Breakfast, Dinner, Bedtime: Mastering The Mindful Transition

Ever lose your temper with your kids within the first five or 10 minutes of walking in the door? I hear this from clients all the time: “I’ve had long day and just need a little space before I can handle the onslaught!”

Switching gears -- between work and home, fast-paced adult world and a kid’s dawdling pace – is one of the biggest challenges parents face. It’s hard to bounce between the office and the living room, managing adult responsibilities and refereeing sibling disagreements, trying to maintain an adult relationship with your spouse while addressing your child’s needs.

Trouble happens when you fail to fully transition from one task to the next. Your body is in motion but your mind is lagging behind.

If you constantly say things like, “I’ll be done in minute” or “I just need to send this one email,” you’re not giving the people in front of you your full attention -- and they can tell. It’s inviting a conflict.

The solution is to to be more mindful about preparing for each transition. Before you walk in the door ask yourself, “What is my intention?” Is it to be present for your kids and partner? To make your family laugh? To help everyone prepare for the day ahead? What is it for you?

Here are a few other ideas to make transitions more mindful:  

  1. Avoid just-one-more-thing syndrome. It’s tempting to jam in more more thing before you run out the door. But that makes departures, which can already be stressful, even more of a mad dash. Replace the impulse with a “transition ritual,” which may be as simple as counting to 10 or taking four deep breaths. Transitions are easier on everyone when you allow time for them to happen.
  2. Make a roadmap for the evening. The evening hustle -- from the minute adults and kids arrive home, all the way through bedtime -- includes many of the most stressful transitions of the day. Lots has to happen for families in those early evening hours: dinner, homework, packing lunches, baths, bedtime routines, etc. Parents get into trouble when they don’t have a game plan for who’s in charge of what. Try a five-minute call towards the end of the day, before everyone gets home, when mom’s and dad’s decide who will lead what task -- cooking dinner, cleaning up, reading books, etc. If you project certainty about how the evening should flow, your kids are more likely to follow.
  3. Be realistic about how long a transition takes. Most people underestimate how long transitions really take. Identify the the transitions that cause you the biggest headaches (getting out the door is a common one) and then deconstruct how long it actually takes, by using a stopwatch. You may think 40 minutes, but if it’s 47 minutes, that’s the difference between being on time and being late. Once you know the true length of the transition time, identify any mechanics that can reasonably be done in advance (e.g. prepping the coffee pot, making lunches, etc.). Removing logistics from the list of things you have to think about will make it easier to focus on the mental part of switching gears.