I wrote this almost a year ago and looking back it isn’t surprising I didn’t find a moment to take the last step and post it. Great to reflect and notice how much more at ease I am whether it’s his age or my frame of mind. Cheers to mothers and fathers of young children. Hang in there!
My third son just turned 2 and boy do we know it. Our other 2 boys didn’t give us quite the taste of the terrible twos as this little munchkin. He is generally really happy, but when things aren’t right he makes it very clear. Then when he gets what he wants he starts giggling, clapping, what have you.
Not only are his emotions strong in both directions, he is a dare devil. He always has a bruise on his forehead and doesn’t seem to be learning any caution from his tumbles. He keeps a close eye on the gate latch and watches for a chance to make a break. When he makes his break he doesn’t look back. It’s stressful to be in constant fear that he is going to do something that will leave permanent damage, or worse.
In addition to this the continual emptying of cabinets, bookshelves and toy bins leaves me overwhelmed. I am often reminded of when I worked in a mental hospital and had to do regular 10 minute checks, and for some keep a constant line of site to make sure they didn’t do harm to themselves or others. In spite of this I’ve chosen to keep my office hours to a minimum just so I can be there to follow this little turkey around the house, the yard, the park. Somehow this crazy making scenario is where I want to be, or at times where I know I need to be, as much as I can.
Though I also have had the good fortune of seeing 2 other boys grow through this stage and turn into young boys who at 8 and 9 1/2 are creative, delightful, and in many ways self-sufficient. Looking back at the nearly 10 years that I’ve been a mother, I can see that there was something about this toddler stage that sort of messed with my internal balance more than even the first year, and much more than the years since they turned 4 or 5.
Each of us though is different. For some the first year is treacherous. I have yet to raise a teenager though I’ve heard it is a whole new ball game. The reality is there was never a responsibility that mattered so much to me and felt so important. Never a job where the consequences of mediocrity seems so significant. The pressure is on. Always on. I try to remind myself that perfection isn’t what my children need, but rather ordinary devotion. But it’s still a stressful, chaotic job.
With this 3rd and last precious little creature I will have the privilege to raise I’ve decided to find a way to experience a greater sense of peace and joy in the midst of the crazy making. While perspective in and of itself has made a difference, one other thing that has really changed my experience in this is Mindfulness.
A common experience of humanity is to be consumed by unpleasant thoughts about where we wish we were, who we wish we were, what happened yesterday, or what else isn’t right in our lives. It occupies time and energy and often we miss joys right in front of our noses. Mindfulness helps us to be fully in the present and enjoy your life instead of just surviving it. Among the various explanations out there I like this one from Psychology Today the best.
“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
In Mindfulness: A Practical Guide, by Tessa Watt she explains that mindfulness is about teaching yourself to be more:
Aware – of your body, your mind, and your environment
Present – in this moment, the one here, right now
Focused – being purposeful about where you are placing your attention
Embodied – being in your body, bringing the mind and body into sync
Accepting – of yourself and of others
Think of how much more at ease we can feel if we can be in one place, this place, this moment, whatever this moment may be, without any judgment of it. Personally, with my 2 year-old, it is really hard to be fully present with him when I’ve got ideas swirling around in my mind about my next blog post, or my to do list is just stacking up in my mind while I’m skirting the outside of a play structure, hovering around the next obstacle course he is about to tackle. My to do list which never seems to get done begins to weigh on me like a ton of bricks. I feel like I’m falling behind, dropping balls, or missing out on opportunities.
The beautiful thing about mindfulness, in contrast to meditation, is that we can do it at any given time while doing any task. Even something as simplistic as washing the dishes. In fact, I experimented with this exercise and it honestly was a wonderful escape. I mean all I had to think about was the dishes and making this space in my kitchen beautiful.
I’m still learning to consistently let go of the list, the stress, the guilt, the ‘what I could be doing if I had the time’ and working to live in a mindful place all the time. But it doesn’t happen overnight. I started with just 10 minutes a day of active mindful focus, and am finding it becoming a natural experience more and more with less effort. It’s best if I take 15-30 minutes early on in the day. I may even set a time. On the days that I do this I find that I am more able to be mindful throughout the day.
What happens when we take this practice into supervising our neanderthal-esque two year old? For me it looks something like this. I suggest you first attempt this practice when you don’t have somewhere to be at a particular time.
A Mindful Moment with Your 2 Year Old
Step 1: Prepare yourself for this time with some self-care. Eat a good breakfast, take a shower, and take care of your essential needs. Give yourself time for this, ask your spouse to support you as he (my two year old is a boy so that the gender I’m going to use) is able. During this time you can also be mindful that your focus is on self-care and preparation for eventually turning your focus to him. He will distract you and you will be multi-tasking since he is demanding food, yanking on your clothes, making stink clouds that you have to extinguish, etc. But take care of his urgent matters, then tend back to yourself, until you take care of your essential emotional and physical preparation for the day.
Step 2: Say a prayer or make a connection with what speaks to your spiritual side. I pray that I will do what is most important to do that day and that I won’t worry about the things I didn’t do.
Step 3: Set a timer for 10, 15, 30 minutes, however long you think you can do this. Less is probably better the first time. Once you press start, try not to check the timer or clock again. In fact, put it out of view entirely.
Step 4: Turn your focus to your munchkin. Greet him and let him know you are all his. Say this out loud to him, he loves when you talk to him. Make physical contact, a hug, a kiss, touch his hair, his cheek, whatever feels natural to you.
Step 5: Let him guide you through the next 10 or 15 minutes that you’ve set aside. Your task during this time is to be accessible, responsive, and engaged. You don’t need to provide any direction or activities. Play how he wants to play. In fact, depending on your child he may go play on his own. Stay close enough that you can observe him, perhaps even narrate what he is doing in his play or respond to his efforts to engage you. If other thoughts or stresses come into your mind take note of them and redirect your focus. Take note of his body movements, his hair, his little hands. So precious.
Let me note that I don’t think it’s essential to be mindful, fully present, and singularly focused 100% of the time. I believe there is great value in mind wandering and making space for the core emotions that fuel thoughts, even negative ones. There is value in leaning into these thoughts, even when it may distract us from the present. In fact being mindful of our pain is they way it moves and heals. I’m simply advocating that sometimes we need a break and a chance to focus on the great pleasures at our fingertips, particularly the ones that will grow fast and won’t be at our fingertips for long.
I hope you find the exercise delightful and this article useful. You may expand or extend this as you wish, I’ve taken a few mindful trips to the park and it can be a refreshing retreat. I hope you’ll send me your ideas and comments if you have them through the contact form below. If you’d like support in learning to be more mindful, responsive and engaged please feel free to contact me.