When I speak to groups of moms with young children, I ask them to close their eyes and think of the last time they felt themselves relax into the moment so much that they lost all sense of time. When I look around the room I can see panic in some of the women’s eyes as they realize they can’t think of the last time they felt this way.
The truth is that for most moms with small children, these moments are all too few and far between.
And according to scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “cheeks sent me high”), these moments, which he calls “flow,” are extremely important to our happiness and wellbeing. Athletes often call it being “in the zone.” In the Christian world we sometimes call it kairos, qualitative rather than quantitative time, moments when God reaches into us or meets us in a profound way, moments that pull us out of chronos, or quantitative time. Moments of flow aren’t always easy to come by, but they are spiritually refreshing, even essential.
For those of us with small children at home, however, such moments can feel unattainable because our children so often interrupt our focus. Sometimes my entire day feels like one long series of interruptions.
So how can parents (particularly stay-at-home parents) experience flow? Think of those things in your life that produced a sense of flow in the past and make sure to work them into your schedule. Some of my best times of flow come when I’m writing or editing, and I’m so wrapped up in the task at hand and the words on the screen that I forget what’s going on around me. Finding enough time to do this is not only challenging when you’re a parent of small children, it can be downright dangerous if you also need to be supervising small humans, so I normally save this kind of flow-inducing work for my kids’ naptimes or after their bedtimes or when someone else is caring for them. Some other flow-inducing tasks for me are walking, reading, and sometimes cooking or baking. I do find that I’m a lot happier and more peaceful in the rest of my day when I’ve been able to get caught up in something I really enjoyed this way.
But I’ve also learned to expand my ideas of flow. Flow doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Some of my most rewarding times of flow have been with my children. In fact, now when I close my eyes and think of when I experience flow or kairos my mind goes first to pushing one of my children on the swing in the park or reading books aloud together. Now, before you throw your phone across the playground, no, I certainly do not achieve this sense of flow every single time I push one of my children on a swing or read one of them a book. But in general, when I allow it, these activities are conduits to kairos.
The key phrase in that last sentence was “when I allow it” because a certain amount of intentionality is required. Flow never happens when I’m only halfway present with my children, thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner or loading the dishwasher or listening with half an ear to a podcast. Multitasking is the enemy of flow. Flow only happens for me when I’m doing one thing at a time. And because I always feel so overwhelmed with SO MANY things to do, doing only one thing at a time feels almost unnatural.
I’ve found, however, that it gets easier with practice. And in these moments I sometimes glimpse this truth: It’s not my kids who are the interruptions. My life with them is the real life, the important part. It’s the other stuff that’s interrupting.