Distraction is detrimental to our children. I realized this as I flipped through the photo gallery on my smartphone, while my son begged for my attention beside me. I’ve taken at least three pictures of him each day. Though he was within inches of me, I was staring at a static image instead. It dawned on me that I have been documenting his life, and not living it with him. I’ve collected evidence instead of memories. He’s nearly five months old, and his entire life has been a blur. I want to put a stop to this now.
Is it the same for you? Do you remember a time when you didn’t have to try to stay present? The importance of this is multiplied a thousandfold for us as new parents. If you find yourself reaching for the phone or the remote control, ask yourself if you should be reaching out towards your children instead. Read on to find out the best ways to ditch distraction and live fully for today.
1. Stash the Screen
When my son was born, I had an ancient, dinosaur of a cell phone that was capable of little more than calling and texting. I upgraded for business purposes, but quickly found ways to lose myself in social media. And lose myself I did. I spent hours poring through freelance jobs, apartments, and old friends’ updates from the past few years, most of the time while my son babbled away and looked up at me affectionately. A few days ago I came across this post that gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes. I had convinced myself that working from home was the best way for me to be there for Xander. But what he really got was the shell of a parent, a cardboard cutout whose bloodshot eyes were glued to one screen or another.
In the week since I’ve tried to be more diligent about setting specific business hours for myself. When my workday ends, the individual screen time does as well. I also make sure that I read at least one book to my son each day. When Xander is asleep, I try to invest my time in ways that will alleviate my stress the next day. Having more genuine moments with my family is my priority, and I want my interactions to reflect this.
2. Prioritize Meal Time
I have always had a complicated relationship with food. From simply overeating as a child to restrictive diets bordering on anorexia as a teen, I’ve seen every number on the scale and on the waistband of my jeans. For many of us, parenthood allows us to re-examine our habits. This means being open to working on areas that have been problematic for us in the past. I’ll be honest. Every day is a struggle with food for me, as it is a major coping mechanism in times of stress. I use food as a distraction. If you find yourself falling into these habits as well, try scheduling your meals. Have a plan for the day. Spend time explaining food preparation to your child. When you eat, savor each bite and describe the flavors in detail. Connecting to the food you’re eating makes it much simpler to make healthy choices. It also demonstrates a positive relationship with our food.
3. Go Outside
In the earliest days of pregnancy, I daydreamed about going for long walks, luxuriating in the fresh air and staying active. Five and a half weeks in, morning sickness left me bedridden. The smell of salty ocean air sent my stomach churning. This lasted until well into my second trimester when my expanding body made it painful to move. Needless to say, I didn’t realize my dream of forest hikes with my unborn baby. But I decided to start today. Something powerful happens when we are outside. We realize that we are a part of a much larger ecosystem. Our focus shifts from our heads to the world around us. While walking with my husband and son yesterday, we paused to view the unusually rough ocean waves. Xander was fascinated by a crow. We slowed down and breathed. Times like these are precious. Make it a point to go outside at least once every day. If your neighborhood isn’t ideal, go somewhere that is! Befriend the local cats or dogs, watch the flowers bloom and the leaves change with the seasons. It will keep you anchored in the moment.
4. Be Honest
I am the queen of smiling and bearing it. When my husband was hospitalized and I was bedridden with a day-old infant, I took pride in all of the doctors telling me how strong I was. What I missed out on was the support that each person who checked in on me was willing to offer. I have seen this time and time again in the lives of parents. We want to protect our children, so we tell them “It’s okay, you’re fine, everything will be alright.” We gloss over painful moments in hopes of escaping them. This is a serious disservice to our children and ourselves. We’re missing the most valuable opportunities to be vulnerable and real. We’re demonstrating to our children that showing emotion is a weakness. We’re telling them that feelings are wrong. It’s okay to fear the difficult situations, the tough conversations, the painful moments. But don’t let that fear stop you from diving in headfirst. By learning to sit with these emotions and work through hardships, you’re not only present, you’re allowing your child to come to you when they need you the most.
5. Hug Your Children
There is nothing more precious to me than holding my son in my arms. In the middle of the day when I’m up against deadlines, my stomach is growling, and my phone is ringing, I need to be reminded of this. It takes very little time to be affectionate with your children. Smile with them. Listen to their words, whether fully-formed or not. Let them feel the love you have for them radiate from you in every action.
This article took me two weeks to write because my son has been especially clingy lately. Though it is a message I felt desperately needed to be shared, I know that my baby’s needs come first. If you want to be the best version of yourself possible, you have to be present. Let go of the regrets of the past and the worries of tomorrow, and instead, embrace your child and the beauty of today.