As I unpacked my kids from the car for a fun afternoon at the park, I bathed them in sunblock and let them go. They ran, giggled and played in the afternoon sun as I chased them. My experience was the same as millions of mothers across the world. My kids called to me, showed me their tricks, and became very dirty very fast. I found myself looking around at the other mothers, their beautifully dressed and clean children then back to my messy, giggling brood. I became distracted from the great fun we were having. I had lost focus and began daydreaming about what I would do differently in the future. Soon it was time to go, and I had missed the moment. I had no memory of the last 15 minutes of play including the looks on my children's faces as they hung like monkeys or hid from a sibling.
Continually looking toward the future leaves you with a glowing idea of what could be and one major flaw, it never turns out perfectly. So while planning ahead is a good idea, fully experiencing the moment you are in will give you the fulfillment and satisfaction you need. Making an effort to take in everything around you can embed your experience in your memory.
Author Anna Quindlen tells us, "The biggest mistake I made [as a parent] is the one that most of us make ... I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. [...] I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less." (Loud and Clear , 10–11).
Here are some suggestions to help you focus more on where you are now and fully enjoy the moment.
This one is the simplest and easiest to forget. Sometimes taking a breath, and letting go of our anxieties, allows us to fully enjoy the moment we are in. It can feel a little strange at first, but given time will calm and focus you. When I feel pressed for time or dwell on stress in other areas of my life the moment I am in suffers, and I'm left with stress and regret. When I breathe and let go of my anxieties, I allow this moment in time to become the most important. Every moment only happens once, give it the time it deserves.
Don't overdo it.
Over-scheduling your family can cause great stress. While we don't want our kids to come back in 20 years and accuse us of failing to give them the chance they deserved, make sure they get the chance to be kids. Be flexible. If you and your child are enjoying reading books together, the grocery store can wait a few more minutes.
This may seem like a direct contradiction to the earlier advice, however, it actually goes hand in hand. Schedule out free time for your family and yourself. Give yourself time to cultivate interests and hobbies. By scheduling it, you won't feel the need to be somewhere else.
Turn it off.
The phone, the TV, the radio. Whatever is distracting you, it can wait. My kids asked me once what we did before cell phones. I said, "We planned ahead, made calls before we left and had answering machines to catch the ones we missed. And we wrote notes instead of texting." That wasn't very long ago, and maybe the "instant" in instant messaging is not as important as we believe.
Live in your bad moments, as well.
Allow yourself to fully experience the trying moments. It can help. My daughter screamed every morning at 3 a.m. for the first 18 months of her life. I remember holding her sweaty body against my shoulder rocking back and forth, wondering if it would ever end. It did end, and I am sad it is gone. It means a little less time she will let me hold her. Soon it will mean friends, boyfriends and life outside my arms. I will have this moment to look back on and treasure. This is why I take in every moment I receive, the good and the bad, with joy.
What will you change to live more fully in the moment? How can you slow down and enjoy today? Emily Dickinson said, "Forever is composed of nows." Enjoy now so you can enjoy forever.