If someone had been able to explain to me — truly make the physiological and emotional sensation manifest in my body — the overwhelming feeling of panic and over-protectiveness I would feel as a mother, I’m not sure I would have had kids. It catches me off guard at times, especially after a particular event has occurred. For instance, what if Austin hadn’t looked both ways when he crossed the street earlier? Or, what if Ash had fallen off the couch and broke his neck? Or, what if Ash had gotten lost on the busy streets of Chicago? These are examples of worries that are constantly floating through my mind. The flow of worry is something that I seemingly have little control over. I never would have described myself as a worrier before I had kids. But the thoughts and the panic arise as if from nowhere, and sometimes it’s hard to let go.
There are two things that make me feel better. One is other parents (usually moms, it seems) who can relate to similar feelings of panic. One of my friends recounted a detailed fear in her mind – completely irrational, but very real in feeling – of her daughter falling down a manhole, unable to get out.
The other thing that helps me is mindfulness. A colleague of mine (actually the same colleague with the manhole story) and I are facilitating a workshop on “Mindfulness at Work” in a few weeks. It’s been helpful to plan this talk because it has refocused my energy towards mindfulness in those tougher moments. Mindfulness only works if you practice when things AREN’T stressful. It also helps when you have a small reminder. Like last night when I (not one of the kids) spilled apple juice all over the kitchen table and the floor right at the moment we were finally sitting down for dinner. I was very hungry, which never helps in any situation. Sleep and food are key for this mama.
“Oh, I just spilled apple juice everywhere. It’s really not that big of a deal, but I’m hungry and want to eat.”
Austin: You know you’re not supposed to say that word.
Oh, right. I’m sorry I said that word. Thank you for the reminder. And I’m supposed to take a deep breath, too, huh?
“Mindfulness boosts your awareness of how you interpret and react to what’s happening in your mind. It increases the gap between emotional impulse and action, allowing you to do what Buddhists call recognizing the spark before the flame. Focusing on the present reboots your mind so you can respond thoughtfully rather than automatically. Instead of lashing out in anger, backing down in fear, or mindlessly indulging a passing craving, you get the opportunity to say to yourself, “This is the emotion I’m feeling. How should I respond?” (From Psychology Today)
I appreciate this aspect of mindfulness because it takes the heat out of the moment. Instead of spiraling down an unhelpful path, I have a chance to refocus and make a conscious choice to react differently. This is very helpful in parenting small children.
How do y’all out there practice mindfulness?
I always like to include a few kid quotes, mostly so I’ll remember these precious moments.
My doe dare (I want to go there)
My nums!!! (I’m hungry)
Beeg ump! (Big jump!)
Where Aus doe? (Where did Austin go?)
1. OK, OK, Mister Bossy! (from Finding Nemo) Austin used the same inflection as Ellen (Dory) and used it appropriately in a situation where I was being kinda bossy, so I just had to laugh.
2. At the grocery store:
Mommy, what’s that? (looking at the fresh fish display)
Ew. I hate fish!
How do you know? You’ve hardly ever tried it.
Well, either way, that one has the eyeballs still on it.
3. MOMMY! MOMMY! (while running down the street after me in his pjs and bare feet, as I’m rushing to catch the bus)
What, Austin? I need to catch the bus.
I just want a goodbye kiss!
Aw. I would definitely miss the bus for that.