Stress among teens is reaching epidemic proportions. This excessive, prolonged stress affects their bodies and their brains. Researchers at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University found that when toxic stress is triggered continually over a period of time it can have a cumulative toll on an individual’s physical and mental health — for a lifetime. As the mother of two teenagers and one pre-teen, and as a mindfulness teacher working with teens, I see every day the tremendous stress our teenagers experience in their young lives. I often ask the teens I work with to make a list of what stresses them out. Homework, school and college admissions are always at the top of the list. Now, they have added a new stressor to their list – their cellphones— as they are admitting that their compulsion to check their devices, and the added pressure that comes with that constant connectivity, is distracting and anxiety provoking.
This overload of schoolwork, the pressure to succeed in an extremely competitive culture and their constant connectivity leaves our teenagers with no time or ability to disconnect from their peers, to relax and unwind or to connect with their families.
As a result, we are seeing record levels of anxiety, depression, insomnia, attention disorders and even suicide among our teens. Studies also show that teens are turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol, to tune out or avoid the discomfort of their anxiety. There is a critical need for parents and children to learn skills that will not only help them cope with this stress, but will also help them thrive. I am thrilled to be partnering with Partnership for Drug-Free Kids to help parents and teens learn healthy ways to cope with stress. To read more on Mindful Practices for Calm, Focused and Happy Teens, click here.
"Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart." - Winnie the Pooh
The new science of "Happiness" is proving that we can grow our own happiness. By taking just a few minutes each day to focus on the good, we can cultivate positive feelings. Just like practicing the violin or hitting the tennis ball, with repetition and practice we can get better at focusing on the good in our lives, which by its very nature, allows less time to focus on the bad. Here are a few simple ways to grow your own happiness:
(1) Pay attention to simple pleasures. Drinking a cup of tea, walking your dog or hugging a child can be incredibly joyful experiences if you take the time to notice how good they actually feel. Take time out every day to slow down and place your full attention on something that feels good. It takes less time than going to the gym or preparing a healthy meal, yet it will greatly increase your overall feeling of wellbeing.
(2) Watch the sunset. Study after study shows that immersing yourself in nature will increase your happiness. Breathe in fresh air, look at the majestic, old trees around you or watch the magical colors in the sky. Just a few minutes each day spent outside, appreciating the beauty and the awe of nature will greatly increase your daily dose of happiness.
(3) Focus on those you love. If you spend a few minutes each day thinking about someone you love, you can actually feel love. As you hold that person in your attention and send them love and well wishes, you can begin to notice how that feels -- and it feels good. Then, simply allow yourself to feel a bit of gratitude for having that person in your life.
(4) Send yourself love. Often, we are our harshest critic, and sending ourselves love can be challenging. Try spending a little time each day to self-reflect on what you did well, and not what you did wrong or didn't do at all. Try looking in the mirror and notice what you like, rather than what you don't like. Remind yourself each day that you are doing your best, and that is good enough. Simply notice how good it feels to send a little love your own way. Remember, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
Each day is a brand new day full of opportunities to learn, to experience the world and to connect with yourself and with the world around you. Take a little time to grow and nurture your own happiness and see how that joy will grow and will spread to those around you.
Say Hello to stress. As the school season begins, many parents find themselves scrambling to get back to their fall routines. Cheryl Brause, a mindfulness and meditation instructor, mom of three and owner of 2bpresent in Larchmont, offers the following tips to ease into your September .
- Organize! Much of our stress comes from worrying about not being prepared; take those thoughts out of your mind by getting ready early.
- Get some Z's . Go to bed at the same time each night and take all electronics out of the bedroom. A regular routine that helps you unwind, relax your body and your mind is critical to your health and well-being, allowing you to get the rest you need.
- Unplug. Ever had a computer that's on the fritz? Thinking there's a major problem, you call a computer specialist and ask what to do. Rather than get a whole new computer, they tell you to unplug it and let it rest. Amazingly, this little reboot, resolves all your computer’s problems. Just like our computers, our brains need to rest and reboot. Enjoy simple pleasures like taking a walk, a bike ride or playing with a pet (without your phone in hand). Research shows that unplugging just a few minutes each day can help lower stress and increase you daily does of happiness.
- Stop negative thoughts. When you find yourself being self-critical, stop that negative thought train in its tracks by taking a nice deep breath. Repeat to yourself that you are good enough, you are perfect exactly as you are and you have the strength to conquer any challenges that lie ahead.
- Breathe. Nothing is healthier than learning to connect to your breath. When you're feeling stressed about the upcoming school year, take a slow, deep inhale, feel the air in your body and clear your mind of any stressful thoughts by focusing your attention on how it feels to simply breathe. Remind yourself that you are here and you are fine.
This article appeared in the Mamaroneck Daily Voice, written by Jeanne Muchnick
In the latest edition of Mindful Magazine, they list the top 10 reasons to meditate. 'The benefits of a meditation practice are no secret. The practice is often touted as a habit of highly successful (and happy) people, recommended as a means of coping with stress and anxiety, and praised as the next-big-thing in mainstream wellness. And it’s not just anecdotal. Thousands of studies have shown the positive impact that meditating has on our health and well-being." Mindful culled through the list and here are the highlights along with the research to back them up. To read the full article and link to the research, click HERE.
Sleep Better: More Shut-Eye at Night Means Brighter Days
Stress Less: Make Room for More Happiness
More Mindful Meals: No More Stress Eating
Beat Anxiety: Send Worries Packing
Smile More: A Happy Pill, with No Side Effects
Enhance Your Love Life: Your Relationship Will Thank You
Lead a Successful Life: A Clear Path to Achieving Your Goals
What do we really want for our children? Most parents answer this by saying that ultimately we want our children to be happy. I wonder, are we really doing a good job at helping them find their happiness? What is standing in their way? Several recent studies confirm what many of us already knew, that children today are experiencing alarmingly high rates of depression and anxiety. Nearly a quarter of children in the United States are showing signs of emotional distress, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Anxiety and depression are now the most common mental health diagnoses among college students. Even more alarming is that suicide rates among adolescents is on the rise and is now the third largest cause of death in the United States among youth ages 10-24.
It seems our children are finding it more and more difficult to navigate the challenges of growing up in our changing world. As schools, colleges and therapists examine how to help children thrive, What can we do as parents to help our children find happiness?
Where to Find Happiness
Mindfulness is all about awareness. Mindful awareness helps us better understand ourselves and better relate to others. As a parent, often the messages we think we are sending to our children are not the messages they are hearing. Perhaps we need to reexamine the messages that we are sending our children or become more aware of the messages they are getting. Our attempts to offer our children every opportunity to experience all that the world has to offer, more choices and more freedom, may have the unintended consequence of causing children increased stress and anxiety, a feeling of being overwhelmed. The message that our children may be getting is that there is a giant world out there, and somewhere out there lies their happiness, contentment and self worth, they just need go find it.
Is this the message we really want to send? It may sound reasonable enough, but I have to ask how many of us have gone out into the big world and found our happiness "out there" - in our jobs, in our accomplishments or in other people? Many studies have shown that the happiness we feel when achieving a particular goal is short lived. We quickly find ourselves having a new goal to achieve soon after the temporary satisfaction has worn off. We often get caught in the "if only" game, "if only I had . . ." or "if only he would . . ." or "I will be happy when . . . " Even studies of people who win the lottery show that lottery winners experience initial joy and then 6 months to a year later they have no fundamental change in their sense of well-being or overall happiness.
By striving to find happiness and success out in the world somewhere, we are teaching our children that their happines lies in their achievements and accomplishments, that their contentment can be found by getting somewhere else other than where they are now. If we are teaching our children that their happiness depends upon something outside of themselves and getting somewhere other than where they are, they will find that their happiness is always just outside their grasp. This is not the message that we want to send them and will only lead to a yearning to be somewhere else, and happiness will always be one step out of their reach.
Mindfulness teaches us to be exactly where we are (since it is the only place we will ever be) and to find contentment in this moment (since it the only moment we will ever have). We can learn to find joy exactly where we are, and in each step of our journey, with an open acceptance to whatever we find along our way - - no more waiting game, no more conditional happiness based on some outside circumstance. If our children can learn to be open and accepting of their experiences and of themselves, and learn to find some joy in each day along their journey, then they can find their happiness now. But, how do we teach our children this and what stands in our way?
A Challenging World to Be Present In
The world our children live in is vastly different than the world we grew up in and the messages they are getting are much different as well. With the click of a button, our children can access endless amounts of information and connect with anyone around the world. They can find answers to almost any question in a matter of seconds on their computer screens. They have virtually limitless opportunity to learn, to explore and to connect. They can reach out and be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As a result, they find it difficult and even uncomfortable to disconnect.
The world many of us grew up in was much different. It consisted of unstructured playtime, hours spent outdoors with friends before dinner, connecting only to the people we were actually with. If we missed a TV show, we were out of luck - - no DVR or On Demand viewing. If we got an assignment for school, we would have to look into our handy Encyclopedia Britannica to learn more, or make a trip to the library to search for information. We would have to actually WAIT to find answers, think creatively on how to find those answers, and get comfortable with not knowing. It was not that long ago, but it was a much different world than the one our children live in.
Clearly, this world of information and connectivity has tremendous benefits. It is also taking its toll on all of our lives, especially on the lives of our children who are growing up in this new digital age that is lightening fast and in the click of a button takes them away from where they are. Now, our children are "connecting" with people they are not actually with. Which leads me to ask, are they truly connecting at all? They measure themselves by how many likes or friends or followers they have. They can continuously view a steady stream of images to see what others are doing, instead of focusing on where they are and who they are with. This has created a new type of anxiety now commonly known as FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out. FOMO is the fear that others are having some rewarding or enriching experience that they are not having, causing them to feel compelled to constantly connect so that they will not miss out. Ironically, this fear leads to an obsession to staying connected which only leads to more apprehension and angst about all they are missing.
This new anxiety not only applies to what others are doing, it also can lead to the fear of not keeping up with the endless amount of information available online. With 24-hour-a-day access to information and communication, our productivity is limited only by the number of hours in the day. As a result, we all feel a tremendous sense of pressure to read more, learn more, do more, and connect more. There is simply never enough time in the day to do all that is possible to get done. We feel exhausted, rushed and overwhelmed. We mistake our desire or need to take a break or rest as laziness, or consider ourselves slackers when we are not consuming information. The continuous feed of information at our fingertips leaves us without the time or the ability to quiet our minds, to sit in the stillness and to ponder the mysteries and the possibilities of the unknown. It leaves us all with the constant buzzing of our devices and computers whispering to us to do more, learn more, be more. Our children are growing up in this world and feeling the anxiety that comes with it.
Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” But with the notion that more knowledge is available at all times on our computer screens or smartphones, we have little time or the inclination to be in the creative and innovative world of our own imagination. Our children don't know what it is like to ponder the possibilities that are limited only by their own imagination. They rarely experience how it feels to sit in a space of not knowing and to be OK with the discomfort and excitement of not having the answer. Instead, they learn to punch their keyboards and find someone else's answer which is much easier and faster to do. We need to help our children recognize the value of unplugging, the importance of silence, and the benefits of being present in the moment where they can experience their own imagination and creativity.
Helping Them Find Their Own Happiness
Instead of searching to find their happiness elsewhere, we need to encourage our children to look inward. In doing this, they can begin to realize that they can find happiness right now, and not when they get into a good college or get a good job or make a lot of money. Their passions are already there inside them, just waiting to be discovered, they just need to take the time to listen. We need to show them how to slow down and take time to get to know themselves, to connect inward so that they can find out what makes them happy. We need to help them feel more comfortable with themselves, to unplug in order to truly connect because the steady buzzing of the internet and the yearning for constant connectivity is actually drowning out their own inner voices and preventing them from hearing what is already there.
How can we do this? We not only can help them turn off their computers and devices for an hour or more each day, but we also need to help them slow down, find the value in being where they are, and take the opportunity to learn more about themselves and the world around them. They can find what makes them happy everyday, the simple pleasures of life which will always be there for them to enjoy in the days, weeks, and years of their lives. They can learn to spend a little time each day doing something they love like listening to music, reading a good book, taking a walk, opening the door for a stranger and become aware of how that makes them feel. We as parents need to value this time as time well spent. We can also help them by being quiet ourselves, by talking less and listening more, which helps us better understand them just as they are learning to better understand themselves. Finally, we need to understand that it is not the quantity of experiences or the number of things we give our children that will help them thrive, but is it simply being there for them and loving them unconditionally. That is enough.
This is no easy feat in a culture where people's worth is measured by how busy they are, or by how great their accomplishments are. It is a culture in which so many think they are not truly "alive" and productive unless they feel that addictive buzz of adrenaline brought on by stress. The best thing we can do for our children is buck the trend and recognize that this message of needing to be more, to do more and to have more is only leading to children who are increasingly stressed, anxious and depressed.
We need to be role models for our children and slow down ourselves, unplug and be more present with them and with our own inner world. What? Turn off my phone, you say? Impossible! I know it is difficult, but children know hypocrisy when they see it, and they know that when parents say one thing and do another, they don't really need to listen to what we say, and they will do what we do. Once we learn to slow down ourselves, we can help our children feel the benefit of discovering whatever it is that makes them happy, and the importance of adding a little bit of happiness to their day. More importantly, we allow them to be exactly who they are, as they are in this moment and show them they are enough, exactly as they are, and can find happiness in themselves right now.
By slowing down, we are giving our children the most important gift we can give them - - time. We can teach them that they don't need to be constantly moving to find themselves. It is much easier to find themselves by being still. In their quiet and stillness they can gain self-awareness and self-acceptance which will guide them toward their passions, spark creativity and help them find contentment and happiness in the simple pleasures of life. They will no longer value themselves through their successes and their failures, but can learn to use their experiences as a way of understanding themselves. They can discover the daily pleasures of life that will fulfill them and bring them a bit of happiness each day, and discover their own unique gifts they have to offer the world. Perhaps the best gift we can give our children is to show them the value of doing less, having less and in looking inward to find their greatest gift they can give to the world, their true, authentic selves. In doing this, we can help our children thrive.
We recently lost a very beautiful woman, my grandmother, Florence Katz. She lived a long, full life and recently passed away after 100 years of truly living life to the fullest. She was the most loving, generous and kindest person I have ever met. At her memorial service, my brother David beautifully summed up our thoughts about a truly incredible woman that I wanted to share below. We were fortunate to be with her during her final days. She truly embodied the meaning of being present, being kind, being optimistic even when facing great hardships, and living life to its fullest. (After this was posted, a beautiful tribute to my grandmother was published in the Herald Tribune, see More Than 52 Million Minutes, and She Made Them All Count)
My Grandma. How does one summarize the life and meaning of a person. One does not. I can only give you a feeling, a glimpse into the life of Florence Katz by telling you what she has meant to me and my family. I have written several speeches throughout the years. Some speeches were challenging, others were not so hard. With a subject as beautiful and colorful as Grandma Katz, this one pretty much writes itself.
The last few days of her life were heartbreaking. But as so much was in her life, there was beauty everywhere, every minute. She was so frail, so tiny. She could hardly breath. We saw her like this so many times before. She always seemed to defy the odds and bounce back. We could not help imagining her bouncing back again. She seemed to realize that this was the end before we could. Without her contacts or glasses, she recognized everyone around her. With every stroke of her hand, with every kiss on her cheek, she simply said "thank you". She told us how much she loved us and how proud she was of us. She would be our glowing, proud grandmother with every last breath she had. She said her goodbyes, she told us to remember how wonderful her husband was. When she was somewhere between life and death, she called out to him, to her son, Nathan, and to her mother. It was somehow a relief to believe she would soon be with them. She held our hands, seeming to comfort us as much as we were trying to comfort her. She heard Karen's piano playing from the other room and a smile formed on her face. "Beautiful", she said. She was at peace, surrounded by family, listening to music just as she wanted and just as she deserved.
You all might know the famous line from Elton John's song "Like A Candle in the Wind." Her flame seemed so delicate and easily blown out with a gentle breeze. Well, anyone who knows Florence Katz knows she was more like a blow torch in a hurricane. Nothing was going to blow out her flame. And we all know that she came close too many times to count. I think that after she lost her sight and her ability to go out with friends and family, she was ready to leave, and, as usual, on her own terms. She was going to leave this world from the peaceful quiet of her sunroom surrounded by family while listening to her granddaughter playing the piano from the other room.
We were privileged to be able to laugh with grandma even as she was fading from us in her sun room at the Sarasota Bay Club. We told her we loved her. She told us to take her piano. We told her how special she was. She ask who is going to take the piano. We told her we would miss her. She made us promise again that someone would take her piano. We laughed. Through our tears, we laughed and grandma smiled. She knew that in life, no matter how great the sorrow, there was always room for laughter.
Look around and you will see the great joy and love she brought to the world. She touched everyone she knew in deep and profound ways. People look for the meaning of life as soon as they can ask the question. People climb to the peaks of mountains, meet with the Buddhist monks in the east. We read, we pray, we fast. If you have looked into the eyes of Florence Katz and spent any amount of time with her, you have learned the meaning of life: To live, to love, to laugh, to cry, to play music, to listen with your eyes closed, to conduct an entire orchestra. Or, to teach your great grandchild to create art in your kitchen, one tiny shell at a time. She taught us the meaning of life whether we knew it or not.
As my sisters and I grew bigger, my dear grandma seemed to be shrinking. No matter how small grandma got, she still seemed larger than life. No matter how softly she spoke, her words were loud and clear. How could someone so small carry so much weight. How could someone so tiny bear so much pain. How could someone so petite leave such big footprints. We have learned and loved so much from you. "Take care of each other." "Family comes first." "Always live each day as if it were your last."
- David Vigder, December 30, 2015
Our children experience growing pains as their bodies undergo the incredible transformation from child to adult. As parents, we also experience growing pains, those aches and pains of the heart that we feel while watching our children grow from babies to fully formed adults. Just as our children must learn to deal with their sporadic aches and pains of growth, we must also learn to deal with the joys and the pains of our journey through parenthood.
With newborns, I was often sleep deprived and exhausted from the physical demands and the daunting responsibility of nurturing a tiny being that depended on me for its very survival. I don't miss my diaper bag or the large circles under my eyes, but I do miss listening to that unbridled laughter, and holding that tiny ball of warm flesh curled up, fast asleep in my arms. Next came toddlerhood and temper tantrums, the refusal to be buckled into a car seat until I practically had to sit on him, and the beginning signs of finicky eating. It also brought those precious first words and hilarious sentences as he attempted to express his thoughts and feelings, watching his pure joy in simple playtime, and soaking up the smell of his freshly bathed skin wrapped up in cute little pajamas sitting on my lap, captivated by a bedtime story.
How quickly they grow! Before you know it, that cute little toddler was off to school. As I reluctantly released his tiny little hand from mine, and watched him take his first steps toward independence, I felt a small pit in my stomach and an ache in my heart, fully aware that this was just first of many steps I would take in letting him go.
I have been told by many friends and family members whose children are grown about the great joy I will experience watching my children become fully independent adults. And, I have been warned of the tremendous hole their departure will leave in my heart. They look longingly at me (usually when I am complaining to them about the eighth carpool I have driven that day) and say, “Enjoy these days. The time goes so fast and before you know it, they will be gone.” So, I continue to do my best to be present and enjoy each phase of our lives together, and meet the demands of where I am now, which happens to be parenting teenagers.
Yes, I am on the rollercoaster of parenting teenagers, which certainly has some unique growing pains for everyone involved. As parents of teens know well, some days teenagers are the kind, sweet children who look at you and just need a hug, some advice and a warm meal. Other days it seems whatever we say is wrong and not worth their time. Or, a simple look or question like, “How was your day?” Brings an annoyed response like, “Why do you always ask me that? ” Leaving me dumbfounded as to how my attempt at simple conversation became an annoying intrusion into their lives, and wondering where that warm little mound of flesh that sat so sweetly on my lap has gone?
I have learned that being the parent of an adolescent requires a tremendous amount of patience and understanding, and lots of deep breathing. I have also learned that I am not alone, and there is great strength in sharing and connecting with other parents who are experiencing similar growing pains. It is also helpful to remember how I felt as a teenager when I too thought my parents were clueless and annoying (sorry mom and dad). It’s just hard to believe that I am now that “clueless” and “annoying” parent. I somehow thought that through proper parenting I could avoid such interactions. I now know, however, that this teenage behavior is an essential part of growing up. Not only a rite of passage, but also a necessary, developmentally appropriate step toward independence.
Gretchen Schmelzer's Letter Your Teenager Can’t Write You is a beautiful reminder to parents of what our teenagers are experiencing. It helps to hear their voice, even if they cannot or will not formulate these words themselves. It expresses what they need from us, and how we can be there for them through this difficult time in their lives.
This is the letter I wish I could write.
This fight we are in right now. I need it. I need this fight. I can’t tell you this because I don’t have the language for it and it wouldn’t make sense anyway. But I need this fight. Badly. I need to hate you right now and I need you to survive it. I need you to survive my hating you and you hating me. I need this fight even though I hate it too. It doesn’t matter what this fight is even about: curfew, homework, laundry, my messy room, going out, staying in, leaving, not leaving, boyfriend, girlfriend, no friends, bad friends. It doesn’t matter. I need to fight you on it and I need you to fight me back.
I desperately need you to hold the other end of the rope. To hang on tightly while I thrash on the other end—while I find the handholds and footholds in this new world I feel like I am in. I used to know who I was, who you were, who we were. But right now I don’t. Right now I am looking for my edges and I can sometimes only find them when I am pulling on you. When I push everything I used to know to its edge. Then I feel like I exist and for a minute I can breathe. I know you long for the sweeter kid that I was. I know this because I long for that kid too, and some of that longing is what is so painful for me right now.
I need this fight and I need to see that no matter how bad or big my feelings are—they won’t destroy you or me. I need you to love me even at my worst, even when it looks like I don’t love you. I need you to love yourself and me for the both of us right now. I know it sucks to be disliked and labeled the bad guy. I feel the same way on the inside, but I need you to tolerate it and get other grownups to help you. Because I can’t right now. If you want to get all of your grown up friends together and have a ‘surviving-your-teenager-support-group-rage-fest’ that’s fine with me. Or talk about me behind my back--I don’t care. Just don’t give up on me. Don’t give up on this fight. I need it.
This is the fight that will teach me that my shadow is not bigger than my light. This is the fight that will teach me that bad feelings don’t mean the end of a relationship. This is the fight that will teach me how to listen to myself, even when it might disappoint others.
And this particular fight will end. Like any storm, it will blow over. And I will forget and you will forget. And then it will come back. And I will need you to hang on to the rope again. I will need this over and over for years.
I know there is nothing inherently satisfying in this job for you. I know I will likely never thank you for it or even acknowledge your side of it. In fact I will probably criticize you for all this hard work. It will seem like nothing you do will be enough. And yet, I am relying entirely on your ability to stay in this fight. No matter how much I argue. No matter how much I sulk. No matter how silent I get.
Please hang on to the other end of the rope. And know that you are doing the most important job that anyone could possibly be doing for me right now.
© 2015 Gretchen L Schmelzer PhD- reprinted with permission
So, I continue to remind myself how difficult it is not only to be the parent of a teenager, but to be a teenager. I continue to take lots of deep breaths, send them my love, my understanding and my forgiveness, try not to react from a place of anger but with compassion, and offer them my presence for the joys and the growing pains of adolescence.
Let me start by saying there is no such thing as perfect parenting. Period. Full Stop. Instead, I would say that the only type of parenting is imperfect parenting. I think that we can all agree that we do that quite well. This is not due to a lack of trying. As parents, we are very busy trying to do the right thing for our children. We buy parenting books, full of expert advice, to teach us how to parent better. I have stacks and stacks of these books lining my bookshelves at home; each offering me loads of advice on how to raise my children. I have attempted to read many of them, but I must admit that I have barely scratched the surface. I usually get through the first few chapters when I am interrupted by my life -- my children asking me for help with a problem, dinner to cook, a carpool to drive, an argument I need to help settle, or the most challenging of all, my very heavy eyelids refusing to remain open after a busy day. In my long search for answers, I have come across some deeply meaningful ideas that translate into what I consider the keys to parenting. Three qualities of awareness that help me to be less bound to the pages of my parenting books (that I never seem to finish), and free to raise my children from a place of authenticity. These help me to understand my own values, to do what feels right and to connect to my children in a deep and meaningful way. They are:
(1) Presence. I try very hard to take time to be fully present with my children. I am far from perfect at this, but I am trying. For example, I have caught myself having breakfast with my precious 9 year-old, unable to recount what I imagine was probably a beautiful story she just told, because I was distracted or too busy in my own head to listen to her. I have to remind myself to turn off my phone, power down my laptop, clear my thoughts, judgments and analysis, and simply be there, like a sponge, for my child. It is important to remember that this is not a matter of quantity of time; it is a matter of quality of time. It is about picking your moments and not being afraid to say, “I can’t listen right now, let me finish what I am doing and then I am all yours.” And then doing it. To have a few minutes a day of true listening, paying full attention, is such a gift to you and to your child. No special toys need to be purchased; no elaborate trips need to be taken, just being fully present with your child allows your child to feel felt and to be heard, and gives you the opportunity to connect in a deep and meaningful way.
(2) Understanding. It may seem easy to be present, but to be present with an open mind and an open heart is a much greater challenge. It is acting more like a sponge than a bumper, absorbing and taking in what your child is doing, saying, feeling and thinking, rather than diverting or invalidating their thoughts and feelings. For example, when a child says, “You never listen to me.” It is refraining from saying, “Yes I do. I always listen to you.” And, instead, understanding that your child doesn’t feel listened to. It means seeing things from your child’s point of view, putting yourself in your child’s shoes. In doing this, you not only validate their feelings and experiences, but you can also better understand what your child needs from you and how you can best serve your child.
(3) Acceptance. Our willingness to recognize and accept our children’s thoughts and feelings enables us to see our children for who they really are, and not who we want them to be. It also allows us as parents to see ourselves the way we really are and not the way we wish to be. This acceptance fosters self-confidence, safety and comfort in children and in parents. It releases us from the cycle of disappointment after failing to meet unrealistic expectations, and allows us the freedom to embrace what is, who we are and who our children are, and all the possibilities that come from that very real place.
The challenges of parenting are constantly changing. We have to be able to be present for the laughter and joy, and face the fear and uncertainty as they come. The best we can do is parent from a place of love and not fear, and acknowledge that we are doing the best that we can.
My family is spread out geographically. My brother, sister, parents and I live in four different states making our time together much less frequent than we would like. Yet, four generations, from ages 9 to 99, had the opportunity to spend a very special 48 hours together this weekend. I feel incredibly blessed to have had this time together. The most touching part of the weekend for me was watching my 99 year old grandmother sit in a circle with all nine of her great grandchildren and share her life stories. As we listened to her weave her tales, we marveled at what she has lived through in her lifetime, from the Great Depression and two World Wars, to the use of the first cars, airplanes, televisions, computers, cell phones and the internet. It is difficult for my children to comprehend the world she grew up in, and wonderful to watch their faces as they hear her first-hand accounts of how the world has changed, and how it has stayed the same, over the past 100 years.
We also had the privilege of watching my grandmother in action, glimpsing secrets to her fountain of youth. I have often wondered how she does it. At 99 years old, she has more energy and stamina than most of us half her age.
Grandma, this is what I came up with . . . the most important lessons you have taught me that can help me live a long, happy and meaningful life.
#1 – Don’t Eat Wheat – Her first response to my question on what her secret is to living a long life was rather unexpected. My grandmother has had a severe wheat allergy for most of her life, so she was probably one of the pioneers of gluten free eating. Not the philosophical answer I was looking for, but maybe there is something to it ????
#2 - Wake Up Each Morning and Be Thankful You are Alive - My grandmother has a remarkable appreciation for her good fortune. Instead of complaining about her shoulder pain, her loss of hearing and her weakening vision, she refuses to dwell on what she lacks and instead focuses on what she has. She told me that she wakes up each morning and thanks God each day that she is still alive. Over her lifetime, she has suffered some terrible losses including the early loss of her husband and later her son. Yet, she has always amazed me with her strength and courage in the face of her difficulties and continues to live with optimism and with great appreciation for all that she has.
#3 – Never Give Up - She admits that some days it is hard to get out of bed, but she gets up anyway. As long as she still is able, she will persevere. For her, the trials of growing old are simply more challenges to face and conquer each day. She told us to never give up, always keep trying, that is the only way to succeed.
#4 - Serve Others – Twice a week, every week, my grandmother volunteers at a senior center where she serves meals to people who are homebound and in need of food and camaraderie. You should know that most of the seniors she is serving are considerably younger than her. It is quite clear by the great joy on her face as she describes this work that she gets as much or more than she gives from her service to those in need.
#5 - Always Be Kind – I have never met anyone with more admirers than my grandmother. From the man who parks cars in her building, to the wait staff at her favorite restaurant, to the custodian at her temple, everyone tells me how much they love my grandmother. The reason is quite clear, no matter who you are, she shows you kindness and respect. She thanks you for what you do and is always so grateful to each and everyone who touches her life in any way. From thanking me every time I call her, to the huge smile and warm hugs she gives everyone she meets, she never misses an opportunity to let us know that we are loved and appreciated. Her incredibly kind treatment of others comes back to her ten fold.
#6 - Surround Yourself with People You Love and Who Love You – My grandmother is fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible group of friends, all widowed, all with amazing life stories of their own, and all there to offer each other friendship and support. She and her friends discuss politics and world events, share the accomplishments of their families and always schedule a competitive game of Rumikub or Gin Rummy (and they are tough competitors). They visit each other when someone is sick, check on each other when someone is absent and always include each other in their daily lives. It is an amazing sisterhood of support and love that keeps us assured that she is in very good hands when we cannot be nearby.
#7 - Always Keep Moving - We use to beg my grandmother to slow down, rest and do less. But a few years ago, we realized that her very active life was her way of staying young – her fountain of youth. She simply refuses to “act her age.” She lives in what I would characterize as camp (although a very sophisticated one). Her weekly activities include pool aerobics, yoga classes, competitive Wii bowling, memoir writing classes, movie nights and the all-important weekly trips to the dollar store (from which we are the proud recipients of care packages). In addition to all of those activities, there is rarely a concert she will miss, a social invitation she turns down or a party she does not attend (especially one that requires her to dress up in costume). It is exhausting for us to imagine her schedule, but she would not have it any other way.
If you are reading this Grandma, how did I do? Please send your edits my way. And, keep on planning that big 100th birthday celebration (we will be there), take it easy on your competitors in Wii bowling and keep doing your yoga! We will be back soon to visit and if you don’t have time to call me back, it’s OK – I know you are busy!
Most importantly, know how much we love you and how important you are in all of our lives.
Recently, as I was driving my youngest daughter to her tennis lesson, I was alarmed to hear a deep, raspy cough come from her little body. I told her that we needed go to the doctor to get her throat checked. Much to my surprise, she responded, "Mom, we don't have time for that." It was one of those parenting moments that stopped me in my tracks, realizing that the message that I want to teach my children was not coming through loud and clear, but rather being muddled and muddied by my actions, and our busy schedules. The number one stressor of adults and teens today is time -- having too much to do and not enough time to do it all. Children and teens, and not just the adults who care for them, are feeling the stress of overloaded schedules, and the pressure to do so much and to do it all well. Many of my favorite childhood memories are of long, lazy weekends, or afternoons filled with what seemed like endless hours of unstructured, unscheduled playtime. Yet, I often wonder what memories my own children will have of their childhood? Will they remember long, lazy days full of fun and imaginative play or will they remember rushing from one activity to the next?
We are blessed to have so many wonderful opportunities for ourselves and for our children, but the stress and anxiety from being over-scheduled may virtually eliminate the benefits gained from those activities. As Henry David Thoreau put it, “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” Perhaps it is a return to the simple things that we enjoyed as children that would have a greater impact on our children's creativity, self esteem and happiness. They grow up too quickly as it is. Perhaps helping them to slow down is the best gift we can give them -- allowing them time to make a mess, time to clean up, time to make mistakes and time to learn from them, time to create and time to imagine.
As the beautiful flowers are blooming outside, I am reminded once again how important it is to literally stop and smell the roses, to enjoy the incredible opportunity of an unplanned afternoon, and to make sure that my children experience the great joys in slowing down, in not feeling rushed, and in taking the time to just be.
Thoughts from Week 2 of the Real Happiness - 28 Day Meditation Challenge . . .
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil – It is anger, fear, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
This Native American Cherokee story was told to me three times in one week, by three different people, in completely unrelated situations. A message from the Universe, heard loud and clear. I love this story because it relates so beautifully to the practice of meditation and mindfulness. We are motivated either by love or by fear. The amazing part of a meditation practice is that we can begin to observe our patterns of behavior, thoughts and emotions, to see them for what they really are -- fear based acts or acts of unconditional love. Once we become more aware and see ourselves more clearly, we can decide how we choose to act -- an amazingly powerful process. The other incredible benefit from a meditation practice is that we can cultivate a different attitude or lens through which we see the world. We can choose to act from love rather than from fear, and practice creating positive neural pathways (the scientifically researched approach) or practice lovingkindness (the 2500 year-old Buddhist meditation approach). However one chooses to explain the process, we can choose to act from love rather than from fear. In doing so, the world becomes a different place (kinder, gentler, more loving), and we begin to move in it with greater joy and greater ease. So, this week, as I continue Week 2 of my Meditation Challenge, I look deeper at which wolf I feed, and continue to choose love.
Day 3 – Snow Day!
For those of you in the New York area, today, Day 3 of the 28 Day Meditation Challenge is a day where 6 to 10 inches of beautiful, puffy white snow is falling. Most schools and activities have been cancelled for my kids, and the day has transformed from a busy one full of things to do and places to be, to a day to stay home and relax, to read, play and enjoy being together. Just yesterday, I wrote about how I was getting ready for a very busy week ahead. I was strategizing how to use my meditation practice to remain calm and focused while working through my long “to do” list on Monday morning. How I love the unpredictability of life . . . a snow day . . . . and I didn’t even know snow was in the forecast.
The upside of a snow day . . . . it allows me and my children the opportunity to hit the PAUSE button. Snow days are the perfect time for them to stop, breathe and abandon their all-too-busy schedules for a day to play in the snow, to read a book, to cook with mom, to sleep in, and to just be.
The challenge of a snow day . . . as all of you parents home with your kids know, snow days do not come without their own challenges (chaos in the kitchen, teenagers glued to their technology and kids begging to make plans with their friends). We always want to clear our children’s schedules, and once we do, we often recognize that routine and schedules can be a very good thing. The real goal, as always, is to be fully present – not planning for tomorrow or using this time to add to my list of things to do -- but to enjoy this wave of downtime, of togetherness and to take a moment or two throughout the day to watch the beautiful, white snow falling outside my window, which is always a powerful reminder of the beauty around us and the importance of being fully present to enjoy it while it lasts.
The snow day really helps me to recognize again exactly what mindfulness and meditation can help us with most. It helps us to ride the waves, the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows, the unexpected change of plans, and the full range of emotions we experience along the way. We learn to enjoy what is right before us, not think about what was supposed to be, or could have been or what will never be, but accept what is. We tap in to our inner “OK-ness,” the amazing ability to recognize that we are going to be OK, whatever the situation, connecting to our inner strength and inner peace to face whatever life brings our way each day.
Happy Snow Day!!
Mindful Parenting Exercise:
The lesson that we are enough just as we are is such an important lesson to teach our children and to remind ourselves, as they struggle to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Adolescence, in particular, is a time when children are constantly judging themselves by comparing themselves to others or their own view of who they think they should be. We live in an age where children quantify their own worth by how many friends they have on Facebook or how many likes they have on Instagram. As parents, we need to encourage our children to look inside themselves to discover their own inherent worth and inner strength. We can do this by praising our children’s acts of love, compassion and kindness, and their willingness to try and take risks, rather than praising only their accomplishments. In doing so, we teach them to value the strength of their character rather than value only their achievements.
Try the following exercise at home with your kids. At dinner, ask each person at the table to take a piece of paper and write down five things that they love about themselves. Emphasize that these are for their eyes only. See what happens. It is interesting to see how easy or how difficult this can be. Parents should participate as well. There are no right or wrong answers and there is no need to share. This is simply an exercise to get people to acknowledge their strengths and foster a positive self-image. Younger children may find this easy and may ask if they can list more than five things. It is the teenagers and adults who may have difficulty making this list. Encourage everyone to participate and take pride in the fact that they love things about themselves. Another variation that might be easier for some, is to make a list of what they did well that day, something(s) they can be proud of.
Another wonderful family dinner exercise is to go around the table and have each person say something that they love about another family member. It can be as simple as loving the way someone laughs, loving the way they are tucked in each night, or loving the silly faces someone makes. Continue around the table as many times as you want, each time having one person speak about a different person at the table. This may foster some laughs, some love and some real boosts in self-esteem. It is also a practice in gratitude by recognizing the little things that others do each day that make us happy.
Hurricane Sandy was a massive storm that caused great devastation and loss of life along the Northeastern United States. My prayers go out to all of those who lost so much in the storm. Having lived through it with my children, and having been incredibly fortunate not to have been severely impacted by its wrath, I now have the opportunity to reflect on the many teachable moments Sandy has provided me and my children. Here are a few of the things that we were reminded of this past week in the aftermath of a superstorm.
Lesson Number One: Less is More
In the hours before the storm hit, my family and I rushed to remove all the items from our basement to protect them from being destroyed by the expected ten to fifteen foot tidal surge that would soon sweep through our community. Living only minutes from the Long Island Sound, and having a tidal estuary in our backyard, we had good reason to fear that our property might be inundated by the salty waters that Sandy would send our way.
As my family raced to bring all of our belongings from our basement up the stairs to areas we hoped would be spared, I took a moment to evaluate the situation. What was all this “stuff” that we were moving around? If the waves rolled in and completely ruined all of these items, would my life be greatly impacted? I realized then, that none of this “stuff” really mattered. All that really mattered was the safety of the people helping to move all that stuff upstairs. As long as they were safe, the rest was all either replaceable or simply unnecessary. So the first teachable moment for me was the opportunity to take a good look at all the things that we have, to recognize how unimportant most of those things really are, and to focus on what really matters.
We spend so much of our time, working so hard to accumulate things - new clothes, a new car, new furniture, new toys, a bigger house. Do those things really improve our quality of life? Is all of that stuff really so important? Is it important enough to justify the amount of time we spend trying to get more of it? Perhaps constantly adding to our "stuff" diminishes the value of each item and teaches our children the wrong message, that each item is only valuable and useful until we are able to find its newer, and more exciting replacement.
As I was hauling all this "stuff" up the stairs, I was struck with the realization that if everything were to get flooded in that space, it is not the items that I would miss most. It is the space itself that provided us the opportunity to have fun, to learn, to be together and to create great memories, that is what we do in our homes (no matter how big or small, full or empty), and those experiences cannot be destroyed even by a superstorm.
The tidal surge came and went and the flood waters filled our street. We returned to our home the next day to assess the damage. As we approached the lowest elevation point on our street, we had to walk knee deep through the cold salty water to get to our home. The water was slowly receding, and as we approached our home, we realized that we were incredibly lucky. The water had reached our garage but did not find its way into our home. Many of our neighbors were not as lucky.
As I looked at the piles of "stuff" now upstairs untouched by the flood, I decided to pack much of it up, along with many other items from around the house, and put everything in boxes to donate. Perhaps someone else, someone who lost so much in the storm, or others who had so little before the storm would be happy to have some.
Lesson Number Two: We are all in this together.
After realizing the great devastation and loss that many are experiencing after the storm, people are mobilizing in great numbers to help those in need. This sense of connection, kindness and compassion was also palpable in the days and hours before and during the storm. There seemed to be a feeling in the air that we were all in this together, whatever may come.
This strong sense of interconnection was in stark contrast to how we live our normal, busy everyday lives. Usually, we are so focused on meeting our own needs and the needs of our families, that we forget how wonderful it is to connect to those around us. This incredible weather event connected so many people in so many ways. It was not just the opportunity to donate to the hurricane relief efforts after the storm, it was also the numerous phone calls from friends and family in other parts of the country reaching out to check in to see if we were safe. It was the caring conversations with total strangers in the grocery line in the hours before the storm, reassuring one another that it would be OK and making suggestions on what we might need in the days to come. It was the endless e-mails from friends and neighbors asking who lost power, who needed a warm place to stay, who needed food, and following up with offers to help.
This was such a wonderful reminder that we all face challenges in our lives and we can get through those challenges with greater ease if we show kindness and compassion to one another. Although we live in a western world in which we are often focused on “me” and “mine,” it was so nice to see that in times of great need, people were focused on “you” and “yours” or on “us.” We saw first hand how much richer life is when everyone cares a bit more for one another.
Lesson Number Three - If Given the Choice to Laugh or to Cry, Choose to Laugh!
The night of the storm, we decided to leave our house out of concern for our safety and spend the night in a home nearby with 25 friends and family members. In the midst of the storm we gathered. We played cards, listened to the news and laughed a bit at the situation we were in. At the time, I was fascinated by the storm and the potentially devastating impact that it would have on people’s lives. So, the laughter that night at first seemed a bit inappropriate. However, I soon realized that there was nothing any of us could do at the time, other than what we were doing. We had a choice. We could tremble with fear and worry in anticipation of what might be, or we could chose to sit tight, recognize that we were safe and make the best of our current situation. This is so often our choice in life when circumstances arise that are beyond our control. When given the choice to laugh or to cry when life gets challenging, always chose to laugh, and that is what we did.
There were many opportunities to make the best of a bad situation in the days that followed. When we returned home, large hundred-year-old trees had fallen in our yard. We were in awe of their grandeur and of the massive root systems that towered over us as they lay sadly on their sides, permanently uprooted. As children so often do, my children saw the fun and found the joy in this new situation and decided to climb up on the now horizontal trunks and delighted in the giant bridges the trees now made across our yard. They played in the enormous holes in the ground left behind by the now uprooted giants. They splashed through the waters that flooded our streets and explored their new surroundings with awe and with laughter.
We saw first hand, on television, in the news and in our own community, the devastation that this storm brought to so many people’s lives, but in the midst of those struggles that often cause tears, it was so wonderful to be able to laugh a bit at the absurdity of it all and find great joy in the fact that we are here, that we all came together to face the storm, and that we are incredibly grateful for all that we have, most of which a storm could never take away.
We all know that parenting can be a challenge. Many of us have undergraduate and advanced degrees and have continued our professional training, but it is rare to find a course in what is arguably our most important job - parenting. So, we at 2bpresent, hope to pass on to you any helpful bits of advice that we find along our journey on how to become a better parent. In the book, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn offer the following exercises that are wonderful tools to make our jobs as parents a bit easier and, perhaps a bit more rewarding and fulfilling, even at the most difficult moments.
12 Exercises for Mindful Parenting:
- Try to imagine the world from your child's point of view, purposefully letting go of your own. Do this every day for at least a few moments to remind you of who this child is and what he or she faces in the world.
- Imagine how you appear and sound from your child's point of view, i.e., having you as a parent today, in this moment. How might this modify how you carry yourself in your body and in space, how you speak, and what you say? How do you want to relate to your child in this moment?
- Practice seeing your children as perfect just the way they are. See if you can stay mindful of their sovereignty from moment to moment, and work at accepting them as they are when it is hardest for you to do so.
- Be mindful of your expectations of your children and consider whether they are truly in your child's best interest. Also, be aware of how you communicate those expectations and how they affect your children.
- Practice altruism, putting the needs of your children above your own whenever possible. Then see if there isn't some common ground, where your true needs can also be met. You may be surprised at how much overlap is possible, especially if you are patient and strive for balance.
- When you feel lost, or at a loss, remember to stand still and meditate on the whole by bringing your full attention to the situation, to your child, to yourself, to the family. In doing so, you may go beyond thinking, even good thinking, and perceive intuitively, with the whole of your being, what needs to be done. If that is not clear in any moment, maybe the best thing is to not do anything until it becomes clearer. Sometimes it is good to remain silent.
- Try embodying silent presence. This will grow out of both formal and informal mindfulness practice over time if you attend to how you carry yourself and what you project in body, mind, and speech. Listen carefully.
- Learn to live with tension without losing your own balance. In Zen and the Art of Archery, Herrigel describes how he was taught to stand at the point of highest tension effortlessly without shooting the arrow. At the right moment, the arrow mysteriously shoots itself. Practice moving into any moment, however difficult, without trying to change anything and without having to have a particular outcome occur. Simply bring your full awareness and presence to this moment. Practice seeing that whatever comes up is "workable" if you are willing to trust your intuition. Your child needs you to be a center of balance and trustworthiness, a reliable landmark by which he or she can take a bearing within his or her own landscape. Arrow and target need each other. They will find each other best through wise attention and patience.
- Apologize to your child when you have betrayed a trust in even a little way. Apologies are healing. An apology demonstrates that you have thought about a situation and have come to see it more clearly, or perhaps more from your child's point of view. But be mindful of being "sorry" too often. It loses its meaning if you are always saying it, making regret into a habit. Then it can become a way not to take responsibility for your actions. Cooking in remorse on occasion is a good meditation. Don't shut off the stove until the meal is ready.
- Every child is special, and every child has special needs. Each sees in an entirely unique way. Hold an image of each child in your heart. Drink in their being, wishing them well.
- There are important times when we need to be clear and strong and unequivocal with children. Let this come as much as possible out of awareness, generosity, and discernment, rather than out of fear, self-righteousness, or the desire to control. Mindful parenting does not mean being overindulgent, neglectful, or weak; nor does it mean being rigid, domineering, and controlling.
- The greatest gift you can give your child is your self. This means that part of your work as a parent is to keep growing in self-knowledge and awareness. This ongoing work can be furthered by making a time for quiet contemplation in whatever ways feel comfortable to us. We only have right now. Let us use it to its best advantage, for our children's sake, and for our own.
Excerpted from Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn.
I had always imagined that I would one day be a wise old lady, imparting profound words of wisdom about life and teaching my children how to navigate through it. After twelve years of motherhood, I now realize that I have learned more from my children than I ever could have imagined. They have become my greatest teachers.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I did whatever I could to learn about the big job ahead of me – motherhood. I took Lamaze classes and bought all of the latest books on pregnancy, sleep training, parenting philosophies and childhood illnesses. After many months of preparation, I went to what would be my last OBGYN appointment only to learn that the baby had flipped himself to a breach position and that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. I would need a c-section the next day. At that moment, all of my planning and preparation for the way I wanted this birth to happen was down the tubes – no Lamaze breathing, no natural childbirth, no week to finish work and prepare for his arrival.
Similarly, after he arrived, all of my plans to mold and shape this little bundle of joy into a well-scheduled, sleep-through-the-night baby were also quickly forgotten. No feeding schedules, no regular nighttime routines, no sleeping through the night were in our future. Up to this point in my life, I worked hard in school and got good grades, worked hard in my job and got good performance reviews, and worked hard to keep my life well-planned, setting goals for myself and achieving them. But this new role, motherhood, was going to be different. The first lesson that I learned from my son was that despite my best efforts and best-laid plans, I was not in control.
The next lesson came quickly as well. Much to my surprise, I learned that my role as a mom was not to shape and mold my children into the people I wanted them to be. Instead, I would have a much different, more passive role in their development. I have learned that my job is to love and nurture them, keep them safe from harm and simply watch them grow. Parenting is like planting a garden. We can water our plants to help them grow, add fertilizer to make them strong, and put them in the sunlight to help them thrive, all while trying to protect them from the dangers of hungry birds, animals and insects, but we cannot determine what type of plant will grow. That is up to the seed itself.
Then came the most intriguing lesson of all. My children are chock-full of great insight and wisdom. All I have to do is be sure to listen. When my son was four years old, he would cry and cling to my legs each morning at drop off, pleading not to leave him. This routine broke my heart every day, until one day he looked into my eyes while I was giving him one last tight hug good-bye before the tears would begin to flow, and he said, “I’m OK mommy. Just go.” It was then that I realized through his simple, but incredibly insightful words that it was me who was having a difficult time letting him go and that he would be OK without me.
These words of wisdom from our children are everywhere if we just pay attention to them. One rainy morning, on our way to school, I remarked to my children, “What a yukky day!” My littlest child quickly replied, “It’s not yukky, it’s just raining.” I have never looked at a rainy day quite the same since then.
More recently, my seven year old asked me if her Nana would be OK after she was diagnosed with cancer. I replied, “I certainly hope so.” My son then piped in, “You know that you can get very sick from even a common cold.” To which my youngest child thought for a moment and then said, “Oh . . . (pause) . . . what’s for lunch?” This may sound like a silly conversation, but I found it to be quite profound. As I listened to this exchange, I thought to myself, what a great way to look at life – to recognize that things happen which are completely out of our control and that often all that we can do is simply hope for the best and try not to worry so much about that which we cannot change, but instead live in the moment. If only our minds could stay as clear and uncomplicated as the mind of a child.
As adults, we often dismiss our children’s insights as naïve and think that they are simply unable to comprehend the significance of the situation. But instead, I think that we, as adults, often spend too much time worrying about all of the possibilities of what might be, making everything so complicated, and forgetting to notice what is right in front of us.
Our children have a magical way of staying connected to themselves and to the world around them. We can all learn from them how to once again look at life with eyes untainted by judgment, cynicism and worry, to let go of our need to control what is or what will be and, instead, to live fully in each moment and enjoy the simple things that can be so amazing and so beautiful if we take the time to notice them.
**One of the most beautiful essays I have read about parenting is All My Babies Are Gone Now, by Anna Quindlen. She writes from the perspective of having already lived through the ups and downs of mothering young children, and her insights looking back at those years are powerful. She has inspired me to think more about parenting and about what parenthood is really all about. Please check out her thoughts on parenthood by clicking here.