As we end one year and start another, the temptation to set resolutions for the New Year creeps in. In my experience, the desire for a do-over runs strong among modern moms.
Instead of resolutions, I plan to put two simple new parenting guidelines into place.
Social media lures us into presenting an image of blissful family life and well-behaved children.
In reality, parenting often constitutes a daily marathon of self-doubt, mistakes, and tears. On more nights than not, my head hits the pillow whirling with the ups and downs of the day and trying to figure out different approaches to the challenges of raising two smart, strong-willed, independent children.
In my experience, resolutions are fleeting. We often make too many unrealistic resolutions for a new year, struggle to follow them, feel disappointed in ourselves for failing, and then return to our old habits.
In limiting myself to two (and only two) simple new parenting guidelines, I hope to give myself a better chance at success, rather than overcomplicating things.
Simplicity often leads to sustainability, and practice makes
perfect good enough. Since it takes at least 30 days for a new habit to become routine, I commit to following my two new parenting guidelines consciously for the rest of January and the entire month of February. Want to join me?
Be (Mentally) Present
Due to an amazing job where I work 30 hours per week, I see my kids in the mornings, get them off to school, and then collect them off the school bus or from after-school activities in the afternoon. We hang out on weekends. As a family, we cook, read, play board games and video games, and watch TV shows and movies together. Except for infrequent checks, I even abandon my cell phone when my kids and I are home together.
In other words, I am physically present with my kids every day. Unfortunately for me, where my body goes, my mind often refuses to follow.
My brain rarely turns off. Long after I physically leave work, my brain stays engaged, churning on the day’s latest challenges, planning how to finish half-written documents, and prioritizing the next day’s to-dos.
After my brain finishes with work, it flips over to vacation planning, summer camp scheduling, and grocery list making. My tornado of thoughts next settles on prioritizing and working through the never-ending household chores and then scoots over to running down the list of homework, lunch packing, and getting clothes out for the next day with my kids.
In the middle of all this thinking, I live in my head, so interruptions from my kids frequently go unnoticed. Even worse, when I do acknowledge them, I often make them seem unwelcome since I feel frustrated when I lose my many trains of thought. My kids deserve better.
This year (and, hopefully, forever after), as one of my new parenting guidelines, I intend to strive to be present for my children mentally as well as physically.
I harbor no illusions about the underlying barriers that make this goal challenging for me. Moments of mental vacancy rarely grace me, and, when they do, they feel unnatural, odd, too calm, and just wrong.
To train myself to embrace mental quiet and pull myself repeatedly back to the present with my kids, I plan to practice meditation techniques. Pema Chodron in When Things Fall Apart discusses how sitting in meditation necessitates the arrival of wild thoughts. We dismiss them by uttering “thinking” to ourselves in a nonjudgmental way and return to repose. When my kids request my attention and my mind starts to wander, I intend to tell myself “thinking” and refocus – as many times as it takes to stay mentally present with my children.
My daughter begs me to play with her. I know, I know, I should be flattered. One day, not too long from now, she will grow into a surly teenager who hates me. For now, she wants me as a playmate. So, what’s the problem? For starters, my middle-aged body groans when I lower myself onto the hardwood floor in our living room, especially in the winter. Next, after a few minutes of playing, my brain starts to die. I know, I know, I wish it didn’t. It just starts screaming in bored agony.
In the book Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes writes about her toddler daughter stopping her on her way out the door to an awards show with the request, “Momma, wanna play?”
Shonda admirably shucks her heels, sinks down on the floor in her ballgown, and plays with her daughters before continuing on to her glamorous night. She even gave a TedTalk about it. One day, engaged in my favorite activity (reading a book on our deck in the sun), my daughter came out and echoed Shonda’s child with a plaintive, “Mommy, wanna play?”
I decided to test Shonda’s theory. See, Shonda told me her daughters get bored with her after about 15 minutes, at which point she gracefully exits their play with fully satisfied children. Trusting Shonda, I thought, “Commit to 15 minutes of play with your daughter.” Shonda underestimated my child. Two-and-a-half hours later, I finally cut our play session short.
As it turns out, my inexhaustible daughter loathes releasing me from play.
She delights in my voices for her stuffed animals, hand puppets, and Calico Critters. She loves the elaborate stories I tell about their lives. She emulates my own tough love parenting style when she plays mother to her toy babies. Not only does she love and admire me, but I also crack her up. For the 8-year-old girl set, I compete on a level with Jim Gaffigan. (My children love Jim Gaffigan, especially his “Bacon” schtick.)
In the new year, I intend to honor the compliment my daughter gives me when she asks “Wanna play?”
I will lower myself onto that cold hardwood floor (with a cushion, if I plan ahead), tell my brain to chill out, and give her the best comedy routine I can summon in the moment – at least for 15 minutes every time she asks.
Do you plan to commit to any new parenting guidelines or resolutions for the New Year? How do you stay present and engaged with your kids?