By Sonia Sweet Kumar
“Quiet, please, Mama,” my four year old daughter told me the other day, “I have to think.”
I smiled at my daughter’s moxie and at hearing a phrase I often use repeated back to me. She needed to cut out the noise and give something some serious thought. It was healthy … and cute, especially
when I realized that the matter at hand was deciding which color Power Ranger she would be to help her older brother as a super hero.
Although I am not at the same elementary stage as my daughter and two other children (ages six and two), multi-tasking is also not for me. I am unabashed about stating this. Thinking something through often requires my full attention – I will literally stop and think. If I am cooking and trying to talk on the phone at the same time, I inevitably end up putting salt in the pot twice. And I can expect my two older kids to spend twice as long on the math homework or Scholastic workbooks I give them, if I sit down to help them, but simultaneously try to work on my laptop.
Other parenting experiences have taught me that – within reason – concentrating on one activity at a time or moving through the day deliberately creates a calmer, more productive home. Doing something
with full awareness, intention, and consciousness is living deliberately, a constant work in process for me. It can be challenging to do one thing at a time. The lives of parents are hectic, for sure. It would be foolish for me to recommend that when you need to think, drop everything and go meditate. Or not to fold laundry while the kids are playing. No, I am recommending cutting out the clutter, slowing down, and breathing. Prioritize your activities, so when you are with your kids, you can give them the appropriate amount of attention – you can be a deliberate parent.
There was the time I was chatting on my phone with my cousin on the drive home from my kids’ pre-school. If you had asked me after our conversation ended what we had talked about, I would not have been able to tell you – it was mindless chit chat. Was that conversation worth shushing my kids when
they got in the car, excited to see me after a few hours away? Was it worth the distracted driving? When we reached home, I continued to talk as I walked in the house, thinking my children would follow me. I sat down at the kitchen table and finally reached some awareness beyond the conversation – it was too quiet in the house. I hung up, ran outside, and saw my kids running back home from a busier intersection that connects our street to the main road.
It may seem unreasonable to suggest minimizing your cell phone usage around your children. But I am a stay at home mom. My work is with me. Of course, I need to visit, talk on the phone, and take care of
chores. But did I have a good conversation with my cousin? It was unsatisfying. I was distracted by my kids when talking to her and distracted by the conversation when dealing with the kids. I am
learning to be respectful of the times throughout the day that the kids want and deserve my full attention. I really do not want my children to remember me as a mom who had her head buried in her phone, checking her Facebook account, and too “busy” to chase them around the park.
Another lesson I have learned is speaking slowly. Slower speech has a lot of ramifications – it slows everybody involved in the conversation down, it tones down the frenzy in the household, it gives the children an appropriate amount of time to absorb and react to what you have said, it helps to give more weight to your words, and it helps eliminate the clutter from conversations. One trick I use to slow
down is speaking to the kids in Hindi. English is my first language. It is more of an effort for me to speak in Hindi. Having to think more about what I’m saying helps.
There have been countless times when I’ve reacted quickly to the kids fighting. “Stop fighting! Once more and we’re not going to the birthday party!” Did I really mean to say that? No, of course, I
want them to go to the birthday party and, of course, I will take them. I just couldn’t think of any other way to get them to immediately stop needling each other. So, this is what transpired: I yelled, made an empty threat, and the kids don’t know any better for the next time. But then there are the times when I take a deep breath, walk over to them, put my hands on them, and say firmly, “Mama ke ache bache aise nahin behave karte hain.” (“Mama’s good kids don’t behave like this.”) The situation gets diffused and everybody is much happier.
Finally, try to deliberately give your children some space and room to grow – don’t micro-manage them. My two older children have reached the stage where they are not totally dependent on me to manage their time. They are not yet teenagers, but they do have their activities and projects that they like to do in the house, on their own or together. I often need to remind myself that I need to let them have
that time – constructive “down” time where they are on their own with me in the background to let their imaginations run, relax, and deal with each other. This time is a deliberate effort – it is tempting to
insert myself into the scenario and tell them exactly how or what they should play or remind them of an unfinished chore I asked them to do earlier. I try to hold myself back – let them be unencumbered.
Almost always, they end up playing far more creatively than I could have ever suggested and I can remind them of the chore afterward.
The terms deliberate parenting and karma yoga go hand in hand. Karma yoga advises us to carry on with our work and duties, meditatively. When I am doing things in a hurry or in a scatter-brained manner,
regrets are guaranteed. Either I become impatient with the kids or what I am trying to do is not accomplished well. On the flip side, when I lie down in bed at night and look over the day, it is extremely
fulfilling to be content with my interaction with the kids and know that I did a handful of tasks well. Our children are our work and worship – let’s worship them deliberately.
Sonia Sweet Kumar (firstname.lastname@example.org) resides in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, with her husband, Brendan Fitzpatrick, their three children, Rajkumar, Simran, and Avinash. Sonia holds a master’s degree in communication from DePaul University.