“The price of parenting is self-sacrifice, and rent is due every day.”
I’m starting this post with that rehashed quote – originally written to describe the price of success – partly because of the amount of time that has passed since my last post was written, and, partly, because the day-to-day living of that truth has left me, at times, with very little left in the metaphorical tank for the maintenance of personal hobbies and selfish pass-times.
With that thought in mind, I’d like to share a little about the past six months since the twins 2nd birthday, and offer an approach to parenting (or, surviving the rigors of parenting) that I have recently discovered. Something which serves to make the mental strain of working two careers, managing a household, and raising two toddlers as a single dad possible – without completely losing my grip on sanity.
In the past six months, we’ve knocked out potty-training during the day. The high chairs have been replaced with a small table in the kitchen and two matching “big boy” chairs. The cribs are now toddler beds, and their shoes have grown from a size 6 to a size 10. They are comfortable in 3T clothing and look even more comfortable in a lot of 4T items. Weighing in at nearly 40 LBS each, they have discovered the joys of swinging their weaponized aluminum bats at anything thrown their direction and prefer to spend their free-time chasing a soccer ball and eating. When indoors, they divide their time between playing with their “bye-byes” (their word for cars and trucks) and exploring content on their Kindle Fire Toddle Quieting Devices, so long as dad remembered to return them to the charger during the dreaded nap-time.
My favorite time.
And, not because I get some much needed “alone time”, but because those are the times I, too, get to sleep before my next graveyard shift. I’m still getting about as much sleep during the work week as I used to get in two average nights, but that has become an accepted new-normal.
Yes; admittedly, there are moments that produce stress fractures in my stoic façade which summon abrupt, poorly thought-out responses to both major and minor annoyances and/or inconveniences. I’m human. A fact never clearer than when reflected in the innocence of your children, responding to their own struggles in a manner they’ve methodically crafted in your image. For better or worse, they take on characteristics forged by example so much faster than those laid out in instruction, spitting in the face of “Do as I say, not as I do”. In many ways, they are the truest reflection of who you truly are. A struggling adult trying desperately to keep his $#!% together. And that thought is the bridge to the title of this post: Mindfulness.
Mindfulness: “…the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” (Definition courtesy of Mindful.org)
In parenting terms, it’s not allowing the stresses of day-to-day living to cause you to lose sight of the beauty and joy of the experience of watching your children explore the world with untarnished, non-cynical eyes with all of its vast opportunities available to them.
Or, put another way: The ability to put up with incessant noise, complaining, and neediness for hours-on-end, without losing your mind.
It’s not new, although it has recently seen a tremendous uptick in popularity. I am not the inventor of the concepts and practices of Mindfulness or the author of a single one of its thousands of supporting texts, manuscripts, blogs, or medical journals, praising the effects and benefits of the daily practice of Mindfulness.
To demystify the term, to the extent of my understanding, it is the simple practice of taking a few minutes out of each day to sit quietly and silence the “ego” (inner-monologue) and inner-critic. To let go of the million and one thoughts being juggled, needlessly creating stress, anger, anxiety and depression. It’s the practice of bringing your mind inward to the physical space you’re occupying in that present moment, focusing on what the body is doing as you breathe in a deliberate, conscious breath, noticing the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen as you consciously exhale. As thoughts begin to re-enter your mind, acknowledging them, labeling them, and then drawing your attention gently back to the breath.
It’s the practice of being present in the moment and taking the fangs out of the voices in your head.
I’m not going to get into the specific how-to or why-to of Mindfulness Meditation, because there are a lot of free resources available from far more qualified writers who have already done the research and produced those types of guides. What I am going to suggest is this: The book, “10% Happier”, by Dan Harris, has an accurate and realistic title. There is no magic pill; No pseudo-scientific key to happiness and fulfillment; No spiritual enlightenment or philosophical self-awakening. It is simply the act of silencing an over-active mind for a few minutes a day to gain some much needed perspective and reorder priorities. Letting go of the little annoyances you can’t control or change and allowing your mind to be a casual observer of itself, just long enough to get a sense of what’s gnawing at you, weighing you down, and robbing you of your happiness at that moment. Allowing your mind to take a break from the 24/7/365 juggling act and your body to systematically relax the areas where you tend to carry stress.
I promise you it will help you stay more present with your children; Teach you to respond rather than react to outside annoyances and inconveniences; Obtain more restful sleep during the short opportunities you have to do so; And, help you feel less overwhelmed. That is it. I’m not claiming any of the additional thousand +/- benefits claimed by scientific study, philosophers, or religious practitioners, who use it to become one with (fill in the blank), attain spiritual enlightenment or transcendence, etc., etc.
It helps me relax and reset for 10 minutes a day, which helps me feel about 10% calmer and happier throughout the remaining 23 hours and 50 minutes of the day.
And, it’s a much safer and healthier alternative to alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and, this should go without saying, drugs.