I was listening to my friend recently describe her attempt to meditate while in the presence of her 3 year old son. “I felt so bad,” she said, “I just closed my eyes for a moment but he kept repeating ‘mama’ ‘mama’ ‘mama’, and I felt so bad for ignoring him.”
Ah, maybe this is why I hear from so many parents that they “just can’t meditate right now.”
I couldn’t help but wonder to myself, “Am I ignoring my kids when I meditate every morning?”
Of course it would be insurmountably difficult for me to set a timer for 30 minutes and meditate if I felt like I was ignoring them! But oddly enough, I’ve never put it in those terms. And I’m not saying that to judge anyone who does – I think we all have a different way of perceiving the world. What I’m saying is that perhaps examining our perception of what constitutes “ignoring” might open up the way we can incorporate this activity into our lives while our kids are present.
Because we need to let our children see us as ourselves and see us cultivating the people we want to become.
Our future selves are made up of a thousand decisions we make today, tomorrow, and the next day. So if we keep putting off who it is we want to cultivate, they will not get the benefit of witnessing how to cultivate themselves either.
Think about this: are you ignoring your kids when you cook dinner? (Or cleaning the house, or doing laundry, etc.)
Do you ever feel bad for ignoring your kids when you’re cooking dinner? Maybe sometimes, but let’s face it, if you don’t cook, then no one eats! So most of us accept it as part of the day when the parent is occupied and the kids simply have to learn how to fend for themselves. So we set them up with toys, snacks, books, games, and encourage them to figure it out. Sometimes we put up with a lot of whining while that learning happens. But eventually the kids figure it out and dinner gets made.
Meditating is no different.
In our family, we’re able to maintain our practice because over time we’ve educated and trained our kids to understand that meditation is quiet time where we sit still and recite our passages silently. We make sure our boy has a snack at the ready, and he knows that he can either sit with us quietly or go into the living room and play. When he was younger we made sure he had a safe child-proof space to play within our hearing. These days, I hold our baby in my lap while we meditate and when she becomes mobile we’ll set her up with a similar play area that we can monitor until she can play in the living room.
Here’s the other thing – when you meditate you’re still conscious! And part of meditating with kids is learning to have the flexibility to press pause if necessary. If my son is going “mama, mama, mama” I will “press pause” on the passage, open my eyes, ask him what he needs (which is often nothing), and remind him that I’m meditating and what his options are until I’m finished. Then I close my eyes and go right back in. Sometimes this happens way more times than I like during a sit, but I still put my time in every day, because it makes a huge difference to my state of mind, which ultimately benefits my family!
[And If he needed me in an emergency, no doubt I would be up in a flash to help him. I’m still parenting while I’m meditating!]
I can see how there might be a spectrum of perceived “selfishness” within activities you do in front of your kids. Ie. Cooking dinner immediately serves the family so we have a high tolerance for that. Cleaning the house, same thing. But what about creative activities, or exercising? It’s very fulfilling for you, but it could be argued how much it’s immediately benefitting your family.
But even with creative activities and exercising, I will do these things in front of my kids if I have no other time to get them done. I think it’s important to model these things for them. And perhaps doing them is arguably as important as sitting to play toys with them. It might not be as high quality of a session for us, but it’s important nevertheless.
And if they aren’t able to give us the quiet and space that we need, then we need to spend more time educating them and supporting them until they understand what it means to engage with that activity. For instance, what does it look like to engage with meditation? Does it mean that we run around throwing toys and singing at the top of our lungs? No. It means that its time to sit quietly and do the reflection. At the piano, do we just sit there and bash the keys and be reckless? Maybe for a few minutes to have fun. But if we’re going to make music, then it’s my job to to educate him that there’s a method to playing certain notes to make songs, and it requires focus, intention, and concentration to become an organized activity.
So if daily meditation is a practice you’ve been struggling to establish, I would challenge to observe what your mindset is around dealing with your kids while you do it. If it’s that you feel bad, perhaps there’s an opportunity to engage with them differently around it and in doing so perhaps be a great educator and model for them what it looks like to create a regular spiritual practice.
More ideas to get a regular meditation practice going with your kids present
You can always start with a shorter time – 10, 15, 20 minutes – whatever works for you as a starting point to get into it gently, for both you and your kids to get used to it. They will adapt, and start to understand “oh yeah, that’s this time again, where mama and papa do that meditation thing. And it’s kind of boring for me and I don’t really get it yet, but maybe one day I will.”
For the longest time, Darwyn thought we were sleeping! He would say “mama, mama” while I was meditating and I would open my eyes, and he would say “when you’re done sleeping, can I…..” And I would always correct him, “We’re not sleeping honey, we’re meditating.”
If I really need to get some exercise and can’t get any time alone I will set my boy up to play and do a short little workout in the living room. Over time I’ve trained him to give me a certain amount of personal space so that he doesn’t get bonked if I’m moving around. He’ll often try to emulate me doing push-ups or yoga. And this is balanced by us playing together before/after I engage in these activities.
Kids not only need to see how to take care of ourselves, they need to see the reality of how much time it takes to take care of ourselves. It’s a commitment! And a worthwhile one. Establishing boundaries around activities like this very young ingrains the importance of these habits.
Ask yourself, “Why CAN’T I do that with my kids around?” Our kids are not going away. They’re a part of our lives and we need to learn how to model these behaviours so that they can understand what it means to sit down quietly for 30 minutes and have that point of reference.
So these are a few tips for how to reframe your meditation practice where you might have previously considered yourself as ignoring your kids and make it a celebrated and healthy part of your family’s daily life.