We grandmas are engaged in life on so many levels it’s sometimes hard to focus our attention on just one thing. Leslie Zinberg and Pam Siegel have written a book just for grandparents to help us be truly present — Grandparenting: Renew, Relive, Rejoice. It explains how to focus our attention and be present in the moment and why that’s important. The concept is called “mindfulness” which means paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, without judgment.
Leslie and Pam spoke to our GaGa Sisterhood and explained that the easiest way to be present is to focus on the breath; it’s our “friend” and regulator, easily accessible, and always with us.
Mindfulness can be practiced informally or formally. Formal mindfulness practice involves setting aside a specific amount of time to consciously “go inside” and be aware of what is sensed or felt in the body, using the breath as an anchor. This practice is called meditation.
Informal mindfulness involves finding brief moments in everyday life to be present. Instead of multitasking or spending extended periods on automatic pilot, focus on one activity at a time without distractions.
You can practice with a simple activity like brushing your teeth. Pay complete attention to the brushing and don’t let your mind wander. Now you’re being present and can expand that practice to another activity like washing the dishes. Notice the sound of the water, the smell of the soap, the feel of the dish in your hand. All of these senses contribute to being mindful and when they become a habit of learning to “tune in” to the moment in front of you, the skill becomes available for other situations.
For example, mindfulness is an excellent way to help calm your nerves. The authors shared a simple technique called “PAM:” Pause – A – Moment. Then take a breath. This is a really good tool to practice throughout the day. It helps you calm the nervous system, and may even help you make better behavior choices. This practice is especially useful during these stressful times but really can be used whenever you need to come back to the present moment.
Why is it important to be truly present with whatever we are doing? It is the greatest gift we can give our grandchildren, our family, and our friends. It’s also a huge boon to our own sense of peace and well being. Being fully present can help us increase our ability to regulate our emotions and decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also help us to focus our attention, as well as observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment.– whether we’re playing with our grandchildren or eating a meal. To be present is to notice and focus our attention on just the one thing in front of us.
We’re all such great multi-taskers we pride ourselves on being able to juggle many things at once. But if you’re with your grandchild and also checking your text messages, you’re not fully present.
Another reason mindfulness is particularly important during this stressful time of COVID is we remember to focus on our healthy practices of hand washing, wearing masks, not touching our face, and keeping safe social distance. Mindfulness also helps us remember to take a breath and try to be more patient and understanding of those who do not always adhere to the social rules.
One final tool to help you navigate these stressful times is to set an intention. Focus your attention on a specific situation or emotion. Mentally or verbally rehearse how you would like things to unfold. For example, “I will not raise my voice when my grandchildren bicker,” or “I will not worry about the mess in the kitchen when my grandchildren come over and cook.” Or set a mindful intention to be patient, nonjudgmental, or more present. Say to yourself, “I will only check my cell phone every hour,” or “I will be more tolerant of other people’s opinions.”
You can teach your grandchildren of any age to set intentions by helping them make a plan for how they want to behave. Before you play a game, talk about the importance of cooperation and sharing, not winning or losing. Or talk about how to be a good host/friend before a visit. Or talk about the importance of good manners before sitting down in a restaurant.
The more we practice being present or mindful of our behavior the more we’ll become role models for our grandchildren and we’ll all benefit by feeling calmer and more connected to each other.