Today’s parenting culture often emphasizes cultivating the perfect human being for a future, robot-filled economy we don’t yet understand; modern parents are often rushing from activity to activity in an attempt to curate a one-day employable person who will enter a dog-eat-dog, competitive economy in which only the best will thrive.
The problem with this approach to parenting is that it’s based on fear, not love. None of us knows what the future holds and to live and parent towards a depressingly competitive future, sacrificing our present, does nothing to quell the anxiety ― it simply manifests it. This future-oriented, fear-based mindset treats a child as an object to be crafted rather than as a human being who grows healthily with nourishment, love and space to develop according to nature.
The irony is that letting go of this fear-based drive towards curated perfection actually liberates parents to enjoy the parenting ride - by releasing stress, pressure and adherence to external ideals. It helps parents to not be so hard on themselves and instead, be PRESENT with their children, seeing them as the people they are, loving them inherently, finding peace in the moment, which is enough.
Here are the top five ways you can be more present with your child, and let go of the endless striving towards perfection:
1.) Put away the screens, multitasking and other distractions and spend quality one on one time with your child, giving them all of your warmth and attention. Set a timer for anywhere between 15-60 minutes. Until that timer goes off, bathe your child in your pure attention, warmth and love. Let your child choose what he or she wants to do, and simply go with their flow, offering your observation, encouragement, warmth and love. You will feel connected to your child, and able to focus on them in nourishing ways, while also nourishing your own need for connection.
2.) Do chores, which help us become more present. When we focus our mental and physical energy on getting one thing done at a time, we help our minds stay in the here and now (rather than where they want to be when not being mindful - in the past or in the future). Our minds and bodies are very closely connected, and feed off of one another, so if we give them both something to focus on with a chore like washing dishes, doing laundry, cooking, pet care, sweeping, tidying, making the bed, organizing, the mind and body get to work together to be in the present moment. Having kids do chores from an early age is one of the best gifts we can give as parents. When we expect kids to complete chores and hold them accountable for doing so, we are helping them be more present while developing a strong work ethic. Even better is if we have family chore time where every member of the family works away together caring for their home space .
3.) Use your five senses to become mindful of the present moment. If you find your mind racing and yourself racing around with your kids, stop, breathe, and take a moment to notice what is actually happening in this moment – What do you see? What do you hear? What do you touch? What do you smell? What do you taste? Use the helpful mindfulness tools of your 5 senses to be with what is actually happening in this moment, and to let go of any thought about the past or the future, as those thoughts are not real and the emotions they generate are story telling in your mind. Get into THIS moment, and clear away space using the breath. Practicing this throughout your day, in the car, while cooking, with your kids, helps us build the muscle of mindfulness so we can be more present.
4.) Create more space in your schedules. Let go of relentless activity. Allow time to be, to rest, to create, to read, to connect, to be together, to be in nature, and to enjoy life. Constantly running causes stress, anxiety, resentment and a sense that nothing is ever good enough. Being present means we slow down enough to actually notice moments we’re in. When we’re running, we’re running past moments perhaps because of relentless, future-oriented thinking or perhaps because there are feelings we are afraid to feel, so we busy ourselves to avoid feeling pain, anxiety, and other uncomfortable states. Create more space so that the pace of activity allows one to connect with oneself- for reflection and being. And be brave enough to feel what is there. A good cry can be healing. The present moment has a way of dissolving fear in the awareness of each breath.
5.) Practice gratitude: start a gratitude journal where you note what you are grateful for each morning and each night before bedtime. Help your children develop gratitude as a way of thinking and being. Being of service to people whose lives are not as fortunate as our own can teach profound lessons in gratitude. Simplifying our environments and possessions can also teach an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude practices help us to be in the present moment, seeing what there is to be grateful for and focusing on that, rather than on what’s missing or still left to accomplish.
Kiran Gaind owns The Connected Family, a boutique parenting/work-life balance/ leadership coaching practice based in Silicon Valley that’s all about Raising Great Parents. She works with very successful professional parents who may not feel as successful in their family lives. She helps them to create quality connections with their families while having fulfilling careers. Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your ideas, questions and comments about being present in the juggle of life, family and work.