Congratulations, you survived another summer!
As a parent of two youngsters, I’m well aware of the effort it takes to manage the highs and lows of summer. From orchestrating vacation to managing scuffles over screen time to all the unseen things in between, there’s no doubt you did a lot for your family this summer.
Both in my own life, and in my work with parents, I’ve found it’s important to take stock of the zillions of ways you support and enrich your children’s lives each day. Even with mundane or expected tasks, such as taking the kids to school or making a bottle, it’s vital to slow down and appreciate the effort, energy, and time you tirelessly devote to raising children.
It may sound silly or trite, but in a fast-paced, competitive culture, it’s entirely too easy to ignore, downplay, or focus your attention on what you haven’t done – or didn’t do. For example, you may find yourself replaying scenes from when you were too grumpy, impatient, or distracted instead of appreciating times you were generous, caring, or engaged.
Have you noticed how easily you can resort to holding yourself hostage to your imperfections as a parent? It’s like there’s an unwritten rule that says you should value what went wrong and de-value what went well in order to parent successfully.
But, what if noticing and appreciating the ways you’re inherently caring and on-point was just as valuable to your well-being, learning and growth?
In light of this, I’d like to invite you to join me for a challenge this back to school season. Make a commitment to notice – and enjoy – what’s going right as you parent and live your life. Note: no task or event is unworthy of recognition.
Orient Your Attention to What’s Right with Mindfulness
Since mindfulness is a tool that builds awareness, it can support you to keep an eye out for what’s working while helping you notice when your attention is unhealthily preoccupied with what’s wrong.
Below I’ve outlined 4 ways mindfulness can support you with this challenge as you transition to a new school year.
1. Form the Intention to Stop Feeding the Negativity Bias
A key aspect of mindfulness is intention setting. Dr. Shauna Shapiro said intentions are like a compass in that they point you in the direction of your values and aspirations. If you want to spend less of your precious time and energy ruminating on problems, it’s important to form an intention to stop going down this rabbit hole. It may sound easy, but overcoming this negativity bias, or the mind’s natural tendency to fixate on what’s wrong, takes practice and diligence.
Here’s an example of how you can keep the negativity bias at bay. If you catch yourself worrying at a time you can’t do anything productive, such as when you’re waiting in line at the store, and you start to spiral about your children being uncooperative on school mornings, make a choice to stop this train of thought before it consumes you. Re-focus your attention and energy on something else – and ideally something more pleasant or interesting. You can gently scan your environment for an object you consider intriguing, or notice something you’re touching that feels at least kind of good. Note: I’m not asking you to deny problems; I’m simply asking you to problem solve more consciously and efficiently.
2. Address Challenges in a Relaxed, Stable State
Since most problems aren’t a true emergency, it’s helpful to prioritize feeling better over solving problems when your system is already stressed or taxed. Reach out to a friend, step outside and move, or nourish your body with a favorite food or drink.
Then, when you’re in a better frame of mind, revisit a concern that’s still relevant. For example, if you have a sensitive child who’s starting at a new school, enjoy drumming-up all the ways to support him (and yourself) through this transition. Eventually, settle on 1-2 strategies that feel most helpful, ie. maybe you could read a story about the array of feelings that come up when school starts, or you could build-in extra snuggle time before bed for the first few weeks of school.
3. Bring Curiosity and Energy to What’s Right
A foundational quality of mindfulness is curiosity and interest. In the same way you regularly attend to your to-do list, practice bringing consistent energy and presence to pleasant experiences.
Notice when you’re generous with your time and energy or share a sweet moment with your child, and let it register fully in your awareness and body. You can also experiment with bringing “what’s right” attention to your children.
For example, deliberately let go of expectations and should’s for a few moments – as in, “she should get ready for school this way.” Then, allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised by the creative, capable being she truly is. Oh, and before you move on to your next task, tell her what you appreciate about what you observed!
4. Adopt an Attitude of Compassion
Mindfulness can help you remember to be patient and kind to yourself as you explore the practice of noticing what’s right. Remembering our collective conditioning — the subtle, yet continual prompts that reinforce how we must notice and fix what’s wrong — means that even with the best of intentions, you’ll inevitably forget.
When you’ve overindulged in thinking about times you messed up, give yourself grace, and remember, it takes time to build new pathways in your brain! As you prioritize being compassionate and understanding of yourself in these moments, you’ll find it’s much easier to pick up where you left off.
As with any other skill you’ve learned, such as learning a new language or musical instrument, it takes practice and repetition to overcome a fixation on what’s wrong. The hardest part may be letting go of the idea that the only – or best – way to bring about change in your parenting and life is by paying attention to what’s wrong.
Let us know what you discover. Always here to support you!