“Hurry up and get in the car. We have a lot of things to get done today,” Jennifer Mack, a Detroit mother of two, tells her young children as they wander slowly to the car. She watches, exasperated, as they giggle and laugh taking far longer than necessary to climb into their boosterseats.
As she finally gets her youngest child, Jessica, buckled into the seat she feels two tiny arms encircle her neck. “I love you mama!” shouts little Jessica. These four simple words melt Jennifer’s heart and she silently thanks her three year old daughter for the reminder that the days errands will eventually get done, and having happy, healthy children is truly something worth slowing down for.
As parents we’ve all been there. With the demands of fast-paced, modern life it can become easy to speed through the day with barely a moment to breathe. The lackadaisical attitude of our youngest companions can be frustrating, but it can also provide us with an opportunity to reflect and gain a new perspective on the world around us.
It may sound like a cliché, but spend the day with any toddler and not only will taking time to smell the proverbial flowers rise to an event of monumental importance, but other things that sometimes take precedence over family, friends and even mental health may seem to migrate to the bottom of the to-do list. Tuning in to the interests and attitudes of the children in our lives, our littlest teachers, provides us with an opportunity to learn about their perspective on the world, and at the same time take inventory of our own priorities.
As a self-employed mother and wife, Elizabeth Mahmi, knows all to well how the demands of work, household duties, school commitments and social media can sometimes feel all encompassing. “I do have deadlines and I need to work around those, of course, but I strive to recognize how quickly my children’s childhood is passing. The number of days, weeks and months they’ll want to snuggle and play with me is finite. I try to take my cues from them and really tune in to what’s important in every moment.” She adds, “if that means dinner gets on the table a half hour later or somebody doesn’t have freshly folded clothes the next day, well, so be it.”
The lessons presented to us by these wise wee ones can also facilitate a much desired respite from the constant demands of our consumer culture. With the prevalence of media and commercial exposure, our children learn to material goods, an attitude that our own lifestyle frequently endorses. When we make spending time with our kids a priority, whether it be building blocks on the floor, bike riding around the neighborhood or discussing the latest book they’ve read, we help reinforce the immense value of their innate desire to simply be with us and be present together.
Mahmi describes the feeling of being present with her children as “true zen.” She explains, “I practice yoga, I meditate and I chant, but some of the times when I’ve felt the most peace have been when I’m totally engaged with my children. Sometimes I don’t need a yoga mat or a guru; I have my kids and when I’m open and available they’re more than willing to lead me to my inner child.”
Tips For Slowing Down and Tuning In
Very seldom do our kids get our complete, undivided attention; it’s truly one of the best gifts we can give them. This gift is one that can be shared with all the children in our lives, not just our own. Making time to connect with the children of your friends, with nieces and nephews and with kids living in our neighborhoods can make a big difference in these young lives. Don’t feel pressured to make grandiose overtures, sometimes simply listening to a special story, lending a helpful hand during the construction of a fort or simply letting a child hold the garden hose and give your plants a drink can make them (and you) feel special.
-Spend time showing your world to your baby. Use a baby carrier such as a moby wrap, pouch sling or baby bjorn so baby can see the world and bond with you throughout the day.
-Get down on your hands and knees and crawl around with your toddler. Let them lead the way and walk slowly around the neighborhood. Don’t worry about making it around the block, or to a certain destination. Make noticing everything that intrigues your child the focus of the experience. Although it might feel funny, try narrating your child’s day. It makes them feel special and helps build language skills.
~Play games, whether board games or pretend play, with your elementary aged child. Go for bike rides together and talk about what’s important to them. Allow your child’s interests to be your guide. If you have a Harry Potter fan on your hands read the books together and make a date out of seeing the movies. When children are coloring or working on an art project, ask to join in. You’ll be sharing in an enjoyable activity and it’s a great way to open up a dialogue.
~Tweens and teens are old enough for some independence, but still value time with their parents greatly. Make time to connect each and every day, even if it’s just to recap the day’s activities before bedtime. Setting up “date” times, such as a special lunch or dinner once a month is another good way to foster lifelong connections. Make time to attend the sporting practices and events in your child’s life and maybe create a special post-game routine.
~Make family dinners a priority and consider adding a family game night or movie night to your schedule.
Regardless of how old the kids in your life are, time and attention are the most precious things you can give them. Exercise together, play outside, ride bikes and just have fun. Avoid gender-role stereotyping and encourage the girls to try their hand at fishing; ask your sons to help prepare a dish for dinner. When it comes to spending time with young people there’s almost no wrong way to do it, just keep your mind open because as much as you’re teaching things to the little folks in your life, they are sure to teach you important lessons as well.
Source: Natural Awakenings Magazine of Wayne County