Fully Present

by kayris on December 30, 2009

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Most parents are skilled at the art of multi-tasking. The busyness and pace of life with kids demands that you learn how to do more than one thing at a time. You have to be one step ahead, you have to be prepared, you have to learn to anticipate where your day is going to go next. In my life, multi-tasking meant breastfeeding the baby while also making a sandwich for my toddler (hurrah, Maya Wrap Sling!) or folding laundry while supervising bathtime. My list of things to do is always a mile long, and the only way it gets done is to make phone calls for preschool using a Bluetooth headset while also doing the dishes and helping my kids with an art project at the same time.

After so many years of perfecting my multi-tasking skills, I find that I no longer find it easy to do one thing at a time. Even when I don’t have to be doing two things at once, I do it anyway. I clip coupons while I watch TV, I make lists in my head while I life weights at the gym, I file paperwork when I chat on the phone with my mom. Sometimes doing one thing at a time seems like a dreadfully inefficient way to do things.

This sort of lifestyle works for me…except when it comes to time with my kids. Sometimes when I’m playing or interacting with my kids, my mind is three items ahead on my to do list. And after my son lamented one day a couple of weeks ago, “Mom, you’re not listening to me,” I realized he was right. I was listening to him…sort of. I heard what he said and I responded, but I wasn’t giving him my full attention. I wasn’t fully present and he knew it. I thought about how annoying it is to realize that someone isn’t really listening to you, and I want better for my children.

At this time of year, with so many things that need to be done, gifts purchased, cards mailed, cookies baked, I find myself struggling to remain fully present even more than usual. So my son’s comment was a wake up call for me.

The weekend before Christmas, we received a direct hit from a winter storm that dumped 20 inches of snow on our city. We had nowhere to go, the house was clean, and nothing to do but enjoy the enforced weekend at home. The snow was cleared by Monday, but we spent Saturday and Sunday taking turns shoveling, and just enjoying the time at home. And with no projects looming, nothing on my list that required immediate attention, I found myself consulting my day planner infrequently. For two days, I spent time with my family without thinking about what I needed to do next, what needed to be accomplished before the day was over. It was a refreshing break.

Of course, come Monday, life went back to its usual hectic pace, but I look at it with a different perspective. For me, one of the best gifts I can give to myself and to my children is to be fully present. To pay closer attention, to enjoy the time together, to focus on one thing at a time, instead of the endless list and the next project in the queue.

It will be there when I get back.

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kayris (29 Posts)


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Shelly December 30, 2009 at 8:34 am

LOVE this post, I was just thinking the same thing this morning.

And I know this is random, but folding laundry during bathtime? Genius! Why didn’t I think of that?

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Ashly December 30, 2009 at 12:14 pm

I agree – great post! I work full time and it seems the chores at home are never done, but I try to remind myself daily that from the time we walk in the door until my 15 month old goes to bed is “our” time. It’s the best part of my day and I can’t imagine ever looking back and saying “man I wish I would have spent those 2 hours cleaning instead!”

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Mary January 3, 2010 at 7:09 am

How true! I am so bad about feeling the need to multitask every second. I can’t even stand to only have one browser window open at a time. Must have something to read while the page loads. Ack.

I used to always get frustrated at bedtime with my toddler because she drags out the story reading, nursing and cuddling to sleep routine. It was keeping me from doing so many chores I felt needed to get done before bed. Then I realized, of course she was dragging it out. It is the one time of day she has my full attention. Now I read the extra book she wants and stay as long as she needs me to. If cuddling in bed with my sweet little girl is something to complain about, I must have it pretty good. :)

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chris white January 5, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I see multitasking as a trade-off. You actually can’t do anything very well, or be fully present, while multitasking. And as you said in the article, the kids feel the lack of presence. So do the other people around us. We have all gotten used to it, but i think it is a real diminshment of our humanity to be mostly multitaskers.
Being in the present moment, the main focus of mindfulness meditation, has been shown to be one of the few things that actually thickens our brains in the area of the middle pre-frontal cortex (a spot right between and behind the eyes). This area is responsible for optimizing the following functions: bodily regulation, emotional balance, impulse control, decrease in levels of fear and anxiety, attuned communication, empathy, self-insight, morality, and intuition. These are also all outcomes of secure attachment relationships.
We are human beings, not human doings. Our state of consciousness affects our childrens state of consciousness, and shapes their brains over time. I think we need to do our best to balance “getting things done” with simply being present for our children and our lives.
Check out EssentialParenting.com for more on mindfulness and parenting.

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