The word mindful often conjures up an image of a person sitting in a serene space, calm revealed in their expression. On the other hand, the word parenting can create the opposite picture. Parenting is an honor, and for many, pure joy. Yet in the spaces between bliss, it can feel challenging and draining.
Continuous caring, constant concern, all in the midst of (what can feel like) unceasing chaos is far from tranquil. Peace can seem untouchable to the mom, dad or guardian in the trenches of a moment in parenting. Add it to the list of things-I'll-do-in-18-years.
But, what if mindfulness wasn't really that at all? What if it was something you could do right now, even as you are reading these words?
Being consciously aware of your experience, even while commotion circles around you, is possible. Children are expressive, energetic and excited. We want to flourish that and be inspired by it, however, the energy can often move toward unkindness. As guides, we can catch the moment and change the message before our reactions can become our children's actions. We can be the eye-of-the-storm with the capacity to quiet the squall.
So what is mindfulness?
I have come to know mindfulness as purposefully paying attention imperfectly. In being mindful, we welcome our experiences as they are, and ourselves as we are, in the imperfections that form us all.
Frequently, our mind does not match our moment. Mindfulness brings our attention fully on an experience, we learn to be with sensations long enough to allow them to move through us toward the change that greets every experience. We are stretched, strengthened and supported, and see that we are where we are supposed to be, simply because it is where we are.
Why a mama needs it
Through mindfulness, we can strive less for unattainable perfection and arrive in purposeful presence. We release the hold that expectations have on us and open to acceptance of what is, imaginably even gratitude for being in what we need while not reaching for what we want.
We can quiet enough to hear the whisper of our intuition, wiser than the pressure of judging voices.
We can move through toddler tantrums and teen trials knowing that nothing lasts forever as it is.
We may even slow down enough to see a struggling child, rather than bad behavior, and respond lovingly to a person that is acting as imperfectly human as we are.
We give us all a little space to mistake.
How to practice it
We construct our own barriers of I can't when we crave to create perfection. We can build a wall of reasons why this practice won't work for us. We place one brick because we think we don't have the right clothes for sitting, another for our too busy lifestyle, one because we think our mind never stops racing, and perhaps another because we are afraid. This wall blocks our experiences, it keeps us from seeing and feeling our life unfolding in its greatest capacity.
Perfection is unattainable, but presence is right here. This practice is about choosing to focus on what is happening instead of fixing on what could be or should be happening. We see beauty in a moment, believe in purpose for circumstance, and trust our greatest potential.
Here's the R.E.A.L. of parenting in mindfulness:
Pause what you are doing and notice what is happening. Observe sensations and see the situation. This does not require special clothing, serene space or specific props.
Pay attention to what you are feeling, then check your intention before you keep going. Ask yourself if you are acting from a place of love, doing what you need or from a place a fear, afraid of the judgment that you are not doing enough?
Slow, deep breathing calms the body and mind by activating the parasympathetic (calming) nervous system. When you feel anxious or angry, practice a pause, stopping for a moment and take a deep breath. This may allow you to respond sensibly, not react senselessly. Take three slow deep breaths then notice and receive.
You may also want to try still sitting. Set aside one minute each day to just sit and breathe. This can be at home, in bed, stopped in the car, most anywhere.
Turn the phone off, put the list away and give yourself 60 seconds to take deep breaths and notice what it feels like. Increase from one minute to two, then three, maybe eventually sitting still for 20 minutes.
Let the goal be the journey, being less concerned with how long you sit and more aware that you are sitting. Understand that it is a practice of drifting away and drawing back. The mind will wander; it is alive and wondrous. Your breath is happening right now, let it be your path to the present.
Staying present can be challenging because we have a tendency to run toward what is enjoyable and flee from what feels unpleasant. Full presence requires that we sit in it, all of it, comfort and discomfort.
Allow feelings, thoughts and sensations to move through you, release them through tears, yelling into a pillow or talking with a friend. Name your emotions with the intention to feel them towards freedom. Know that you are not your thoughts, you are much more extraordinary.
Live your life the best you can and believe others are doing the same. We are all simply doing the best we can in the moment we are in. Don't waste precious time judging others. Instead, take responsibility for your happiness, choosing to move through what doesn't serve you and setting your attention on what stretches and strengthens you. Your best life is unfolding right now.
Practice a present parenting pause in these ways:
- In conversation, choose to make eye contact and really listen to the words being shared. Pause and then respond.
- While eating, choose to actually taste the food and enjoy the meal. Chew, pause, taste. Maybe even converse before the next bite.
- While holding a sleeping baby or sitting beside a crib or bed, instead of reading or scrolling, pause, close your eyes and notice what your breath feels like.
- While a young child explores the inside of the car before (finally) sitting down, pause, and take a few deep breaths becoming aware of frustration. If you are in a rush, the brief pause may help you realize that it takes about 30 seconds to take three deep breaths. That might be the difference between a calm moment of connected conversation or the chaos of an upset child that was yelled at and a parent feeling guilty for yelling.
Tips for inviting mindfulness into family life:
- See: Play the classic game "I Spy" with your child as you are walking or in the car. Simply stop, see, and share what you notice.
- Sense: Feel the sensations of a belly breath. Ask your child to sit with hands on belly and fill it up, then watch it fall.
- Show: Show and support a calm breath. When you are frustrated, take a deep breath and share with your child that you are taking a calm breath. Let them see you doing what you ask of them.
- Say: Teach a fun phrase or affirmation to say when they breathe. Ask them to breathe in and say "I am" and to breath out and say a word that describes a way they want to be. Breathing in: "I am," breathing out: "kind."
Invite a present parenting pause into everyday life and experience the peace that sits within and around us all. Even when you feel overwhelmed and have a to-do list a mile long, taking that moment for yourself can make all the difference.