Between running after the kids, chasing after the pets, and cleaning up daily messes, the practice of mindfulness may seem juxtapose to the busyness that encircles modern day family life.
The word ‘mindfulness’ may initially conjure up an image of a yogi sitting crisscross applesauce atop a mountain peak. ‘Mindfulness’, however, is not just meant for mountaintop gurus who have attained clarity and peace. Mindfulness is for all, especially those of us who have not yet reached that pinnacle. Mindfulness is for those of us busy with the daily uphill climb of parenting.
Here are thirteen ways to integrate mindfulness into family life:
1. Set aside five minutes a day to meditate. If you have time to check your social media, you have time to meditate. After I put the children to sleep, I close my bathroom door, fill up the water in my tub higher than my chest, and spend five minutes submerged up to my ears in quiet. I lay there attentive to my breathe. Thoughts fade in and out. I greet and dismiss these thoughts as they pass by.
For those who pray or for those who offer wishes out into the universe, meditation is the counterpart of that spoken conversation. Whereas those wishes and prayers were spoken, meditation offers a chance to listen. This is the dream-catching of answers.
2. Avoid over scheduling. Reality talent competitions populate primetime. Stories of children awarded college sports scholarships flourish. In a competitive culture that champions extreme achievement, it is tempting to pack our children’s schedules with every opportunity we can find. It is easy to omit free time. Free time may even seem frivolous. It is frivolous. It is magical and important. Unstructured time is a staging ground for imagination and creativity. Kids need down time too.
3. Let words change things. Story time can be a great way to connect with your children. Reading the same books as your teenagers can be a bonding experience. Choosing stories with meaningful messages can enrich this practice. There are many inspiring biographies of artists, leaders, and heroes for the youngest of readers. Artful tales with profound life lessons abound.
Many simple stories we read along with our children seem to hold some of the strongest messages. Whether our children are starting preschool or preparing for college, words change things.
4. Accept that you will stumble. Too often we equate success in parenting with a lack of obstacle. Perfection is a mirage. Stumbling is inevitably a part of the parenting dance. Falling down is not necessarily a sign of weakness but merely evidence of our humanity. Perhaps it is less about how often we stumble and more about how we rise back up again.
5. Don’t let your child’s meltdown be your takedown. When your child has a tantrum, take a deep breath and a step back. Be concerned. Be a voice of guidance but practice forbearance. Do not become emotionally triggered. Be able to separate your reaction from theirs. It is essential to your sanity.
6. Eat meals together. Set a goal to break bread together as a family a certain number of times each week. Define the parameters. Television and phone screens may be turned off. Perhaps each person will share something about their day.
7. Say ‘no’ sometimes. Saying ‘yes’ too often can eradicate the very foundations of mindful living. If your commitments are overextended, it is impossible to show up fully in the areas of life where you are needed. Saying ‘no’ allows us the space to honor what and who we love.
8. Be present in the now. A toddler with a fistful of modeling clay or a child chasing a butterfly may be the best examples of how to be present in the moment. Disconnect from your wifi, watch, and learn.
9. Test for clutter. Our consumer culture sells us the idea that more is better. It promises us that we are one new gadget away from an easier life. We are one toy away from a happier, smarter kid. Accumulating too much stuff often results in wasted resources, cluttered spaces, and stressed finances.
Before making a purchase, ask if it is necessary. If the novelty will wear off in a week or if we own something similar, I pass on the purchase. For items we already own, I pass it through a two question test. Is it useful? Does it bring true joy? If both answers are not affirmative, the item makes it to the donation bin.
10. Have good music for the car. Music has the ability to inspire, calm, and transform a moment. I have made it a practice to rock out to good music in the car with my kids. Many a good song has morphed stress into smiles and chaos into quiet.
11. Get outside. Break routine and take a family walk in the fresh air. Visit a park in the afternoon. Take a neighborhood walk at dusk. Toss a ball in the backyard. Connect with the natural world around you.
12. Get on the floor with Fido. Maybe you don’t have a Fido. Pet your cat. Pet your ferret. Play with your in-laws dog. Maybe you have a cockatoo you can belt out songs with. Let an animal be your guide to zen.
13. Keep a Joy Jar. I placed a ribbon around a large glass ginger jar and labelled it our ‘Joy Jar’. Every night each family member takes a scrap of paper and jot downs something that mattered in our day. It may be something as profound as a clear medical report or something as small as gratitude for lime jelly beans. Some nights we forget but we never fail to resume our practice. When we are lost for joy, we dig elbow deep in the jar for reminders of the love that surrounds us.
The curious thing about mindfulness is that small changes yield big differences. Give it a try. Be prepared for the unexpected.
Originally published at medium.com