So much gets overlooked when life is lived at a rapid clip.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a parenting conference with a breakout session in mindfulness. I expected deep breathing, but the first exercise was pretending to cut fingernails.
Each person teamed up with a partner, determined who was the trimmer and who was the trimee, grabbed a hand and pretended to clip away—quickly, thoughtlessly and paying little attention to the task or the person attached to the hand.
We laughed while we did it, thinking that the instructions to not worry about whether we got a little skin or drew blood were silly, and we finished quickly. The next step was to trim the nails on the other hand, but this time to do it with purpose. We introduced ourselves, said who we were. We cut carefully this time, looking up at our partner before we touched a finger, and explaining what the next action would be. We moved slowly around each nail, being careful not to catch any skin or cause any pain. Each movement was gentle and soothing.
When we were done, the facilitator asked us to stand up, close our eyes, and observe how our hands felt. Did we notice a difference between our hands? We did. The hands that were dealt with quickly felt heavy and lifeless. The ones that were treated with care felt warm, tingly and alive. I was surprised at the degree of difference, and the experience made me realize how I can use everyday experiences to thoughtfully connect with my children.
Since I attended the conference, the daily chores with my children have taken on new meaning. Diaper changes, getting dressed and buckling into the car seat have changed from things that “just need to get done” to opportunities to slow down and interact with the most important people in my life.
I stopped rushing through each task, and started working on being present, no matter how mundane the chore.
It begins with not making it all about me. Before I change a diaper, before I sit my children down to clip their nails, or before I come at them with a cloth to wipe their face, I ask myself, “Is this a good time?” What is my child doing? Is this something worth interrupting their time for, or is it something that can wait for a break in their play?
Next, I tell them what I need to do and wait for a response. “It’s time to get your diaper changed. May I pick you up and move you?” I wait until I get a “yes,” or raised arms, or a nod. Part of being mindful is respecting that my children are individuals who deserve to know before I lift them or move them.
As we do whatever needs to be done, I make eye contact and talk them through what’s happening. With clipping nails, I show them the clippers and tell them how they work. I let them know which finger I’m going to clip, that I’m sliding the blade under the nail, and how many clips it takes. The first time I did this, I had them asking for their turns after each hand and foot—it became an experience, not a chore.
It’s hard to be present in everyday tasks all the time. Our world is full of distractions and the overwhelming desire to multitask. It takes practice to slow down and focus, but the reward is greater joy, surprisingly discovered in the simple and mundane.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #32.
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