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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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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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In America, mothers have the right to breastfeed their child in public, but what about when you're on an airplane? That's the issue one California mom, Shelby Angel, brought to light after she had a bad experience on Dutch airline KLM.

In a Facebook post that has gone viral Shelby explained:

"Before we even took off, I was approached by a flight attendant carrying a blanket. She told me (and I quote) "if you want to continue doing the breastfeeding, you need to cover yourself." I told her no, my daughter doesn't like to be covered up. That would upset her almost as much as not breastfeeding her at all. She then warned me that if anyone complained, it would be my issue to deal with (no one complained. On any of the flights I took with my daughter. Actually, no one has ever complained to me about breastfeeding in public. Except this flight attendant)."

Shelby's post gained traction but soon the conversation spread to Twitter, where another woman, Heather Yemm, asked KLM to explain its breastfeeding policy.

The airline responded, "To ensure that all our passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable on board, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this." Twitter users didn't like this response and even started asking other airlines about their breastfeeding policies.




British Airways confirmed it welcomes breastfeeding onboard and a Delta rep tweeted that the airline's policy is to "allow a breastfeeding mother to feed her child on board in a manner she feels comfortable with."

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That sounds like a good plan to us. Southwest was also questioned by Twitter users and confirmed that "Southwest does indeed welcome nursing mothers who wish to breastfeed on the aircraft and/or within our facilities".

This important online conversation underscores how vital it is for airlines to have supportive policies in place and train staff on those policies. Back in March, a Canadian mom made international headlines after an Air Canada call center representative told her to nurse in an airplane bathroom (a suggestion that is contrary to Air Canada's own policies).

It's time for every airline to recognize that breastfeeding needs to be welcomed and that all staff members need to understand this. Whether a mother uses a cover or not needs to be up to her, not a flight attendant or other passengers.

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I grew up with three brothers and yes, it was loud, crazy, chaotic, but also so much fun. We had vacations where we laughed a lot, Christmas Eves full of staying up late to listen for Santa, and inside jokes that made me feel like I had my own little secret club. What I really loved about being in a big family was that it gave me a sense of community, so when I came home and the outside world had been cruel or harsh I had my people.

People always gasped when I said I had three brothers and no sisters like they weren't sure how I survived around so many barbarians. I never felt like I was missing out. My brothers are caring people, my mom was always around, and we all got married young giving me three sisters-in-law who I call close friends.

Now we all have our own families and we live 30 minutes from each other. We still manage to get together with all 12 of the cousins (all under 12, yes it's chaos) and laugh and make memories. My oldest brother has four kids, my second oldest has three, I have three, and my youngest brother has two and we pretty much all had them at the same time. We are also a very girl heavy bunch, only four boys total in the whole mix.

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Recently we were all on a family vacation and I was sitting around with my sisters-in-law and we were talking numbers, who was done having kids. My sister-in-law with four said she was overwhelmed, my other one said they were adopting one more and my other sister-in-law and I just said, we don't know. We both have three and four feels like a big jump.

It's funny how everyone talks about how you know when to start having kids but no one tells you how hard it will be to decide when your family is done. I know that's not true for everyone, I have lots of friends that just knew. Others never had the luxury of deciding and then some are like me living life on the fence hoping the fertility fairy will drop an answer in your lap.

I have to admit, I don't know if I'm done having babies. All these questions keep popping in my head.

If I have two girls and one boy should we go for the fourth and try for a brother?

Or if we have three girls will the level of drama be too high?

Or if one kid really likes one of their siblings and not the other should we have more?

Should we factor in age?

Should they be two grades apart or three or four?

Should we give up if it's too hard or will we regret it?

Should we adopt if we can or have another biological?

Should we close up shop and enjoy the kids we have?

Will our marriage survive another newborn season?

What is the perfect number?

There are a thousand possible scenarios and the questions just eat away at my brain. They keep me up at night. I'm not even kidding. I have laid in bed and played out every scenario and the possible outcome.

I do this because my childhood in all of its loud glory was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me. My brothers, our friendship, my parents' choice to fight for close-knit relationships, all of it was what gave me the foundation I needed.

So now as a parent myself, I want to give that same gift to my own kids.

What if there is no perfect number? What if you just choose to make family a safe, secure place, where your kids can feel valued and loved? Does it matter then if you have one, two, three, four or whatever number you have? Will the effect still be the same?

I think so.

The reality is though, I want what I had. I want a family where my kids feel this sense of community they might not get anywhere else and that's not a numbers game that's a culture thing.

I have had to come to accept that I have no guarantee and that there is no perfect number. Each family comes with its own set of complications, joys and strengths. The uniqueness is actually part of the fun.

We have two girls and a boy now and I watch my girls bond as sisters and think, oh this is what people were talking about. Sure, I wish my son had a brother but he has two amazing sisters that love on him and will even dress up like superheroes sometimes.

We still don't know if we are "done" but we do know our family is already great and the number isn't as important as what we choose to make important.

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Life

My darling,

I'm not entirely sure why I do things like this to myself, but tonight, as I rocked our night-before-turning-1-year-old daughter to sleep I closed my eyes and, for about 10 minutes, I pictured what our life will look like in 10 years.

(You're probably reprimanding me for doing that in your head right now. 😂)

In 10 years, our three daughters will be almost 15, almost 13, and 11—not a single-digit in sight. We'll be dealing with high school and middle school and hormones and the start of love interests and things that aren't diaper changes and baby proofing and teething.

We won't be rocking them to sleep anymore or cutting up their food. And I'm sure we'll miss the validation of being the ones who keep their world turning because simply put—we won't be the center of their Universe anymore.

Instead of them needing us to lay with them until they fall asleep, they will need us to remind them that it's bedtime at 9 pm, 10 pm, then again at 11 pm.

Instead of tripping over dolls strewn about the floor, we will be tripping over lacrosse sticks and backpacks and bras.Instead of needing our help to break up fights over magnatiles, they'll need us to break up fights over who stole who's shirt.

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Instead of wiping tears from a meltdown over receiving the "wrong" dinner plate, we will be wiping tears from a heartache over a fight with a friend.

Instead of needing us to carry them around when they say they're too tired to walk, they will need us to pick them up from after-school activities and drive them around town.

Instead of teaching them how to tie their shoes or say "thank you," we will be teaching them how to drive and how to stay safe and be a respectful member of our community.

It will be a whole new world.

I will become the woman who looks at a baby and can almost feel her ovaries ache. We will hold new nieces and nephews and wish that we could relive that high of meeting our child for the first time again—just one more time. We'll say things like, "Wow, it seems like just yesterday our kids were this small…"

This past weekend, when we were hosting our third first birthday party, we reminisced on when each of our children were born and how it seems like they are growing up so quickly. Because they are. It seems like we blinked, and now our newborn from last year is a walking, chit-chatting, climbing, busy toddler.

I started to cry during my little torture-myself-10-years-ahead-meditation tonight. (Not totally surprising, right?) Because 10 years down the line—while I am certainly confident we will be happy and fulfilled—everything will be different. There will be new milestones to be proud of and new adventures to embark on, of course. But it won't be like it is now.

These—right now—are the good ol' days of our future.

The stories we will reminisce on are happening now... when we discover that our toddler knows how to climb on the kitchen table and laughs at us when she sees us see her… or when we watch our preschooler tie her shoes for the first time courtesy of the bunny ear method... or the million times our heart bursts when our middle kiddo busts out her signature move of sticking her hand down her shirt and asking for a pacifier when she's tired.

The moments we will never forget are happening now… the sound of the high pitched sing-song voice belting out "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid… the giggles when we're all running around the house… the way they look when they're sleeping—so peaceful and angelic—even if they were going buck wild 10 minutes prior.

The "remember whens" we will laugh about when our kids seem too grown up and the parenting challenges seem too serious—are happening now...

Like when one of our children poops in the backyard playhouse (I won't name any names)... or how another one of our children "bakes" concoctions that consist of garlic powder, chili powder, vanilla, ginger, water, baking soda and salt (and yes, also how I try them because she always asks me to and because I always feel bad not supporting her baking endeavors).

We will look back, and we won't necessarily focus on the blood, sweat and tears that we have poured into raising young children together. Sure, we will remember how hard it was—but I really think we will look back on these physically and emotionally taxing years with rose-tinted glasses.

The feeling of utter overwhelm and constant chaos will have dimmed. The sleep struggles and multiple meltdowns will pale in comparison to the relationship drama and social media worries of the pre-teen and teenage years. We will have more time for conversation and date nights instead of often feeling like ships passing in the night.

And so my hunch is this: We will faintly remember the hard times down the line. But, in 10 years, when we look back—we will let the good times shine.

In 10 years, I'll be sad—in a happy way—looking back on the beginning stages of the life we've built together.

The days when happiness was measured in how many twirls one could do before collapsing into laughter.

The days when love was measured in sloppy, peanut butter covered kisses.

The days when peace was measured in how calm bedtime could be and how quiet the house could get post-bedtime.

The days when we were their everything; their Universe.

The good 'ol days.

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Instead of needing our help to break up fights over magnatiles, they'll need us to break up fights over who stole who's shirt.

Instead of wiping tears from a meltdown over receiving the "wrong" dinner plate, we will be wiping tears from a heartache over a fight with a friend.

Instead of needing us to carry them around when they say they're too tired to walk, they will need us to pick them up from after-school activities and drive them around town.

Instead of teaching them how to tie their shoes or say "thank you," we will be teaching them how to drive and how to stay safe and be a respectful member of our community.

It will be a whole new world.

I will become the woman who looks at a baby and can almost feel her ovaries ache. We will hold new nieces and nephews and wish that we could relive that high of meeting our child for the first time again—just one more time. We'll say things like, "Wow, it seems like just yesterday our kids were this small…"

This past weekend, when we were hosting our third first birthday party, we reminisced on when each of our children were born and how it seems like they are growing up so quickly. Because they are. It seems like we blinked, and now our newborn from last year is a walking, chit-chatting, climbing, busy toddler.

I started to cry during my little torture-myself-10-years-ahead-meditation tonight. (Not totally surprising, right?) Because 10 years down the line—while I am certainly confident we will be happy and fulfilled—everything will be different. There will be new milestones to be proud of and new adventures to embark on, of course. But it won't be like it is now.

These—right now—are the good ol' days of our future.

The stories we will reminisce on are happening now... when we discover that our toddler knows how to climb on the kitchen table and laughs at us when she sees us see her… or when we watch our preschooler tie her shoes for the first time courtesy of the bunny ear method... or the million times our heart bursts when our middle kiddo busts out her signature move of sticking her hand down her shirt and asking for a pacifier when she's tired.

The moments we will never forget are happening now… the sound of the high pitched sing-song voice belting out "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid… the giggles when we're all running around the house… the way they look when they're sleeping—so peaceful and angelic—even if they were going buck wild 10 minutes prior.

The "remember whens" we will laugh about when our kids seem too grown up and the parenting challenges seem too serious—are happening now...

Like when one of our children poops in the backyard playhouse (I won't name any names)... or how another one of our children "bakes" concoctions that consist of garlic powder, chili powder, vanilla, ginger, water, baking soda and salt (and yes, also how I try them because she always asks me to and because I always feel bad not supporting her baking endeavors).

We will look back, and we won't necessarily focus on the blood, sweat and tears that we have poured into raising young children together. Sure, we will remember how hard it was—but I really think we will look back on these physically and emotionally taxing years with rose-tinted glasses.

The feeling of utter overwhelm and constant chaos will have dimmed. The sleep struggles and multiple meltdowns will pale in comparison to the relationship drama and social media worries of the pre-teen and teenage years. We will have more time for conversation and date nights instead of often feeling like ships passing in the night.

And so my hunch is this: We will faintly remember the hard times down the line. But, in 10 years, when we look back—we will let the good times shine.

In 10 years, I'll be sad—in a happy way—looking back on the beginning stages of the life we've built together.

The days when happiness was measured in how many twirls one could do before collapsing into laughter.

The days when love was measured in sloppy, peanut butter covered kisses.

The days when peace was measured in how calm bedtime could be and how quiet the house could get post-bedtime.

The days when we were their everything; their Universe.

The good 'ol days.

Life

There are a lot of points during labor when mothers do not have any control over what's going on with their body. The one thing they usually have, if giving birth vaginally, is their ability to push. But a recent report by Vice highlights the fact that in some hospital delivery rooms, women are being told to stop pushing, even when the urge is nearly irresistible. And in some cases, this may be happening for some very troubling reasons.

"If a woman's cervix is fully dilated and she has the urge, she should be allowed to push, barring some unusual complication with mother or baby," Dana Gossett, chief of gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center, told Vice.

Writer Kimberly Lawson gathered anecdotal evidence suggesting that in many situations, hospital nurses are telling women to stop pushing because the doctor or midwife isn't available to deliver the baby. In some cases, women even report nurses forcing a baby's crowning head back into the birth canal.

"I've never felt a more painful experience in my life [than] being strapped down and forced to hold a baby in," says Elaina Loveland, a mother who was told to stop pushing because there were no beds available at the hospital when she arrived. "It was almost worse than the pushing. It was horrible."

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In addition to pain, women made to resist the urge to push may experience other complications. Delayed pushing sometimes causes labor to last longer, puts women at higher risk of postpartum bleeding and infection, and puts babies at a higher risk of developing sepsis, according to a study released last year. One midwife explained in the article that holding the baby in can damage a mother's pelvic floor, which might later cause urinary incontinence.

In one extreme case, Caroline Malatesta, a mother of four in Alabama said that when a nurse forced her baby's head back in, she caused permanent damage. After four years of chronic pain from a condition called pudendal neuralgia, she won a $16 million lawsuit against the hospital.

Nurses aren't necessarily being cruel when they instruct mothers to stop pushing, by the way. They may be hoping to prevent other complications, such as problems with the umbilical cord or shoulder dystocia. A doctor or midwife is better trained to correct such situations, and can also help prevent perineal tearing.

If hospital staff are instead making these decisions because of a shortage of obstetricians or hospital beds for expectant mothers, there's a systemic problem that needs to be addressed. As people have grown increasingly aware of the high rate of maternal deaths after childbirth, issues like these could point out where there's room for improvement.

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