My ten year old has a lot going on these days. She lives between two homes, (mom’s house and our house) she goes to school, participates in activities and has (finally) made some good friends! Her world is bigger than it used to be, and she’s got the mental exhaustion to prove it.
This past week was even wilder than usual. My husband took a vacation from work, and we decided to end our summer break with a bang! We took a few little day trips and spent a night at Great Wolf Lodge. There were a ton of moving parts, things to remember, and stress. At some point we all had to just let go of the reigns and go with the flow- especially Arielle.
When Arielle has a lot on her mind it doesn’t come out as, “I’m stressed out.” She can’t always describe or communicate her feelings. Sometimes she’s even so overwhelmed that she can’t say anything at all. In our younger parenting days we would have gotten angry at these moments- wondered why she couldn’t just behave and enjoy our expensive week. We would match her frustration, angry that she wasn’t appreciating our hard work and planning. It only made things worse.
You see, parents can not control the way their child behaves. They can only control their OWN behavior in response to their child’s actions. We try to teach them, we try to shape them into model citizens. What we really need to do is HELP them.
Our kids have responded very well with the coping mechanisms and mental health awareness I have shared with them lately. When I noticed Arielle was being mentally spread thin, I decided to introduce mindfulness. She needed to gather herself, to do one thing well instead of a million things at low power.
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment. Don’t worry about the past, don’t stress about the future. Focus on the moment you are in, and let the rest go.
We were at the indoor water park when Arielle had a moment of anxiety. She couldn’t remember if she had brought her phone charger from her mom’s house. This problem was completely irrelevant to the moment- there was no one she needed to call at that time, and water is the last thing her phone needed. She was still stuck on it. “I know it doesn’t matter, I just can’t remember and it’s driving me crazy.” I tried to calm her fears by telling her that we had many micro USB chargers, and even if she did forget it she would be able to use an alternate. She nodded in understanding but I could see in her lack of eye contact that she was still racking her brain for the answer.
This is where I reached my parenting ‘fork in the road.” Path A was to get annoyed. We had spent a TON of money to come to Great Wolf. It had been a ton of energy to pack and haul all three kids around. It would have been easy to get mad and call her ungrateful. Path B was to help her. Yes, I mean help her relax and maybe even help her focus, but most of all, I wanted to help her enjoy herself.
I asked her if she knew what mindfulness was and she just kind of nodded. In a dazed voice she said, “kind of, they told us what it was in health class once.” I could tell she was still thinking about the charger. I sat down to bring us closer to eye-to-eye level. Just the change in position seemed to snap her back to the present. All of a sudden I had her full attention.
I told her that this was a great moment to be mindful. We didn’t have to think about what was going on at her mom’s house, or even ours. We didn’t have to think about tomorrow or what we were going to do after lunch. In this exact moment, all we had to worry about was choosing our favorite waterslide. She laughed, and I knew she was back “in the now.” We moved on to fun activities, and didn’t give that charger another thought.
Later that night Arielle came to find me. We were getting settled into our hotel room and changed into comfy pajamas. “Hey Kate, I found my phone charger. I had it that whole time.” I smiled and told her how awesome that was. After a little moment of quiet she asked, “So, how did that mindfulness thing work? I was so worried about my charger and you made me completely forget about it. How did you do that?” I was excited she wanted to know.
Sticking with the water theme, I told her our brains were like a water hose. When we are thinking about the past, it pokes a hole for water to escape. Another hole for the future, and another for what was going on at Mom’s house. The more we thought about, the more holes in our hose. The problem with that is we want the water to come out of the end, into the present. If there are holes everywhere, all of the water will escape before reaching the end. We have barely any “water” or energy to use in this moment. If we plug up all the holes, water pressure returns. We have the full strength or water to use right now. We have all of the enjoyment.
I’m not saying mindfulness is foolproof, especially for a ten-year old. I’m not even saying its easy, for anyone. It’s a tool, and it’s work- but they payoff is huge. What holes can you plug this evening? Stop losing water from yesterday, tomorrow, or work problems. Use all of your water pressure for tonight. Tuck your kids in, tell them you love them. Bond with your spouse. Focus, enjoy, be mindful.
Wishing you all the water pressure,
Kate and the Kids.