I did something completely off-brand recently. I missed my kids’ bedtime to see Beyoncé in concert. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but living far from extended family and the high cost of childcare means I rarely leave my kids for extended periods. And I definitely don’t miss bedtime.
The morning of the concert, I decided to keep my eldest out of preschool for a few hours so we could get some special time. We went to the park. I was excited to get to be with him, but as the minutes ticked on, I caught my mind wandering further from the moment–and by proxy, my son.
I observed myself checking emails on my phone while pushing him on the swing. When he offered me “chocolate pizza” (read: handfuls of mulch), I realized I had been thinking about what I needed to do for the upcoming night.
To further complicate things, every time I noticed that my awareness had left the moment, I would go down a rabbit hole of shame, blame, and guilt. It was an exhausting and vicious cycle, all of which kept me from being present with my son.
But when I had him repeat a question because I wasn’t listening the first time and I really wanted to answer honestly, I had an ‘aha’ moment.
First, I acknowledged how great it was that I had noticed my mind wandering! There are many days where I don’t notice at all. Or days where I remember regretfully at the end of our time. Realizing my lack of presence in the moment meant I had an opportunity to shift things right then and there.
Next, I remembered all the amazing practices I have in my pocket to help me get present. As a longtime yoga and meditation practitioner, this is precisely the circumstance I have been training for! I don’t practice to do a pose “perfectly” or to be able to sit for hours in isolation. I practice so that I can be a more present parent.
By employing my top meditation three tools, I was able to turn things around for our last twenty minutes. Was I perfectly present every second of that remaining time? No, but I was a lot softer to myself when I noticed my mind had left the premises, which in turn allowed our reconnections to be much quicker.
By the time I dropped him at school, we were laughing and dueting the song “Crazy in Love.” I missed my sons a lot while I was at the concert, but the following day our time together was that much richer both because I had filled my self-care cup, and I had sharpened my presencing tools.
Here are some of my favorite tools for getting present in parenting (or really anytime):
Often when we are lost in thought we are not aware of what is happening in the here and now. We miss things people are saying or we don’t get to see things we had wanted to see. There are a number of meditations to help you ground your energy, but my personal favorite involves the intersection between the natural world and your senses, specifically. I put this into practice at the playground by taking a few moments to observe the trees around us. I looked at the design of the trunk and the leaves and tried to see if I could hear sounds emanating from that exact tree. I even tried to sense if I could smell the trees. Almost immediately I saw squirrels jumping from branch to branch. My son enjoyed watching them with me.
Our minds can get trapped in the past or entangled in imaginary futures. Movement is a direct channel to presence as our body moves in real time. You don’t need to unroll a yoga mat or do a long practice either. Any movement counts, no matter how subtle or how big. You can simply sense your breath moving in your lungs. Or shake your arms out. I put movement into practice at the playground by getting active with my son. When we raced around the park, I tried to be really mindful about each step I took and I felt his whole body squeeze into mine when I caught him and we paused for a hug and a cuddle.
Breath is one of the first indicators that our mind has run amok. We can be perfectly calm, but start worrying about something and suddenly we are holding our breath. While I think breath can qualify as both a movement and grounding practice, it can be a stand alone technique, too. At the park, I started to slow my breathing down and became really conscious of my inhale, making sure to fill up fully. I paused when full, then took my time to complete my exhale, pausing there, before restarting the cycle. I also invited my son to take deep breaths with me when I noticed him getting impatient about wanting to get on an occupied swing. He visibly settled as he puffed his chest up with his in-breath and formed an “O” with his mouth on the exhale.
There are some days of parenting where I feel like I am the least present I have ever been in my entire life. Days where my brain is a constant scroll of potential dangers and to-do lists. Even meditation can sometimes feel like another thing I have to do. But there are also many moments in parenthood where I am the most present I’ve ever been. Like, when my baby is breastfeeding and I listen to the sound of their little lips suckling. Or when my eldest is telling me a story and the rest of the world seems to fade away. The more I choose to focus on what is happening right before me and the more aware I remain of my thoughts, the more present I am able to be.