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:
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.
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.
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!