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We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.

Thich Nhat Hanh

My son started junior kindergarten when I was off on maternity leave with my daughter. Day one went well. We were the first in the schoolyard. But as my daughter started teething and therefore not sleeping well, our mornings got harder. My husband leaves the house before dawn so it was just me getting everyone out the door. It was a miracle Ben had his lunchbox most days. Often, we'd be set to get out of the house on time and then Anna would poop and I'd have to change her diaper, again! Looking back, it really was comical. I didn't always see it this way when I was in the middle of it though, even though I practice mindfulness and was trying to be a mindful parent. I had also set the intention of teaching my kids how to be mindful, through modeling.

So as things seemed to get more chaotic, I voiced this intention to my son, age 4 at the time, and we decided to work together to make mornings easier (given that my 3-month-old couldn't be relied upon to help!). I started to use the acronym SOBER to remind myself to Stop, Observe (what was happening inside me), Breathe, Expand (to listen to the signals Ben was giving me, look more realistically at the situation), and then Respond (rather than just react). A typical example of this was trying to get Ben to put his boots on while I got Anna dressed to go out. As is typical for a 4 year old, he almost always got distracted en route to getting this simple task done. So I would be running around like a chicken with her head cut off and asking him repeatedly to get his boots on. After one too many times of this ending in me yelling at him to get his boots on "or else...", I started to "SOBER" up. When I started to observe my own reactions, I noticed that underneath the frustration, there was a lot of worry, self-criticism, and disappointment. First, I had to realize that kids don't operate the same way as adults do; my expectations were unrealistic. Second, I knew that Ben could get his boots on by himself, but just because he needed more time than I thought he "should" to get ready didn't mean there was anything wrong with him; or if he wanted my help some days, it didn't mean that he would never be able to do it independently. My worries extended to thoughts about being late for school and being a "bad" parent if we were (which by the way only happened once despite my worry). I suppose I tuned in to the fact that my expectations for myself were also too high.

Mindfulness helped me tune in to my physical sensations earlier and earlier so that I could breathe and let go of all these meanings and worries I had "added on" to this "simple task." Ben and I started to use humor to break the cycle...instead of shouting, I would tell him when my frustration thermometer (bananameter) was rising (from me saying "you're driving me bananas!") and he would ask me "mommy, are you losing your bananas again?" Tuning in to what number bananas (out of 10) I was at, and checking in with his level, helped him learn how to regulate his emotions too. I also found out whether he was just extra tired that morning, and learned how to empathize with that instead of expecting him to be equally able to function every morning ('cause I know I certainly can't!). Stepping back helped me realize how nothing matters more than being on the same page as my kids, taking time to understand their world, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and laughing at how seriously we take life sometimes.

— Heather, mother of 3-month and 4-year old


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