“Will you do a mindful minute with me tonight?”
The question from my 10-year-old came out of the blue. I was sitting at my laptop, trying as usual to cram in just a few more minutes of work before packing it in for the night. Now that she was a mature, self-sufficient fifth-grader, I had grown accustomed to bedtime being much less hands-on than it had been in her younger years.
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As an only child in a two-parent household, she’s had our full attention for much of her life—even if it is sometimes competing with work and household responsibilities. But for a while now, I had been savoring the joy of being able to say, “Go upstairs and get ready for bed” and having her just… do it. It’s so different from when she was younger, and we were all locked into a lengthy, multi-step routine that took up much of the evening.
So here she was, asking me to join her in the playroom for a “mindful minute”—something we hadn’t done for a few years. It had started during the height of the pandemic, when, like many of us, my extroverted little girl became isolated and anxious. Her worries seemed to grow to fill up the empty space in our lives that had once been occupied by play dates, martial arts lessons, trips to the library, and, of course, school. And at bedtime, those worries often became so large that there wasn’t space left for anything else.
I’m a worrier, too, so I tried all the tools in my toolbox, including bringing her to a therapist, who met with us a few times to help us all better understand what was going on. But it was my daughter who, after our last therapy appointment, said, “I think we should do a mindful minute so I can get calmed down before bed.” So we did.
Related: 20+ Calming Phrases That’ll Help an Anxious Child
I’m not saying the mindful minute fixed everything, but it did help for a while. We listened with our ears and paid attention to what our bodies were feeling, and we talked about it. We did this for a while, and then—I can’t remember when or why—we stopped. It was probably around the time we started going back to libraries, play dates, and, finally, school. I thought, “Maybe she doesn’t need it anymore.”
But now it was back, quite unexpectedly, and I’ll admit, my first reaction was one of frustration. Didn’t she know I had a lot of stuff to get done tonight? But I know well enough that we are approaching the age when my kid may not ask me to do so many things with her anymore, so I said, “Sure,” and climbed the stairs with her to spend 60 seconds in the dark, being mindful together.
“Get on the bean bag,” my daughter said excitedly, before turning out the lights. I lay down on the enormous bag and felt her small body cuddle in next to mine. Moments later, our mini Aussie was bounding up the stairs to join us. My daughter and I both squealed with giggles as the dog clambered up across both of our bodies and covered our faces with wet kisses. But then she settled down, and so did we.
Outside the windows, the stars were bright; downstairs, my husband was putting away the clean dishes from the dishwasher, with the baseball game on in the background. My sore shoulder muscle unclenched as I lay on the soft bag. The dog’s furry snout was tucked between my neck and my collarbone. My daughter shifted next to me and took my hand. We all breathed in and out as I slowly counted to 60.
The mindful minute is a small part of our day, but it’s become so precious to me. It’s only during this tiny pocket of time that my long, lean 10-year-old cuddles up next to me and reaches for my hand with hers, just like she did when she was still a chubby toddler. It’s in the dark and in the quiet that she says to me, “Can we chat about some things?” and tells me about the things that she did and said during the day that are important to her. We talk about our worries and our feelings, and, at her urging, we each share a “rose,” a “thorn,” and a “petal”—something good, something not so good, and something we’re looking forward to.
It’s in this moment that I can let my daughter see me not just as Mom, but as a whole person: someone who feels disappointed in herself when she does something that makes her friend angry; someone whose feet hurt because she wore sharp shoes; someone whose mind wandered while looking at the stars to think about how far away space really is. There’s no advice or rules or lectures. We’re just two people who are taking a minute to listen—to each other and to ourselves.
Some nights, I still don’t feel like it. I’m usually at my computer, catching up on work or emails or sneaking in a little shopping. But when I hear her call, I always get up from whatever I’m doing. No matter how busy or stressed or zoned out I may be, I’ve got to be able to give my daughter at least one minute of my time. And I never regret doing it.
I know that little window will be the most important 60 seconds of my day.
Emily Farmer is a communications professional and freelance writer who lives with her family in upstate New York.