We Don’t Have to Enjoy Every Moment

EMILY HAGENMAIER

Counselor specializing in parenting transitions, and a Lumos Team member

Multiple choice:

“Enjoy every minute, they
grow up so fast.”

A. The worst thing you can possibly say to an overwhelmed, sleep-deprived parent whose baby woke up every 90 minutes last night.

B. Well meaning reminiscing by people with amnesia.

C. More about the speaker than the spoken to.

D. A reflection that once we become parents, time is no longer the linear interval we once thought it to be.

E. All of the above.

The fact is there are many minutes of parenting that are really uncomfortable.

 

 

How many of us during our parenting journey have been on the receiving end of this phrase? As someone who has practiced mindfulness for more than a decade now, and who can’t imagine parenting without it, I’m all for awareness of the present moment. But I get stuck on the enjoy every minute part. So often as a culture we insist that our children should feel one predominant emotion—happiness– the majority of the time. And aren’t we essentially saying the same dismissive thing to parents with this far from benign cliché?

The fact is there are many minutes of parenting that are really uncomfortable. The guilt, the shoulds, the unknowns. The cravings for sleep, a shower, a solo grocery store run. In the quiet space of parenting in which the days and nights can sometimes feel verrrrry looooooong, we notice the noise of our minds, whether resistance, fear, ghosts from our childhood, or plain old tedium. There’s nothing like an all-nighter with a baby with an ear infection or reading our toddler’s favorite book for the seventeenth time by 8 am to make us notice the loudness of our minds and how so many of our thoughts not only aren’t useful, they can be destructive.

Our instincts are often to resist these discomforts as much as possible. But consider instead another way of relating to the contractions of parenting.

We are not our thoughts, cravings, worries.

We don’t have to enjoy every minute.

But we can show up for ourselves and our experience on a moment-by-moment basis—whether that moment is colored by self-doubt, curiosity, boredom, exhaustion, worry, or awe. When parenting gets uncomfortable, we can focus and navigate with this brief, drop-in trick from mindfulness educator Carla Naumburg[1].

[1] For a fantastic resource on mindfulness applied to parenting, check out Carla Naumburg’s Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family.

Our instincts are often to resist these discomforts as much as possible.

Just as in labor, a doula guides you through the contractions, so too can mindfulness practice help you navigate parenting waves.

Think of this drop-in S.N.A.C.K. as a kind of doula support for parenting’s bumps. Just as in labor, a doula guides you through the contractions, so too can mindfulness practice help you navigate parenting waves.

S.N.A.C.K.

S- stop. Just pause, whatever you’re doing… before you pick up the crying baby, before you respond to the toddler who has doodled on the walls with Sharpie. By pausing we are reminding ourselves we can always begin again. (Even mid-raised voice).

N- notice. What is happening within you? What sensations do you notice in your body? What’s your breath doing? Are you aware of any noisy thoughts? Tinker with just noticing your experience without judging, pushing, or shoulding it away.

A-accept. This is CHALLENGING—and totally do-able. Whatever it is you’re experiencing, whether sleepiness, feeling time pressured, stuck in traffic with a screaming baby, see if you can label the situation without judgment or immediately trying to change it. As pioneering mindfulness educator Jon Kabat-Zinn calculates: pain x resistance = suffering. This doesn’t mean you have to enjoy the present moment or not ultimately act to make things less stressful. But this pause allows us to respond with more efficacy and less reactivity.

C- curiosity. Get curious about the experience. The part of your brain that can ask “what am I feeling?” “what do I see/ hear?” “what do I need right now?” is the part of your brain not flooded with stress hormones. We want to engage that part (aka- your prefrontal cortex). Not only will this curiosity help manage overwhelming emotions, it can ground us and empower us to get through the mucky moment.

K-kindness. If you can remember only the K, then that’s really all you need. I often encourage my perinatal clients reflecting on a difficult experience to ask themselves “what would kindness look like right now in this moment?” Start with yourself, then consider your child. In our rush to fix, stop the crying, or avoid the tantrum, so often we forget about compassion. And by relating first to ourselves with kindness, we can so much more easily and effectively meet our children where they are.

Mindfulness applied to parenting is not about enjoying every moment.

It won’t necessarily make parenting peaceful or easy.

This is a tool for when things are messy—so that maybe we won’t be so hard on ourselves and our kids. It gives us the space and time to make a conscious choice to respond versus automatically react.

Contractions take focus and intention to navigate. But by making a conscious choice to acknowledge what is actually happening in the present moment without getting lost in judgment or wishing things were different, we can meet the waves of our experience with more openness and compassion.

By holding our experience with non-judgmental awareness, curiosity, and playfulness, we can simultaneously hold our children’s experience with more compassion. When we show up for ourselves, we simultaneously embody the loving presence our children need.

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