I’m sure that anyone who has ever had a child can identify with this set of stories. What I’m hoping is, that by the end, more of you will instead, identify with the transformation than the routine.
Let me explain…
So, you’re a new parent. You bring your bundle of joy home for the first time, nervously buckling the fragile, tiny, squirming ornament into the carseat for the first time. When you get home, you introduce her to her new room, her bassinet or crib, and cuddle for hours on end, gazing into her eyes, seeing a reflection of yourself and your future in her eyes.
Everything is wonderful.
Everything is beautiful.
Then, the floor drops out from under you, and the “new parent high” crashes. It’s 3:00 a.m. She’s crying.
You groggily make your way back to her for the umpteenth time. What is it this time? Diaper? Hungry? Lonely? Just trying to irritate me and introduce me to the next 18 years of payback for what a horrible child I was?
When that first morning comes, things are different. Parenting is no longer just oohs and ahs, flatulence-smiles and wiggles. It’s hard damn work for no pay and even less sleep, if that’s possible.
This was downright the hardest thing about being a dad for me, when my first son graced me with his presence. 22 months later, when his first sister was born, I thought I would be better prepared. Nope! It didn’t get any easier — it actually got worse!
Now, I had a sleepless, screaming infant AND a restless toddler who, for the life of him, could not sleep past 6:00 in the morning!
I’m going to be honest here.
I hated mornings. I dreaded the painful waking, stumbling around, irritability, and grumpiness. In the mornings, I was not a great dad. I was not a mindful dad. I didn’t even feel human.
That is, until I grew tired of being that way and decided that I was going to reprogram my clock.
To accomplish this, I knew it would take will, but more importantly, my “night owl self” was going to have to find a way to remind my half-awake morning self of this goal, and my primitive sunrise zombie brain was going to have to find a way to comprehend that reminder. I started off by writing myself notes on a Post-It pad. That method failed as soon as I realized that, not only did I not notice them until it was too late, and grumpy morning bear growled all over the house, but it only seemed to make things worse. I tried having my wonderful wife remind me vocally, but I realized that wasn’t going to work, seeing as how she always woke up later than me anyway.
What I needed to do was will myself to rewire my brain. I decided to employ mindfulness meditation to finally conquer my dilemma. Right before bed, I turned everything off — no lights, no television, no music — nothing but me sitting in a comfortable position, focused on taking one breath in and allowing one breath to gently escape. As I calmed myself with this and I could feel my heart rate slowing & the weights of the day lifting, my focus grew sharp.
At that moment, I smiled, but just barely. Cool things happen in our brains when we smile, so this is the first thing to do once the mind is clear. As I grinned, I thought to myself, I cannot wait until that first moment in the morning when I see my children. I cannot wait to be greeted with little smiles and growling tummies. Most of all, I cannot wait to hear those sweet little words, “Mornin’ Daddy!” Then, I repeated this and used my imagination to visualize the scene over and over again. As I did, I noticed the corners of my mouth rising and the happy juices flowing.
I went to bed that night, still smiling, and guess what? In the morning, my vision became a reality. I woke up happy to see their faces, despite being dawn, despite my interrupted dreaming, and despite my desire for more slumber.
I reframed the situation in my own mind and recreated my own reality.
I continued this practice for a while, and guess what else? It got even easier. It became a habit. Next thing I knew, the practice was catching on at other times of the day, like when I got home from work. Instead of walking in and plopping down in a chair, exhausted and feeling the desire to be left alone, I walked in, dropped my things, and held out my arms to catch my babies as they ran into them.
I once heard a great quote that went, “A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when they are empty.” I remember this quote every time I feel that temptation to slip back into my old ways — my selfish ways.
See, when I reframed my thoughts and reprogrammed that internal clock originally, I wasn’t doing myself a favor.
I had their interests in mind. I wanted them to see a father who loved them no matter what, 24/7. I wanted them to know that my arms are always open, without fail. I no longer wanted them to fear choosing the right time or moment to show me their love. I wanted them to have permission to do it any time, all the time, whenever they needed it.
All it took was for me to take the mindful step to reprogram a clock.