Is there even a time in your day you are not multitasking?
We're in the same boat. Life pulls us in various directions: children, work, house, health, hobbies, socializing... We have too much on our plate but so little energy and attention to handle it all. This is where multitasking comes in:
- We listen to our children's funny stories while trying to put together a meal
- We put on a podcast hoping to do some learning while folding laundry
- We sit down to write an email for work while keeping up with that group chat with friends we don't want to miss out on
Even though we mistakenly hope for the opposite, attention is a sparse resource and it runs out.
We want to pay more attention to our children. But considering the real demands of life, this is easier said than done. Luckily, there are ways to start paying more attention to our children even when those things are present.
Here are the 3 ways to pay attention that we can try out today:
Distraction wastes our energy; concentration restores it.
– Sharon Salzberg
Concentration emerges when we eliminate distractions from our surroundings. Distractions are surely there, but we just don't allow them into our system.
Outer distractions seduce us and inner distractions overtake us. Let's see what we can do about these.
The easiest way to eliminate outer distractions is by avoiding them.
A strong outer distraction is our phone. Containing an endless amount of entertainment, a smartphone is the ultimate enemy of our concentration. Putting it away (to another room) while spending time with our children for an hour or so will change a lot.
When our phone is away, our minds will still want to wander off. This usually shows that we are bored. It's quite normal for the adult brain to get bored during prolonged child play.
When it gets boring, our brain looks for distractions. This is where our phones normally come in.
Magic happens when we get bored while away from our phones. We now have to deal with our boredom some other way.
One way to overcome boredom is to endure it. As we get used to sitting with our boredom, our brains will need less and less to look for distractions.
Another way to deal with boredom is to get creative. Without our phones, we can learn to make use of other entertainment opportunities in our surroundings, one being our children themselves. We can come up with creative ways to interact with them.
Other types of distractions are internal. Internal distractions happen when our mind wanders off to the past, the future, or to the immediately pleasurable escapes. When this happens, we may pay attention to our attention.
What's detaching our mind from the present moment? Is it a worry, a regret, or a desire? For instance, if we identify a worry about not being on time with that work deadline, we may remind ourselves: "I will figure this out when the time comes," then gently revert our attention to our children.
When we are curious, we pay attention.
"How can I get curious about a child I've been taking care of since day zero?" I can hear you asking.
Our children live their lives nested inside ours but this doesn't mean that we observe them fully, without bias and prejudice all the time.
Children are born with a disposition but they also evolve and change by the day. Even if we fully observe them today (which we don't), tomorrow they turn into new children to be discovered. When we get used to observing our children with curiosity, it eliminates our colored view.
Imagine a scientist running an experiment. The scientist observes her subjects with curiosity because she has no expectations of the outcomes. She does have some guesses for sure, but if those guesses turn out to be faulty, this does not make the scientist wrong. It only makes her more knowledgeable than before.
Curiosity works like a strong flashlight. It blacks out everything but the thing we're curious about. When we are curious about something, we don't build strong expectations on what to find out, neither do we get disappointed when we do. Instead, we immerse ourselves in the information that's being revealed. Curiosity opens doors to information and information leads to knowledge.
When we are curious about our children we listen, we observe, we are interested in them and we are open-minded. Our expectations of them do not rule our judgment. We open our senses to the new information.
In a previous Apparent Letter titled Child as a Raisin, I talked about observing our child as if it's our first time. In a book excerpt I shared in that letter, parents revealed having a tough time with this experience. Many had expectations of what their children should look like (for example, one parent was irritated by her daughter's hair being a mess) and others were uncomfortable by what they had discovered.
Have you considered the difference between compassion and pity? Compassion is feeling someone else's suffering and wanting to ease their pain. Pity is the condescending discomfort towards someone else's suffering from a distance.
How can compassion help in paying attention?
When we choose to notice the things we usually ignore, we create a space for compassion, that is, the intention to feel someone else's suffering and offer help in ending it.
Compassion happens when we let go of the judgment of our children's pains. Rather than labeling them as trouble-makers, if we genuinely feel their suffering and want to help them through it, we'll have unlocked our compassion.
When we want to help someone, we cannot diverge from the cause. We cannot give attention to stuff that doesn't have a role in easing the suffering.
Compassion is not a forced feeling though. It's a way of paying attention openly, seeing the good in the suffering person, and volunteering to be a part of it. It's like saying, "We're in this together."
We can only preserve our attention by paying attention. Sounds controversial, right? It's not.
Choose what things to pay attention to and pay deliberate attention to those things only.