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