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Mummy Musings is a fortnightly column where Elisabeth Lee navigates the ups and downs of bringing up her daughter.
Sometimes it feels like the people offering parenting advice haven’t actually ever dealt with a real kid. How many times have you read articles about “being present” and “mindful” with your child, only for reality to rear up and bite you in the face when you try putting the “expert” recommendations into practice at home?
In principle, this is an awesome idea. We all live busy, overscheduled lives and what time we have with each other is as precious as water on Mars. It is, without doubt, important that we make time to connect with the ones that we love. After all, blink and your sunny six-year-old is going to be a surly 16-year-old – and then you might as well be trying to connect with a slime mould for all the good you’re going to do.
So, I try to connect. We slow down. We try not to pack A’s weekly schedule with too many activities, playdates or enrichment classes. We focus on one task at a time. We savour the moment. It works – we have a great relationship, I think – but you know what? It’s exhausting.
That’s the dirty secret no parenting expert will tell you. Being present with your child is really, one of the biggest gifts you can give them, but it can and will drain you dry. It’s why humans have such a hard time connecting, and why shielding yourself, physically and emotionally, behind your smart phone is so much easier. It’s just so much work.
And that’s why I’m sort of not looking forward to the summer holidays. It’s all I can do to “be present” for the few hours each day between daycare pick up and bedtime – and now the whole day? There is not enough coffee in the world for this Herculean task.
So with that, here is my version on how to be present and mindful with your child – and how not to lose your mind in the process.
Remember, you cannot give what you don’t possess
In the event of an airplane emergency, you’re always told to don your oxygen mask first, before attending to your child. It’s the same idea here. You can’t practise kindness, compassion and being in the moment with your child, if you yourself are in need. Be kind to yourself. Be present – with yourself.
As a full-time writer and full-time mummy, pulling off this balancing act is tricky. It requires cunning planning. But it can be done. In our household, here’s what it looks like:
Take turns with Daddy
It is an unspoken fact that Mummy does not function before her first cup of coffee. So my partner Troy makes breakfast and gets A dressed and in return, I do bedtime. On the weekends, Saturdays are mummy days, and Sundays are daddy days – that way we both get precious one-on-one time with A, and both get a break. We always reconvene for a family dinner where we can all reconnect and share how our day went.
Carve out “me” time
Any child, no matter how young, can learn to play independently. Being present is not a prescription for 24/7 parental attention – in fact, I’m not sure smothering your child is the best way to produce a happy, independent adult. I do spend time with A, but I always try to take an hour or two throughout the day for myself – for a short yoga practice or a brief period in the garden. If you need help with setting boundaries for independent play, Janet Lansbury is your go-to on the subject.
Just remember, being present with your child is not a sprint, not something you can check off on your to-do list. It’s a marathon, so adjust your expectations accordingly. And if it all gets too much – well, breathe and remember that they’ll go back to school, eventually.
Elisabeth Lee is proof that it is never too late to consider a second, third or even fourth career, having come to both motherhood and writing late in life. She occasionally freelances and can be reached at bethgoeswriting.com.