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How to practice mindfulness when your to-do list feels too full, mama

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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:

Rest

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?

Exhale

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.

Acknowledge

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

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.

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I'll admit it: I love a pretty pink and blue nursery. It sounds overly cliche, but it's really classic. Traditional nursery colors are all well and good, but wouldn't it be cool to incorporate the same colors you love in your living room and bedroom in your baby's room? If you're ready to step outside the box and be a tad darring, we reached out to designers at Decorist to help us reimagine nursery color palette trends to put a spin on our existing designs.

Here are the top new nursery color palettes for 2020:

1. Mint colorways

"What's really popular are subtle mint shades paired with organic neutrals (think textural ivory and wood tones) with soft pops of black and white, creating a soothing retreat for you and your little one," says Decorist designer Meg Weber. When used in its more vibrant shades, mint can add moments of playfulness and it blends itself well to maximalist spaces. "There is a strong case for calling this shade of green, in its more subtle hues, the new grey," says Weber. "It feels updated and can act as a neutral itself while adding more dimension."

Get started with:

Pairings:

2. Blue + yellow balanced with brown + grey

It's important to remember that blue isn't just for a boy nursery, and pink isn't for girls. The color of your nursery is all about colors you like that make you feel good. You want it to be your happy place.

A blue and yellow palette is a great foundation for any nursery. "This color palette is a classic that strangely feels new again with the infusion of brown and gray furniture in fun colors and bohemian accents," says Weber. "The key is to keep a neutral ground so the blues and yellows pop in a modern way and work with bold geometric shapes. This palette is another great gender neutral option that can also grow with your tot."

Get started with:

Pairings:

3. Jewel tones + vibrant tropicals

Jewel tones are officially trending in 2020 and it feels especially fresh when paired with tropical accents and hints of blush. If you're looking for depth in your nursery, go for rich colors like sapphire, topaz, emerald, ruby and amethyst. This palette works best when executed with a maximalist approach, layering color on color and mixing bold patterns with natural materials. If you're new to the trend, and not quite sold on it, start small with a jewel tone rug. Rugs are a great way to add color without fully committing.

Get started with:

Pairings:

4. Neutral Bohemian colors with a touch of terracotta

When it comes to Bohemian colors, you'll want to look to browns, greens and grays. Think of 1970's design when creating a Boho aesthetic—it's all about mixing colors, patterns and textures. "While I'm personally not a huge fan of Boho, I do love the serene and neutral space it creates," says Decorist designer Belinda Nihill. "Layering texture rather than color is such a beautiful way to do so. For boys, I love adding leather and timber to the soft neutrals; for girls, it's the palest of blush tones."

For terracotta colors, you'll want to look for earth tones that land somewhere between orange and brown.

Get started with:

Pairings:

5. Brooding, moody hues

"Brooding hues are also trending across the board in home decor and translate beautifully to nurseries," says Weber. Moody hues like blue, green and gray undertones are soothing and can make both large and small spaces feel extra cozy. They also look lovely paired with dark greys and rust, and can be infused subtly or saturate a room.

Get started with:

Pairings:

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Lifestyle

It's finally 2020. It's hard to believe but the old decade is over, the new one is here and it is bringing a lot of new life with it. The babies born this year are members of Generation Alpha and the world is waiting for them.

We're only a few days into the new year and there are already some new celebrity arrivals making headlines while making their new parents proud.

If your little one arrived (or is due to arrive) in 2020, they've got plenty of high profile company.

Here are all the celebrity babies born in 2020 (so far):

Laura Prepon is a mama x 2! 

Actors Laura Prepon and Ben Foster share 2-year-old daughter Ella and now share another "bundle of love".

Prepon announced her pregnancy back in October on Instagram:. "We are so excited to announce that our family is growing. Life is beautiful!" and has now announced her birth as well.

"Overwhelmed with gratitude." she captioned an Instagram photo of her baby.

Ashley Graham is a mama! 🎉

A new chapter is unfolding for model and podcaster Ashley Graham, who just announced she and her husband Justin Ervin have met their baby.

The baby arrived Saturday, according to a post made on Graham's Instagram Stories.

"At 6:00pm on Saturday our lives changed for the better," reads the Story. "Thank you for all your love and support during this incredible time."

Graham previously announced that she and Ervin were expecting a son. They initially announced the pregnancy on their ninth wedding anniversary.

Congratulations to Ashley and Justin!

Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden just welcomed a baby girl! 🎉

Surprise! Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden are ringing in the New Year as first-time parents!

"Happy New Year from the Maddens!" reads a birth announcement posted to both Diaz and Madden's Instagram accounts. "We are so happy, blessed and grateful to begin this new decade by announcing the birth of our daughter, Raddix Madden. She has instantly captured our hearts and completed our family."

Raddix Madden is the first child for Diaz, 47, and Madden, 40.

The couple say they won't be posting any pictures of their daughter on social media as they "feel a strong instinct to protect our little one's privacy."

Congratulations to the Maddens! 🎉

Dylan Dreyer of 'Today' is a mom of 2! 

Today meteorologist Dylan Dreyer and her husband Brian Fichera, welcomed their second child, Oliver George Fichera, the first week of January 2020. Oliver joins his big brother Calvin to make the family a foursome.

Dreyer is still recovering from birth but her voice was on TV this week when she called into her show with an update on her new family. "I feel good," Dylan told her colleagues. "I just feel so happy and so blessed."

Caterina Scorsone of 'Grey's Anatomy' now has 3 girls!

Caterina Scorsone of Grey's Anatomy has so much to be thankful for in 2020: She's now a mom of three! The actress announced the birth of her daughter via Instagram, noting that her baby's name is Arwen.

Arwen joins big sisters Eliza, 7, and 3-year-old Paloma, who has Down syndrome. Speaking on The Motherly Podcast last year, Scorsone explained how Paloma's diagnosis made her "whole concept of what motherhood was had to shift."

It is likely shifting again, as any mama who has gone from two kids to three knows.

News

We are constantly absorbing emotions from those around us. That's part of the reason being around kids and teens, with their roller coasters of emotion, can be so exhausting. And when our own hearts and minds are clouded by emotion, we are not showing up and responding with our wisest mind and most open heart.

Our capacity for calm in the midst of a kid's emotional storm offers hope, because it signals that calm is possible in the midst of chaos.

What's happening in your child's brain during a tantrum

Neuroscientist Dan Siegel and parenting expert Tina Bryson creatively describe "downstairs" and "upstairs" aspects of the brain. Our primitive brains—the limbic system and amygdala—are reactive and emotional, driven by impulsive, short-term interests, and primitive drives. This childlike, impulsive, instinctual system lives downstairs.

Meanwhile, the outer cortices of our brains, which enable us to inhibit impulses, slow down, gain perspective, process emotional stimuli, and articulate these stimuli into thought and action, live upstairs. This upstairs area helps us plan, think before we act, take perspective, make moral decisions, and form relationships.

The "wise mind" integrates both our emotional and our rational minds, according to Marsha Linehan, the creator of dialectical behavior therapy. The four aspects of our brains—left, right, upstairs, downstairs—need strong connections to work together to build wise, healthy brains.

During a tantrum, when the amygdala and emotions flare up, it's almost impossible for logic to penetrate our kids' closed-off outer cortices. Helping them settle down from a tantrum to engage their wise mind takes wisdom, compassion, and plenty of patience on our part.

Why children (unlike adults) can't calm down during a tantrum

Our children are not miniature adults—their growing brains are actually incapable of taking an adult perspective on a situation and using that knowledge to calm down.

Remembering this can help us see that tantrums are not methodically manufactured manipulations. A child's tantrum operates at an instinctual level that simply won't respond to reason.

Once we recognize this, we can make more effective choices about responding.

How to respond calmly to a tantrum

Yes, sometimes challenging behaviors are premeditated, and in those cases, we should respond with intention, logic, and clear boundaries or consequences. However, when our kids are experiencing a limbic system meltdown, what they need is connection and calming.

When children descend into lower-brain chaos, parents need to work overtime to first calm our own prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is associated with planning and thinking and is located just behind the forehead—so we can view the situation clearly.

When we show that we've regulated our own emotions, it signals to kids that it's safe for them to calm down. It also models and mirrors to them (often literally, through what are called mirror neurons) how to calm down. Thus, the quickest way to cultivate calm in a child is to practice being calm yourself.

As one meme I recently saw on Twitter says, "Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down."

Telling kids to relax doesn't work nearly as well as a soft voice or a gentle touch, both of which turn on the "attend and befriend" response, shut off fight or flight, thin out cortisol, and boost oxytocin, the so-called love hormone.

Once we establish that fundamental connection with our child (or anyone, for that matter), we can open our hearts and minds to each other, see each other's perspective, and move on together.

Once your child calms down, you can move toward processing and planning verbally. Here are some things to try:

  • Continue to engage the PFC by asking what consequence they think would be fair or asking them to reflect on why certain expectations exist in your household.
  • Don't forget your kids' basic needs. That PFC is an energy guzzler—sometimes just a rest or snack is all that's needed to get things up and running again.
  • Sometimes you have to get creative and throw your kid a curveball, maybe literally. In other words, you have to hijack their lower brain by getting them to do something with their bodies—playing catch or doing a few downward dogs.
  • Engage their senses with strong sensory stimuli, like eating a bit of spicy food, smelling or tasting a lemon, or moving to a different room or getting outside.
  • Try to jump-start their PFC with a seemingly random question, like what they want for dinner or what's the name of their best friend's mom.
  • Decrease the dominance of the amygdala with games—a quick round of cards, some fun verbal wordplay, or a checkers match. From there, you can steer your kids back into their wisest minds.

When we interrupt tantrums like this, it's vital that, once things calm down, we address what triggered the tantrum. You don't have to rehash the details of every conflict, but remember that consistency is always key to raising resilient and healthy kids. So if you say you are going to come back to something later, come back to it. This lets kids integrate the experience with their whole brain once it's fully back online.


What's happening in your child's brain during a tantrum

Neuroscientist Dan Siegel and parenting expert Tina Bryson creatively describe "downstairs" and "upstairs" aspects of the brain. Our primitive brains—the limbic system and amygdala—are reactive and emotional, driven by impulsive, short-term interests, and primitive drives. This childlike, impulsive, instinctual system lives downstairs.

Meanwhile, the outer cortices of our brains, which enable us to inhibit impulses, slow down, gain perspective, process emotional stimuli, and articulate these stimuli into thought and action, live upstairs. This upstairs area helps us plan, think before we act, take perspective, make moral decisions, and form relationships.

The "wise mind" integrates both our emotional and our rational minds, according to Marsha Linehan, the creator of dialectical behavior therapy. The four aspects of our brains—left, right, upstairs, downstairs—need strong connections to work together to build wise, healthy brains.

During a tantrum, when the amygdala and emotions flare up, it's almost impossible for logic to penetrate our kids' closed-off outer cortices. Helping them settle down from a tantrum to engage their wise mind takes wisdom, compassion, and plenty of patience on our part.

Why children (unlike adults) can't calm down during a tantrum

Our children are not miniature adults—their growing brains are actually incapable of taking an adult perspective on a situation and using that knowledge to calm down.

Remembering this can help us see that tantrums are not methodically manufactured manipulations. A child's tantrum operates at an instinctual level that simply won't respond to reason.

Once we recognize this, we can make more effective choices about responding.

How to respond calmly to a tantrum

Yes, sometimes challenging behaviors are premeditated, and in those cases, we should respond with intention, logic, and clear boundaries or consequences. However, when our kids are experiencing a limbic system meltdown, what they need is connection and calming.

When children descend into lower-brain chaos, parents need to work overtime to first calm our own prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is associated with planning and thinking and is located just behind the forehead—so we can view the situation clearly.

When we show that we've regulated our own emotions, it signals to kids that it's safe for them to calm down. It also models and mirrors to them (often literally, through what are called mirror neurons) how to calm down. Thus, the quickest way to cultivate calm in a child is to practice being calm yourself.

As one meme I recently saw on Twitter says, "Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down."

Telling kids to relax doesn't work nearly as well as a soft voice or a gentle touch, both of which turn on the “attend and befriend" response, shut off fight or flight, thin out cortisol, and boost oxytocin, the so-called love hormone.

Once we establish that fundamental connection with our child (or anyone, for that matter), we can open our hearts and minds to each other, see each other's perspective, and move on together.

Once your child calms down, you can move toward processing and planning verbally. Here are some things to try:

  • Continue to engage the PFC by asking what consequence they think would be fair or asking them to reflect on why certain expectations exist in your household.
  • Don't forget your kids' basic needs. That PFC is an energy guzzler—sometimes just a rest or snack is all that's needed to get things up and running again.
  • Sometimes you have to get creative and throw your kid a curveball, maybe literally. In other words, you have to hijack their lower brain by getting them to do something with their bodies—playing catch or doing a few downward dogs.
  • Engage their senses with strong sensory stimuli, like eating a bit of spicy food, smelling or tasting a lemon, or moving to a different room or getting outside.
  • Try to jump-start their PFC with a seemingly random question, like what they want for dinner or what's the name of their best friend's mom.
  • Decrease the dominance of the amygdala with games—a quick round of cards, some fun verbal wordplay, or a checkers match. From there, you can steer your kids back into their wisest minds.

When we interrupt tantrums like this, it's vital that, once things calm down, we address what triggered the tantrum. You don't have to rehash the details of every conflict, but remember that consistency is always key to raising resilient and healthy kids. So if you say you are going to come back to something later, come back to it. This lets kids integrate the experience with their whole brain once it's fully back online.

Learn + Play

Most nights as I put my daughter to bed, rocking her to sleep in the darkness, I find my mind wandering to all the things I need to accomplish once she's asleep. I can't forget to throw that load of laundry in the dryer. I need to make sure I finish that lesson plan. I really should mop the kitchen tonight if I have time. As a busy working parent, the mental to-do list is never-ending, and my mind is always taking inventory of all that I've accomplished, and all I've yet to get done.

But tonight as I rocked her, I looked down at my daughter's legs, which now stick out past my arms when I cradle her in the rocking chair. I recalled how my arms used to wrap completely around her tiny little body. She used to lie in my arms, swaddled tightly like a little burrito, and her entire body would fit perfectly in my arms. It feels like this was only yesterday.

FEATURED VIDEO

I blinked, and somehow my tiny, sleepy newborn became a sweet, but strong-willed toddler.

I stared down at her little face in the darkness, forgetting the list of things I wanted to accomplish once I put her to bed. I watched her eyelids flutter as she fought sleep, and I recalled all the sleepless nights we spent in this rocking chair.

I remembered rocking her back to sleep on that very first night home from the hospital, so overwhelmed with love and joy, but also plagued with exhaustion.

I thought of all the nights between then and now. The tough, sleepless nights—through growth spurts, teething, and colds—and those sweet, easy nights where she drifted to sleep effortlessly and slept the whole night through.

I watched her eyelids become heavy as she drifted off to sleep, and I snuggled her a little tighter and rocked her a little longer. The days have flown by since we brought this tiny little blessing home, and I know that time is never going to slow down.

I know that there will come a day in the not-too-distant future where my precious little girl won't want her mama to rock her to sleep anymore. She won't want to hear Goodnight Moon for the one-millionth time. She won't want me to kiss her forehead and wish her sweet dreams before tucking her into bed.

So tonight, I made sure to be present in the moment rather than letting my mind wander to the next item on my to-do list. I watched my precious girl fall asleep and I savored every moment of it. I rocked her and rocked her and then rocked her some more.

I stared at her sweet face, wishing I could freeze this moment and keep her my baby forever. But I know that the future will bring new and exciting things as well.

For the time being, I'm going to enjoy where we are right now and do my best to just be in the moment. Because the laundry will still be there in an hour or two, and if the floors don't get mopped until tomorrow, nothing is going to happen.

Right now, just being here in this rocking chair with my baby is the most important thing in the world.

Life
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