by Sarah Ezrin
Eighteen times. That’s how many times I just caught my mind wandering while breastfeeding my son. I hadn’t felt particularly distracted today. You know how there are some days when your mind is racing? This wasn’t one of those mornings. I had meditated when I woke up, and my other son, husband, and dog were all still asleep/ I was thinking about silly things, too, like my to-do list and a reality TV show. Why was my mind so hard to wrangle? The rest of the family would be awake soon, and I might not have an opportunity for this kind of focus time with my littlest again that day. Before I knew it, my mind had rerouted itself from the distraction trail down one of shame and guilt. I spent another handful of minutes beating myself up before I realized I still wasn’t being present. But then I noticed something else. I was aware of where my mind was going, which meant I had a choice in where to take it next.
Using every tool in my presencing tool kit, I wrangled my mind back into the room and into our cuddle session. It wasn’t perfect. I still trailed off at times, but the kinder I was to myself when I noticed my mind wandering, the easier it was to come back to presence and connection. Presence in parenting is an ever-moving target, but it’s one we can learn to chase with curiosity and kindness. I don’t know about you, but when I catch myself being distracted, I’d much rather use what time I have left to get present versus beating myself up!
Here are some of the most powerful tools for getting present:
Leave your phone out of it: The surest way to both stay off your phone and be the most present is not to have it around at all. A 2017 study looking at the cognitive capacity of smartphone users found that people were significantly less present when their phone was in the room compared to the group whose phone was elsewhere. The phone didn’t even have to be in sight! It could just be in one’s pocket or bag, and it would still be pulling people’s attention. Try having your phone out of sight so you can keep your kids in mind.
One-on-one attention: Caregivers have a lot of responsibilities and distractions these days that our kids have to compete with. There are our ongoing household and work responsibilities, the neverending news cycle, social media, and more. But kids are also vying for our attention against the other important people, siblings, or pets in our lives. It’s lovely and important to have family time, but it can also be hard to focus fully on one person. Setting aside one-on-one time ensures that your little one has time to feel like your one and only.
Scheduled connections: Kids need structure and consistency. Having a designated “date day” or “special time” gives them something to rely upon and look forward to. It also ensures you are totally focused on that time together. For example, I know that Tuesday afternoons are my special time with my eldest, so I spend my week and day accordingly so that I can be offline and plugged into him.
Get physical: One of the reasons that yoga is as popular as it is, is that it’s a form of mindful movement. Meaning we use our body to steady our mind. It’s harder to worry about work when you are focused on balancing on one foot. The same principle applies to physical activity with our kids. Play tag in the backyard. Have a pillow fight. I even do yoga with my sons! Moving your body together not only feels great, but it’s a gateway for connection.
Spend time away from your kids: Nope, that's not a misprint. Sometimes, we need to step away from our family in order to be more present with them. We need to fill our own cups up first through self-care or social support before we have anything to pour into our kids. Personally, I am more engaged with my kids when I have had time with a good friend that week, even if it’s just a few minutes. And I’m way more attentive when I have had some alone time. I know this isn’t easy to do and presupposes you have support, but even if you have to wake up before them or go to bed after them, take some time every day just for you.
Let’s redefine presence
As I talk about in my book The Yoga of Parenting, presence is not just about where we are physically in space. It has to do with the quality of our attention and our awareness. This is why meditation practices like yoga can be so impactful when it comes to increasing connection. The better we get at noticing where our mind is, the better we will get at choosing where to focus that attention. And P.S., if it feels impossible to get present even utilizing all the above-mentioned tips because you’re overworked or too tired (or just a parent!), throwing on a movie and sitting next to each other counts as a present connection.
Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten W. Bos
Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 2017 2:2, 140-154 https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/691462
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Ezrin is a world-renowned yoga educator, content creator, mama, and the author of The Yoga of Parenting, based in San Rafael. Sarah loves guiding people along their wellness and parenthood journeys. Her words, classes, and social media are supportive, healing sources for people to feel seen and heard.