Why mamas need mindfulness (and 3 ways to get started now)

Mindfulness meditation creates a steady, calm space so that what used to overwhelm us is far more manageable.

Why mamas need mindfulness (and 3 ways to get started now)

Your baby barfs. The dishes refuse to wash themselves. Work emails pile up. And before you know it, you're lost in a cloud of disorienting stress, unable to feel at peace or to be the type of partner, mother and woman you want to be. Sound familiar?

The gift of mindfulness --being aware of what we are doing, as we are doing it ---is profoundly restorative and resourcing. In fact, this act of refusing to be distracted by negative thoughts or endless multi-tasking is one of the most important gifts a woman can give herself--and her family. You might have heard about the powerful impact of small moments of mindfulness, but do you know why it's so important to incorporate a mindfulness practice into your mothering? Here's a few reasons why you'll not want waste another moment, and a few ways you can start incorporating practices right now.


Reasons to be more mindful:

1: Because You Love Your Children

A landmark study in 2010 by Dr Robert Epstein and Shannon Fox found that the most important things we can do for childrenis express love and affection by supporting and accepting them, being physically affectionate and spending quality one-on-one time with them. I often think of this as I reach to check my texts and tweets…..and pause.

Quality time is attention. Mindfulness helps us train our attention skills so we can give this more easily, no matter how busy we are. As Rick Hanson said in an interview, children benefit from highly attuned, responsive, sensitive, engaged, emotionally-positive parenting.

Over the marathon of motherhood, how do you sustain that kind of presence? You need to keep resourcing yourself, and mindfulness is a core process for doing just that.

2: Because Motherhood is Tough

Yes, let’s be honest. Even though you try keep up with that busy life and still be the best mother you can be, maybe also the most productive worker, the best partner and friend you can be, this constant striving is exhausting. The parenting part on its own is exhausting, let alone the pressure you place on yourself to do more.

And emotions are incredibly contagious. You can probably remember a time when you were stressed and grumpy .... and all of a sudden, so were your children; I know I can. But now I find there is more often a background or foundation of calm that stays with me even at the most challenging times --or that I return to far more quickly.

Interestingly, the second thing on Epstein and Fox's list of the most important things we can do for children is: "take steps to reduce stress for yourself and your child” which is also helped through practicing mindfulness. Children of happy parents thrive.

Practicing mindfulness meditation creates a steady, calm space so that what used to overwhelm me is far more manageable. I understand from my own observation that what I am feeling in the moment is like a passing cloud. I don't have to deny what I am feeling or push it away. Or feel guilty. I am more accepting that it is normal to experience the full range of emotions in mothering -- that if I do get upset or even say something I wish I hadn't, I am not a "bad mother." It's like I have rediscovered my own caring, strong, best self again. Not every moment of every day, but often enough that I know I can find my way back again and again.

This is clearly of great benefit to me, but also to my children because I find myself reacting less and making better choices about how I respond to what's happening.

3: Because Mindfulness is a Happiness Habit you can Grow.

The key insight is that taking care of yourself is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. For your own sake and that of your children. And it IS possible to feel better. More resourced. More connected. More joyful in your role as mother. Just as there is a negative cycle of overwhelm, exhaustion and depression which is almost inevitable if you DON'T prioritize your own well-being, so too there is a positive cycle if you do.

I interviewed the leading researcher in this area, Barbara Fredrickson, (who has twice been invited to present her work to the Dalai Lama) and she explained that positive emotions continue to grow upwards --if we know how to get it happening--so we can rewire our brain for better well being. It’s a bit like building our strength in the gym --we lift a small weight, often, and gradually our strength grows and we can lift weights more easily --we get stronger --that’s what we can do with our brains. So let’s choose to give our brains experiences that increase our happiness, like mindfulness.

Okay, so you want to be more mindful. How can you start today--right now--in the midst of the madness?

Here are three small weights you can lift to work your "mindfulness muscles" every day:

1: Pause.

The wonderful Tara Brach says that one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves in the midst of busyness is to pause. She says it gives us a chance to come home to our hearts again. In the context of parenting and self care it has so many benefits. First: It’s achievable. We can all take a moment to pause. To interrupt the chaos and just stop. Be Still. Breathe. Regroup. That in itself is restorative. It also opens up the possibility of choice --In parenting it might mean choosing how to respond rather than reflexively react. In terms of self-care it is an opportunity to tune in to how we are and gently ask ourselves: What do I need? Try that right now. Stop whatever you are doing and tune in to how you are holding your body. Can you let some tension go? How about your feelings? What do you need? And your breath: Can you pause and just breathe in and out slowly for four breaths? Arrive in this moment again now and choose to be 100% here. We can do this anytime we remember to during the day.

2: 'Kindfulness'

Sometimes forgotten is how integral our attitude of kindness is to mindfulness. This is what drew Sarah Napthali to the idea of “Kindfulness.” She connects to the love she feels for her children and then deliberately turns it towards herself, filling herself up with that healing and restorative warmth and affection. It isn’t something that comes easily or natural to many of us but it is transformative if we choose to give it a try - and it only takes a few moments. Give it a go.

3: Savoring

Take two minutes whenever something good is happening to be 100% present and soak it up like the warmth of the sun - you are feeding your brain with the restorative “happy-juice” it needs to be there for you and resource you for the marathon of motherhood - so don’t let an opportunity go by unnoticed. Every time you choose to turn towards the sun you are building your resources. Our brains have a negativity bias so to be in the drivers seat of our own happiness we need to deliberately redress that imbalance.

Do each one of these every day and you will notice the difference both "in the moment" and over the coming days and weeks. Happiness is dose specific - what does that mean? The more of this you do the better. And all the better for your family's health today. Happy-mind-ing!

In This Article

    14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    With fall in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in outside-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

    Wooden doll stroller

    Janod wooden doll stroller

    Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


    Detective set

    Plan Toys detective set

    This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


    Sand play set

    Plan Toys sand set

    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


    Water play set

    Plan Toys water play set

    Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


    Wooden rocking pegasus

    plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

    Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


    Croquet set

    Plan Toys croquet set

    The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


    Wooden digital camera

    fathers factory wooden digital camera

    Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


    Wooden bulldozer toy

    plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


    Pull-along hippo

    janod toys pull along hippo toy

    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


    Balance board

    Plan Toys balance board

    Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


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


    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

    With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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