“with family, be totally present.” -Lau Tzu
Parenting can be the best opportunity for giving up and dying. Children are great zen masters. They do things so unconventionally and so spontaneously. In other words, they ruin all our plans. And even worse, they have such low expectations of us. Sadly, it is way too easy for me to spend the day with my three kids, leading them through activities, taking them places, making them meals, washing, bathing, dressing, etc., and never actually being with them mentally. Most of my brain power is often spent planning the next transition, wondering if I can get a run in, thinking about work, mentally writing letters and emails, watching the clock until it’s beer-thirty, trying to get them to play independently so I can sneak off and check my email and research the new laptop I want to buy. Sadly, nothing comes out of this. My mental multitasking doesn’t really accomplish anything for me, and it means I’m barely with my kids.
This isn’t all bad, of course. My kids need to learn independence. My boys can often play well together, and I shouldn’t have to jump into every pirate-fort-building-adventure-quest they think up.
But twenty years from now, what am I going to most regret? Not having checked my email that day, or not having jumped into the pirate-fort-building adventure?
I love having a small band of robbers running around me. But it changes so fast. If I don’t remember to give up and die every weekend, I get to Monday and I feel like shit. I realize I spent the whole weekend avoiding my kids (managing, dictating, etc.) instead of enjoying them.
Task: For me, whenever I’m with my kids and I begin to feel a tension build inside me, a feeling that I want to be doing something else, I stop and try to dissect the tension. Is it legitimate? Have I been playing Robin Hood for four hours straight and I need a break? That’s okay. Take a break. Or have I been carrying this feeling all day, never allowing myself to be fully present to my kids, trying to read at breakfast, clean up the toy room while “pretending” to build legos, etc. Then I need to dive into the moment and give my kids the best half hour I can. A little goes a long way. One good half hour can be enough.
Having clear priorities is very important with family. If exercise, meditating, reading, whatever, is important to you, and you know you can’t be present with your family unless these things happens, that’s fine. But then those things need to be built into the day. A schedule.
My wife and I do a lot of switching and turn-taking. We prioritize exercise and “alone time” for us. It doesn’t always happen, but we try.
And when all else fails, Give Up and Die.
Give up all that is not essential (maybe you don’t need five email accounts and three book clubs) and die to the present moment (of building a pirate fort with your kids)