on track for bath and bed-time routine; definitely busy…

And weekends, they are also busy – mostly catching up on everything that didn’t get done during the week. I work a half day on Saturdays and my partner works a half day on Sundays; then shopping and cooking for the week, laundry, maybe some cleaning, more laundry and hopefully a little socializing. It is busy. But those two days during the week when I don’t work outside of the home, they are not busy. Or at least they don’t have to be… that is really up to me…

And yet I often find myself acting as if they are – rushing around, planning my way through one activity so that I can get on with the next. Today however, was different.

I set an intention to slow down and not rush. My body is a cue — I have noticed that I often get tense in my shoulders and more shallow in my breathing when I am feeling rushed. This feeling can come during any activity – when making carrot soup, putting on boots, cleaning up toys, changing diapers, walking down the street… and why? Habit? Necessity? On these days, there is no rush, no ones schedule to adhere to but our own. I have found that when I notice this tension, a deep conscious breath can help bring me back to what’s happening now rather than what happens next.

I held onto this intention throughout the morning, while my son was napping. I let go of the “got-to-get-THIS-done-before-he-wakes-up,” because really, there are always thing that need to get done… and always will be. I just stopped being busy. I did the same activities – cooking soup, getting a snack for my son, making a mess with toys, cleaning up toys, changing diapers, getting lunch together – but without being busy. And I got the same things accomplished except today, I was more relaxed. I was maybe a little later moving onto the next activity, but so what? It doesn’t matter on these days. Yes, we have a plan and a routine for our days together, but for these two days I have the luxury of no external time pressures or deadlines. Today I embraced this knowing, rather than imposing timelines that aren’t really there. And how wonderful was the outcome! New possibilities seemed to emerge through slowing down – or perhaps I slowed down just enough to notice them.

On these two days with my son, I frequently listen to a morning classical music program on CBC called Tempo. On this particular day, the host, Julie Nasrallah, was talking about just how busy everyone is all the time. Perhaps her words were a subliminal invitation to me to set the intention to let go of busyness.

My son and I had a lovely morning. I held a more relaxed, calm presence with my son, which is something I strive for since our children are magnets for our states of being. When he called for my attention, rather than responding with, “wait just-a-minute” (an all too common phrase coming out of my mouth), I stopped stirring the soup or chopping the kale and gave him a little hug. He then went happily back to emptying and refilling drawers.  I sat on the kitchen floor and ate my lunch while my son played with his blocks next to me.  He had already eaten, but was curious about what was in my bowl and so crawled on my lap to have a taste. He lingered there after we had finished. I was kissing his velvety head while a gorgeous violin and piano duet floated out from the radio; each instrument matching the others softness and of tone; both with an equal sense of mastery and vulnerability.  Perfectly in sync; coming together to make a beautiful song. We would occasionally gaze at each other in this non-busy moment, a moment of presence and connection sitting together on the kitchen floor. To outside observers, it might appear that we were not ‘doing’ anything in particular, and yet it was one of the most significant tasks of the day. Tuning into each other.

A precious moment on an ordinary day, where busy-ness didn’t get in the way of connection. Where I fully participated in each activity – something my son does naturally – rather than being halfway into the next. The song ended. The host announced the title, “Spiegel Im Spiegel” – Mirror in Mirror. A perfect description of this experience of slowing down and being fully present with my son. I was my son’s mirror and he was mine.  We saw ourselves in the other and had moments of connection, little moments, beautiful moments; precious moments that are available to us every day if we slow down enough to notice.

(originally written in February, 2012, when my son was 14 months old)