School pickups and drop-offs. Grocery shopping and healthy meal planning. Science projects, essays, and reading assignments. Sports, dance, martial arts, tutoring. Team parenting responsibilities, volunteer commitments. and play dates. That’s a short list of what’s on many parents’ agendas.
Yes, the demands of parenting are endless, but our need to fill them all is nothing to boast about. Splattered over the internet are articles from trusted resources about alarming “epidemics”: the epidemic of stressed parents raising stressed kids; the prescription pill epidemic; the over-parenting epidemic; the exhaustion epidemic. They all point in one direction: Parental busyness is overwhelming our mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing! How crazy is that! What we should be enjoying, cherishing, and celebrating most ― our children ― is stressing us out the most.
Our kids are not doing this to us. They aren’t saying, “What more can I add to this list to stress out my parents?” Or “I really want to add on four more after-school activities to stress myself out.” No, we are doing this to ourselves, mostly to meet the preconditioned demands of society or to keep up with peer-parent pressure.
Regardless of the source of pressure, however, one thing is clear: A busy schedule busies our minds. A busy mind ignites the need to multitask, and multitasking pulls us out of the moment and throws us either into the past or the future. We are now doing things mechanically ― robotically—with our mind elsewhere.
This is the birth of the “preoccupied” mind, the mother of all parenting epidemics and an addictive habit that we are all guilty of. While we are physically in one task, our mind is lost in thought. A different thought, that is. So while we are doing this, we are thinking about that. We are abstracted, distracted, absent, and absent-minded.
Parents, we are not wired for this. Humans are not wired to thrive ― in the long term ― when we are not present in what we are doing. It might feel like we are accomplishing something in the now, but with the passage of time this continued habit wears us down by disconnecting our minds from the task at hand. In the process we tax our intellect, emotions, and our physical expressions ― how we talk, behave, our tone of voice, and our choice of words. We drain our energy and pile on stress. We then project our “stress” outward. Guess where! Yes, to our kids. Don’t be fooled for a moment that our kids don’t feel the effects of this. Add a preoccupied, disconnected mind to the busyness of life, and we have written a recipe for disaster for both our children and ourselves. It’s no wonder that we are plagued with parenting epidemics.
So what should we do?
1. Mind-watch. Every time your mind moves away from the task at hand ― for example, if you are doing dishes and suddenly you find yourself thinking about your schedule for the next day ― take a deep breath and focus. Remember, the goal is to slowly bring the preoccupied mind back to the task at hand. Visualize a fishing pole, and start reeling your mind back in. When we start to watch our mind in this way, we start to understand our inner nature. Count how many times your mind gets distracted in a matter of five minutes. When I first started to mind-watch, I realized that in a five-minute span, my mind drifted more than 100 times. I wasn’t surprised when, years later, I read research that said the average person thinks more than 50,000 thoughts each day and approximately 35-48 thoughts each minute. So busyness may be in our nature, but if we become busybodies following it everywhere, we will break down at some point. We don’t need science to confirm that for us.
2. Use your senses to un-occupy your preoccupied mind. Our senses help us make sense of things. It is through our five senses that we experience the world around us. When our mind drifts, we disconnect from our senses and lose out on the experience at hand. So if you’re doing dishes, for example, turn your attention ― your mind ― back to the physical contact, the touch of your hands on the dishes. If you are wearing dishwashing gloves, watch and listen to the water flowing from your tap. If your kids are talking to you and your mind is drifting, making eye contact with them will help you not only hear them but also really listen to them. In my book, The “Perfect” Parent: 5 Ways to Use Your Inner Perfection to Connect With Your Kids , I explain this in detail in Sensible (Sense-able) Parenting, which is a key parenting tool.
3. Embrace the world of mindfulness. Parents ask me all the time, “What does being mindful really mean?” Being mindful is simply being aware, conscious, alert, and focused on the task at hand. Being mindful means being present and fully attentive to what we are doing or feeling or experiencing. When we mind-watch and use our senses to un-occupy our preoccupied mind, we become mindful. We start to focus better and experience more of our lives. When we experience more, we start to enjoy what we are doing. When we add joy to our lives, we reduces stress and anxiety and increase our happiness index, which directly affects our self-worth, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-respect—the antidotes to all-too-common parenting epidemics.
So when you are doing things for and with your kids, make sure your mind is not preoccupied. The more you practice mind-watching, the more you will start to reel back your distracted mind. Sure, as parents, we are busy. We have to get things done. Just make sure your mind is not preoccupied with the weight of random thoughts drifting in and out. What a waste to rob ourselves of experiencing our life and to deplete the precious energy that we can direct toward raising our children. Always keep in mind that as parents our goal should never be to get through the day relieved that the night has come and that we can stop the busy-ness of our mind, but to get to the end of the day with gratitude for the experiences that enrich our lives because of our children. Can you imagine a life without them?