I have found that parenting is only truly difficult when I am trying to get my child to do something else. I enjoy the job of parent more often when I am focused on being in the moment. What does that mean, exactly? I started to understand it more when I thought about three main forces working against us:
- What the internet tells us we should be doing.
- Our own desire to be doing something else.
- The fact our government, employers, and culture don’t want us to spend time with our families.
The modern world of parenting self-help constantly pushes us to question what we are doing. Let’s take bedtime as an example. Is she up to late? Should I lay her on her side? What horrible patterns am I creating if I rock, sing, or snuggle him to sleep? Did you read enough to her? Other parents have their children in bed by this time! And they sleep all night! What am I doing wrong?
I can’t enjoy this time with my child when I am focused on a future state and not the moment I am in. I have been trying to forget about what I should be doing and simply be with my child. I find way less stress and frustration this way. Yet, that pressure to be in a future state can come from another place.
We often want to be doing something else. It sounds horrible but it is true and completely valid. Why do you want to rush bedtime and get it over with? Maybe you want to spend talk to your spouse. Maybe you are in an online class and have to be free at a certain point. Maybe you are tired from the day and want to watch Bones or some other bad TV with a glass of wine. Maybe you want to call your Mother. It turns out that parenting is a real chore when I am focused on getting it over with. This is another way we can build frustration into the experience. When I am not present, night time can go like this: “C’mon man! All I really wanted to do was read this last chapter and now you are awake. UGH. This is horrible.” Only once I let go of the future was I able to better enjoy the moment. I also found that I reached my goals even better. I remind myself out loud: “This is where I am. This is what I am doing. My child needs me. I will be there for him.” It is hard not to think about all of the other stuff we need to do as people outside of work and parenting. This brings us to the third enemy to parenting in the moment.
Our government, businesses, and culture doesn’t give us enough time to balance everything and be a fully present parent. It would be a lot easier to be present with your child if you had more available time. You could then be present with your child without thinking about all the other 100 things you have to do. There is always a sacrifice. If I spend more time with my child right now that is less time I have to pay bills, talk about life with my spouse, go to the local town council meeting, call a friend, workout, etc. So we parents sacrifice family or one of these other things. You know who doesn’t factor into this sacrifice? Your workplace or the system (for a lack of a better word).
The U.S. is the only one of 4 countries (if I remember correctly) that doesn’t have paid family leave. Here is an infographic from 2013 on paid family leave that has a nice visual comparison. Our country is telling us that time with our families is not important. This sets us up for bypassing being present with our kids because there is limited time to take on other pressing matters we have as adults. Sorry kids.
Most employers don’t offer paid family leave. But that is only scratching the surface. I think we all know that taking time off work for your kids is frowned upon. Even if it is allowed, there can be a nagging thought of what you missed out on or the company valuing the worker who chooses to be there more often. There are times you sacrifice your work and career to be present with your children. Remember, though, that is you sacrificing work time, not work sacrificing your time. Check this out: Americans wasted 658 million vacation days in 2015. Whoa. Talk about pressure to be at work and away from your family. Additionally, we are encouraged to shame the parents that make this choice. Hardly anyone shames the company who should value their leave policy enough to encourage if not require time off with job safety and security. End of soap box. The broader point is that we are set up to fail. We are set up to spend less time with our kids in the first place, let alone be fully present with them.
So what is one to do? I have a few things that work for me, that I don’t do all the time but I try!
- Name it. Know when you are focused on something outside of right now.
- Develop that mantra for you that will help you stay present. This is where I am. This is what I need to do. I don’t need to be anywhere else.
- There is more than enough out there on mindful parenting. Here is a Huffpo blog post on 5 main tenets of mindful parenting. I know there are better resources out there, but someone should be waking up from a nap any moment and this is what you get.
- Embrace being good enough and not sweating the internet of parenting. This also goes for not comparing yourself to other families. If you and your child are playing blocks, play blocks. Don’t think about how many he should be stacking at 15 months, or if she should be better able to tell colors at 2 years, etc. Just play. For bedtime, focus on right now and not the future.