Stop Doing and Start Being, Mama
There’s more than enough to do as a mother. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stop and take some time to simply be.
What do moms do all day? We cook, clean, shop, chauffeur, support, drop off, pick up, play, design, supervise, discipline, organize — and that’s just as a mom. Some moms also work a full-time job in addition to being a mom. Most moms also offer emotional support and guidance to not just the kids, but also their spouse or partner, parents, siblings, and friends.
Just looking at everything listed in that paragraph can be enough to exhaust you, right? I think if we wrote out everything we do in a day, we’d probably wonder how we got it all done.
But spending our lives in doing mode drains you. It leaves you feeling depleted, exhausted, and eventually frustrated and possibly taken for granted. You need to find time to stop doing and start simply being. How do you do that?
First, let’s define what it looks like when you’re doing and when you’re being.
What is doing?
Doing is a state in which you are focused on accomplishing tasks. Doing is actually doing things like:
· Washing dishes
· Doing laundry
· Cooking meals
· Cleaning house
· Working (paid or unpaid work)
· Grocery shopping
Managing the logistics of a family requires us to spend much of our time in doing mode. Even if you have a partner to share the load, and even if that load is shared equally (and it’s usually not), it’s not easy to manage a family without being in doing mode most of the time.
What is being?
Being is when we do exactly that: we just…be. We merely exist, in the present moment, aware of that moment. We aren’t rushing to get the next thing checked off our to-do list. We aren’t doing something while only half-noticing the moment we’re in.
You may have found that you were simply being when you were:
· Getting so engrossed in a book that hours pass and you forget where you are when you stop reading
· Sitting on your porch with a cup of tea or coffee and watching the sun rise or set
· Playing with your children and being fully engaged in that play
Why do we need to balance doing and being?
Doing is a natural state for many of us. But it’s also a mode that can engage the sympathetic nervous system, or the flight or fight response. This is also known as the stress response. This means, if we are living constantly in doing mode, we are potentially also living in a constantly stressed-out state.
If we are constantly stressed out, or even just stressed out more often than not, every aspect of our health suffers. Our bodies can begin to ache, we might gain or lose weight, have trouble sleeping or sleep too much. Our mental health can decline, with foggy thinking and a lack of concentration or focus, and depression or anxiety setting in.
When we try to parent from this stressed out place, we are usually distracted and annoyed. We don’t pay as much attention to our children, their wants and needs. We can feel annoyed or impatient with them.
Our emotions can be much more fragile and explosive from this place, too. If you’ve ever had that experience of being angry one moment, crying the next, and laughing immediately after that, and not knowing why — then you’ve been in this stressed out place. This is rough on you, of course, because you’re on this roller coaster of emotions. But it’s also rough on those around you. Your kids and partner may feel like they don’t know what to expect when they approach you — will you be in a good mood or will you snap at them?
Combine those together and you get a version of you that is not as open, happy, grateful and present as you want to be. In the moment it happens, we’re impatient, distracted, overwhelmed, and more. When it’s over, we’re faced with guilt, remorse, self-doubt, and maybe even shame. We question whether we’re a good parent.
If we’re still in doing mode and not balancing it with being, our perspective can start to narrow now. We may start to feel overwhelmed, seeing a to-do list that is never ending and never seems to get anything done. We feel like we aren’t coping, and this adds more stress. Our bodies are tense and tired, our brains frazzled and overheated. We know we need a break, but when we look at all there still is to do, we feel like we can’t take one. More stress piles on at this thought.
Being puts the brakes on
Being, on the other hand, engages your parasympathetic nervous system, or the rest and digest or relaxation response. This is the response that tells your body everything is okay, it’s safe to chill and calm down.
Shifting from doing to being brings the stress levels down. It clears the mind, making your thinking clearer and concentration easier. It soothes the body, easing muscle tension and tightness and eliminating other signs of stress such as stomach upset, headaches, and more.
Being is taking a step back from doing. It’s not dropping everything necessarily, but it is putting everything on pause. Everything that you need to do won’t be going anywhere. That to-do list will still be there.
But taking some time to simply be means that when you pick that list back up, you’ll be better prepared to tackle it. You’ll feel refreshed and renewed, rather than overwhelmed and drowning.
Perhaps even better news is that you don’t necessarily have to actually stop doing in order to be. Being is about a state of mind, a state of attention, rather than a physical act.
How can you balance doing and being?
When we’re caught up in doing, we’re not just busy. We’re often also wishing things were different. We’re spending Monday wishing for the weekend when we can relax, and then spending the weekend planning for the following week to try to get ahead. We’re washing dishes while thinking about the next meal we need to make or bathing our children as we count the minutes until bedtime.
We can make the shift from doing to being by simply changing our perspective. Instead of counting the hours until the weekend, we embrace Monday and the start of the workweek craziness. Instead of counting the minutes until bedtime, we talk to our children in the bath, listening to their answers, squirting them with bath toys even as they squirt us back (and if you’re truly being, you’re not thinking about how you’ll have to clean up the water on the bathroom floor later!).
Here are four ways to be:
1. Give your full attention to whatever you are doing in the moment. Eating dinner or a snack? Pay attention to the flavors, individually and combined. Drinking something? Notice the flavors as well as sensations on your tongue of cold or warm, carbonated or flat. Watching a show or movie or reading a book? Pay attention to every word, every scene. Notice the feelings associated with whatever you’re doing in this moment. Is it pleasure? Pain? Frustration? Contentment? Notice and resist urges to check out of the present moment by scrolling social media on your phone or thinking about what’s on your to-do list.
2. Notice changes/differences. From the changing of the seasons to the new color your neighbor painted his house, there are differences all around you. Once you begin giving your full attention to whatever you’re doing in the moment, you’ll being to notice these changes. You’ll breathe in that little change in the air that indicates fall has arrived or spring is coming. You’ll see the paint cans that indicate your neighbor is about to paint his house. You’ll notice shadows, the position of the sun in the sky, the phase of the moon — if you just allow yourself. Be open to all the wonder, connections, and other things that come up.
3. Give people your complete attention. Whether it’s your child asking you how toothpaste gets in the tube or the cashier asking you how you’re doing, give your complete attention to the people you interact with. Connect with them. Notice the small details: the plump curve of your child’s chubby cheek, the tired but friendly smile of the cashier, the lines of worry and tension around your spouse’s eyes.
4. Let go of the need to be perfect. While you should give your full attention to what you’re doing, and should always give your best to whatever you do, let go of the need to be perfect. Sometimes that to-do list never seems to shrink because we spend far too much time on one task, trying to do it perfectly. Remind yourself that done is better than perfect. In addition to cutting yourself some slack on getting things done, consider where you might allow others to do some things, so that you free up more time for you to be.
Keep in mind that these things are not accomplished in a matter of seconds. Take your time with them. Spend several minutes on them. Immerse yourself in the moment without ticking off time on a clock. To truly be, you have to remain present in the moment without looking back or thinking ahead.
Being can become a habit
The good news is once you start shifting into being, it won’t take long to reduce your stress, relax your body and feel better overall.
The even better news is spending more time in being mode can become a habit. When you start becoming more mindful, it begins as something you must remind yourself to do. But in time, you’ll begin to do it automatically.
It might feel a little awkward to you at first when you try to shift into being. You may feel like you’re being unproductive, selfish, or just plain weird. But give it some time. You’ll start to enjoy it, and you deserve the chance to enjoy yourself.
You might be the glue that holds your family together, but that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck.