Facebook. Pinterest. Twitter. Online games. Online shopping. YouTube videos. Email.
There are thousands of ways to glue ourselves to a computer each day, but even when the computer is off, there are plenty of distractions calling out to well-intentioned mothers everywhere.
Ants in the dishwasher. Children debating who has to sit in the back of the van. Blankets left outside before it rained. Milk souring on the counter. (And I haven’t even mentioned the “big” stuff–like financial stress, severe illness, or marriage troubles.)
During the month of December, The Power of Moms is focusing on The Power of Moments. This topic can drum up precious feelings of nostalgia as we reminisce about our favorite times reading “The Giving Tree” and sipping Swiss Miss by the fireplace, but it can also make us cringe.
I don’t know any mothers who don’t want to live in the moment, but between running soggy cereal down the garbage disposal 30 times a day, treating ketchup stains before they set, and balancing our sometimes-too-many extremely important roles, how do we savor the fleeting moments with the people we love most?
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately–mainly because I’m tired of being a distracted mother–and this is what has worked for me:
(1) Decide where to focus.
In my very limited experience with photography, I have learned that we need to focus on something. Here are some wise words from photographer John Watson (try reading this with a motherhood perspective):
Focus in photography is about a lot more than simply sharpness or being able to see what you are looking at. Focus can enhance a subject by making it stand out from or blend into its surroundings, focus can draw you in, and the right focus can create an emotional connection with the viewer. No matter what style of photography you enjoy, focus can work for you or against you.
Sometimes my children simply “blend in” to what I’m doing. Certainly, I can’t give 100 percent of my attention to my children each day, but when I try hard enough, I can keep them in focus. This does create an emotional connection for me, and by keeping relationships at the center of my life, drudgery is transformed into bliss . . . most of the time.
Sometimes my children blow-dry my hair so I can use my hands to help them with their curlers–or a shoelace–or a helmet on an action figure.
Spencer (age 4) walks around the kitchen with towels on his feet after I mop. He’s the only one who can fit under the table.
And for all the noise and fighting that goes on between my two boys, they watch out for each other with fierce loyalty.
If we don’t consciously choose our focus, we might miss some of the best moments our lives have to offer. But if we pay attention, our golden years will be full of treasured memories.
(2) Put that focus above all else.
My high school drama teacher taught us how to “hold character,” no matter what. In live theater, you’ll often hear whispers from the audience, see a camera go off, hear a cell phone ring, or notice that cute guy from Biology class watching from the second row.
To prepare us for these inevitable distractions, we’d have to go through our scenes while classmates cartwheeled around us, pulled on our shirt sleeves, or sang “Happy Birthday” in our ears. I loved the confidence I felt after getting through a scene without breaking once.
That’s how I see motherhood. My focus is on raising strong, competent, happy children who know why they’re here and have the tenacity to live a life of purpose–in spite of whatever obstacles they might encounter.
Every single day, I have to remind myself of that. Spilled apple juice? Broken closet doors? Pre-teen drama? Incessant whining? As much as it sometimes makes me want to scream, the more I see these mountains as mole hills and use all my power not to “break,” the better we all feel at the end of the day. (Of course, I still lose it about twice a month.)
(3) Grade yourself.
My friend Pam once challenged me to give myself a grade at the end of the day for how I treated each member of my family. Go ahead–try it for a week. I was sad to see that one child consistently received a lower grade than the others. (So, of course, I knew where I could improve.)
Making myself accountable for my snappy comebacks or disinterested responses helps me turn things around more often.
I want to be that mom who sings lullabies at night–even when it’s been an exhausting day. I want to look past the fact that our Christmas gingerbread house looks like it’s been through a tornado–and simply cherish each child’s unique artistic flourish. I want to ignore the salad dressing smeared on the tablecloth and notice instead that when I sat down to eat, both of my daughters got up from their seats to move closer to me.
I know this is hard. There are deep, painful issues inside each one of us, and when we’re barely keeping our sanity from one day to the next, the last thing we want to hear is that we need to be better mothers. But it’s not just about being a better mother for the sake of our families. It’s about improving the quality of our own lives and our own experiences–for our sakes.
Motherhood is beautiful. We just don’t want to get so distracted that we can’t we can’t see that.
QUESTION: What makes it hard for you to cherish your family moments? What makes it easier?
CHALLENGE: Start a little grading sheet for yourself this week, and notice how your focus and purpose becomes more clear as you pay attention to what’s happening within your family relationships.