It’s a typical weeknight, around 5 o’clock and I’m headed to pick up my kids from their after school program. As I make the familiar drive, my thought pattern might sound something like this:
Dinner is tacos, so I’ll need to prep most of it when we get home. It’s bath night, so I’ll get Sienna in the bath while Teo does his homework. Then, if she takes a quick bath I can get Teo into the bath while I finish dinner. With luck, they’ll both be done by the time Dennis gets home from work. Then, we’ll eat dinner. I’ll get their lunches packed while Dennis does the dishes and the kids watch a little television with their dessert. I think we still have some cookies left. We should get them to bed earlier tonight…
Or, my thoughts might go like this:
What a pretty evening. I wonder how the kids’ school day went. I wonder if Teo lost his tooth today… he was trying to wiggle it out at school. Sienna’s going to be excited to tell me how much further she’s gotten in the Reading Olympics. I’m so excited she’s starting to read The Babysitter’s Club books now! Hmmm, Bath night tonight and tacos for dinner. We’ll see how it goes – maybe they’ll both get done before dinner, maybe not. We’ll see how everything unfolds…
I have noticed that my mindset makes a huge difference in how I relate to my family. When I approach the moment with the openness and curiosity of that second scenario, I am more present, am better able to connect with my husband and children, and everyone is more peaceful. When I have a mental checklist of all the action items that need to be crossed off, I turn our time together as a family into a distracted series of “to-dos”.
Life is in the here and now. It’s not an idealized time and place we’ll get to enjoy once all the busyness of our day is done. When my kids have a question or want me to do something with them, the time to hear them and connect is right then. If I’m too busy with dinner, bath time, chores, or other activities, I’ll miss the moment. Obviously, meals have to be cooked, dishwashers need to be emptied, kids need to do homework, and teeth have to be brushed. It’s also important that kids learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Sometimes, their story or activity will need to wait while we set the table for dinner or finish washing their hair. But, the answer can’t always be, “Not now, I’m too busy…” if we want to enjoy our evening routine and use it as a time of connection and restoration as a family.
The subtle, underlying problem with the first scenario is that it depends upon a unhealthy level of control over people and situations that I simply do not have. The kids could be in a happy, cooperative mood, or one (or both!) of them may be very tired and need help processing their feelings about something that happened that day. Any number of issues could pop up to derail the “plan” from a sick dog to food that spoiled. Until I’m in the moment, how can I know what’s going to happen?
By pre-planning in specific detail, I trick myself into feeling a sense of control. If things unfold as I imagine, I feel comfort and stability. However, the thing I’m sacrificing is presence and connection. The “plan” or my list of action items becomes the driving force in the evening, instead of presence to see and hear my children and husband. Also, if things don’t go according to my plan, then I’m extra irritable and short with my loved ones for not falling in line and behaving the way I wanted them to (of course, many of those expectations go unsaid, so it’s particularly unfair!).
The little mantra I’ve started to use, when I notice my mind (oh those pesky thoughts!) drifting towards imagining how the evening will go, is: “I’ll see how I feel when I get there.” It’s a thought that I originally started using when on long runs I’d start dreading the hill at mile 9 when I was back on mile 2! But, it’s so applicable to any thought that anticipates a future moment. You won’t know how the moment will go or how you’ll feel, until you’re there.