Does your life ever feel like a to-do list rather than enjoyable moments? We’ve all been there, especially if you work, have a family and want to maintain some semblance of an adult social life.
And as technology and social networks become more ingrained in our lives, all those worlds can meld into a confusing swirl of buzzing phones, seemingly never-ending chores and an array of kid noises that can make you laugh, cry, or a scary combination of both simultaneously.
Suddenly play time with your kids is interrupted by a series of dings from a particularly lively group text. Or you find yourself trying to check email with your elbow because your hands are busy dicing raw chicken for dinner.
Family life is busy enough as it is. You don’t need a barrage of dings and buzzes from your “other” lives barging into this sacred time. Fret not, we have some tips for you. And they all center on being fully present and mindful in the moment.
Yes, “present” and “mindful” have become buzzwords, but they’re mainstream for a reason. They work!
“To be mindful is to be aware of what is going in one’s mind and body at any given moment and not getting carried away by it or clinging on to it,” says Brad Sjostrom, a Denver-based mental health professional who works at West Pines Behavioral Health.
Here are ways you can practice mindfulness and being present with your family:
- Turn off your notifications. Most of us don’t do much without our smartphones these days and we probably let them dictate more of our life than we’d like to admit. So let’s take back control. You could go scorched-earth by turning off all of your notifications all the time, but a more manageable step might be to turn on your phone’s Do Not Disturb setting during certain times. Try muting distractions when you first wake up in the morning or the moment you get home from work until the kids go to bed. That way you can mute the distractions exploding from your phone and focus on the people who matter most. Once you’re back at work or the kids are asleep, you can check back in on your phone if you need to.
- Make progress 5 and 10 minutes at a time. Don’t try to make your journey toward family “presence” happen in a week. You’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, recognize when you have small pockets of time in your day when you can devote all your attention to your kids, your partner, or both. And be purposeful with that time. Tell your kid, for example, “I have ten minutes before I have to mow the lawn. What should we do?” And then make sure you devote those ten minutes entirely to the activity he or she chooses.
- Create a routine. Specifically, create some regular (and fun) shared experiences with your loved ones based on shared interests. That way, you know it’s coming, and you can be entirely there mentally. Maybe your family takes the dog on a walk every Saturday morning or you explore a new place in your community every Sunday. Kids like routine, especially if they’re built around something fun.
Also, many families benefit from a ritual dinner conversation. But it should be specific and prompt a genuine response. Ditch, “What did you do today?” and opt for something along the lines of “What made you happiest today?” or “How did you help someone today?” This forces everyone in the conversation to provide a thoughtful and more interesting answer, rather than just recite their schedule.
- Get moving. Two benefits here: The actual exercise (any exercise is good exercise), plus it’s harder to get distracted when you’re physically active. It can be something small, like walking to school or the bus stop, or something more ambitious like a family hike or trying a new activity together. Just put your electronics out of reach and focus on the activity at hand. Because you don’t want to catch a football upside your head while checking your Instagram notifications.
- Write your thoughts down. This can be as simple as taking a moment at the end of the day and writing down the one thing you want to remember about your family from that day. Happy, sad or otherwise, committing that thought to paper will help lock it into your memory. Aside from keeping a catalog of your family memories, it can train your brain to recognize those special moments and focus on them. If you think, ‘This is great, I want to remember this,’ you’re more likely to stay in that moment rather than letting your mind wander to that looming work deadline.