Back to School: The Gift of ‘In the Moment’ Parenting During Times of Transition

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3-4 minute Read

In my work with parents and in my life as a parent, I often find myself using the words, ‘Just bring it back to this moment…and this moment…and this moment’.

At this time of year, with the energy of Back to School infusing so much of our thoughts and time as parents, this invitation to stop, pause and bring our attention back to Just This Moment may feel even more compelling, but even more difficult.

During busy times and periods of transitions, we are often not only focused on all the practical things that are asking to be done by a certain deadline ( i.e., the first day back to school), but we are often holding  - perhaps consciously or unconsciously - a lot of the emotional shifts that may be taking place in our children (and ourselves) in preparation for the new school year. It is like there is a dual process going on: on the exterior, we may feel like we are being pulled into an imperative to Have-Everything-Done by the first day of the new school year (book list: check; books covered: check; new uniform: check; PE kit: check; school bus payment: check; new school bag and pencil case: check….the list feels infinite) and simultaneously, on the interior, we may be experiencing emotional states relating to our own process (e.g., feeling even more busy than usual, what Back to School meant for us as children) as well as those relating to our children (what they are feeling, or what we think they might be feeling) AND our responses to what our children are feeling (e.g., worry, a sense of responsibility, a draw to make it better, panic, hopelessness…the list is infinite).

That is a lot to hold.

So, it is no wonder that the invitation to bring our attention back to Just This Moment can feel like an impossible ask. A thought that often tends to show up at times like this is: HOW CAN I POSSIBLY HAVE TIME TO STOP AND PAUSE WHEN I HAVE SO MUCH TO DO???? And therein lies the paradox: We might feel a deep yearning to stop and pause, but the over-whelm might be so great that we may sense that in so doing, we might lose any sense of limited control we had on the situation as it is. We fear that we will be flooded, and that may feel like too much to cope with.

At times like this, when my mind is telling me that stopping and pausing is the worst possible thing I can do, I have started to notice that it is precisely the time to remember that I have a choice: I can continue as is, feeling over-whelmed and holding on to whatever sense of control I think I have, or alternatively, I can just stop, notice my breath and bring my attention back to Just This Moment…and Then This Moment…and Then This One.

Even after years of mindfulness practice and meditation, I still find it hard to remember to practise ‘In the Moment Parenting’. Here are some practical pointers that I draw upon to help me stop, and notice:

·         ‘Press the Pause Button’ is a phrase that is often used in many parenting programmes to encourage parents to literally pause in the midst of whatever is happening. It can work as a very tangible reminder that by pausing we actually do have a choice in each moment: stopping or continuing with whatever is going on. Some parents have told me that they actually press their thumbs into the palms of their hands to help them re-orient.

·         Grounding ourselves: bringing awareness into the body has two primary functions. It can help regulate the central nervous system so we can feel less agitated, and it takes our attention away from our heads, where we may be caught up with our very busy and active minds.  Many find focusing on the breath in the belly as a very helpful way to ground, while others find bringing their attention to their feet, and feeling their soles of their feet making contact with the ground. Either method can help us to break the pattern of staying caught in our minds, even for just enough time to notice that there is something else that we ca be aware of (i.e., a pause) other than the what’s going on in our minds.

·         Checking in with ourselves: once we have found a way to pause, it can be easier to ask ourselves how we are feeling in the exact moment we are experiencing. Not past moments, or the future ones. Just the moment we are in we when we ask the question. Often, the moment we are actually experiencing feels OK. It is very often the pressure that our minds place on the importance of past moments (that we can’t get back) and future moments (that may never happen) that convinces us that the whole situation is not OK. But by asking ‘Am I OK in this moment?’, we get to experience for ourselves if the moment itself is OK or not. We have accessed a direct experience of the moment, and what it is actually like, rather than fully listening to our thoughts about it. We can then do the very same thing for the next moment, and the moment after that..

So, for me, the mantra becomes: ‘I am OK in this moment, and now this moment, and now this one’. By re-orienting myself to the moment, something subtle yet transformative usually happens: the weight of having to hold everything seems to shift from my hands into the arms of the moment. And then the next moment, and the next one after that. And in so doing, more space – rather than less - seems to be created in my internal world. Ironically, it is this quiet sense of space that usually allows me to be more ‘response-able’, that is, I am more able to respond (rather than react) to whatever is going on, in each moment. 

The To-Do lists and the range of Back to School emotions may still remain, but how we are with them might begin to shift, which can be the subtlest but greatest transition of all.

© Julie Meehan, 2019

Julie is offering a Workshop for Parents of Primary School-aged Children on How to Support your Child to Navigate Big Over-whelming Emotions on Saturday September 28th in the Margaret Aylward Centre in Glasnevin, Dublin 11 from 10 am to 5 pm. For more details and to book online, go to: http://juliemeehan.com/workshops.

Julie offers one to one parenting support sessions in person (in Sligo, Ireland) and online, through Zoom/Skype for parents anywhere around the world. To book session, go to: juliemeehan.com/contact