Today’s How To Be A ____ Parent contribution could not have come at a better time! Mindful parenting is difficult at the best of times but moving to a new country and trying to figure out what we’re doing seems to have made this even harder. The wonderful Lisa Hassan Scott’s How To Be a Mindful Parent made me stop and reflect on what I need to do to become more present in these hectic moments.
There are some days when it feels as though the world is against me. Today we’re ten minutes late for the dentist. We’re trying to leave the house when one child suddenly announces that he needs to use the loo (not a number one, you understand), the other two are bickering instead of putting their shoes on, the lunch still hasn’t been made for when we get home and I remember that I’ve missed a deadline and there won’t be time tonight to work on anything. My mind is busy, busy, busy and I’m wishing I could escape from this stressful situation.
Mindfulness is the opposite of having a busy mind: it is filling the mind with only one thing at a time. Sounds easy, right? Of course you know from experience that it’s not. Try sitting down and staring at a candle flame or a pebble or a flower for five minutes or more. For most of us, within the first minute we’re thinking about our shopping list or the ridiculous thing we said yesterday or the work we’ve got to get done tonight. It’s not easy to fill the mind with a single thing.
Mindful parenting involves allowing the mind to focus solely on this present moment with our child(ren). It involves letting go of worries about the future or anxieties about the past. It involves letting go of labels, expectations, and our own personal baggage that can get in the way of a truly authentic experience with your child.
After all, this is the aim of mindful parenting: connection. A mindful parent seeks to establish a meaningful connection between the parent’s authentic self and the child’s authentic self. We let go of what we are expected to be, what we used to be, what we hope to become. We allow our child and ourselves to simply be who we really are.
It’s essential to first let go of thoughts about being ‘good at it’ because it is simply a practice. With mindful parenting we release judgements and criticism; we practice acceptance. We are all learning and growing every day. You wouldn’t expect to sit down and play a Chopin sonata after your first piano lesson, and similarly nobody’s going to be a totally mindful parent all the time. Give yourself a break.
So allow me to offer up some ideas for how our parenting could become more mindful, and as a consequence, more meaningful.
1. We can become aware of our thoughts. If you do only one thing to engender deeper connection with your child, this is it. Imagine your mind like a television screen, a canvas or a blank wall. Across the surface of the mind thousands of thoughts float each day. Some are fleeting, others draw us in and invite further consideration. When we are in the hothouse conditions of parenting, gentling a crying baby, supporting a toddler in a tantrum, dealing with older children who are arguing—in all of these situations myriad thoughts arise. When we are low, we might think:
“I can’t do this.”
“I’m not cut out for this.”
“Why is this happening to me?”
“I wish I were somewhere else!”
“I hate this.”
And when those thoughts take over and multiply, parenting is invariably harder and we feel more disconnected from ourselves and our children. We might end up behaving in ways that aren’t in keeping with our overall parenting philosophy. Then the critical thoughts arise (“I’m a bad mother”) and these sow the seeds for further disconnection and unhappiness.
When you become aware of your thoughts you find yourself in the driver’s seat. Instead of being at the mercy of your thoughts you are in charge and can choose to divert the mind or interrogate the veracity of those thoughts. You are not your thoughts. Practice checking in with yourself and watching what pops up on the canvas of your mind. You may start to notice patterns. The first step is awareness.
2. We can ground ourselves. To bring ourselves smack dab into the present moment we can make ourselves completely physically present. Grounding usually has to do with our relationship with the Earth. So you might stand for a moment and sense your feet touching the floor. You might stop and become aware of your physical body and the space that it occupies (more often than not you may also become aware of where you’re holding on to tension—raised shoulders, clenched jaw, etc.).
But my favourite way to ground myself is completely child-centred and harnesses the power of human touch. I just touch my child. The sensation of his skin, the chubby dimples of his knuckles, the flyaway down of his hair—all of these feelings draw me away from unhelpful thoughts and straight toward my child. This is no absent-minded touch. It is a meaningful interaction that makes our connection real on the outside, so that we can connect deeply from the inside.
3. We can breathe. Goodness, it sounds so simple, doesn’t it? From the moment we’re born, til the moment we leave this life we breathe. It’s automatic, totally involuntary. The rhythmic, pulsating, wave-like movement of the breath can become a cornerstone of calm in our lives. Focussing on the ebb and flow of the breath can drown out the unhelpful thoughts that lead us away from connection with our children. Instead of the din of thoughts (“What a mess!” “There’s too much to do!” “I can’t possibly meet everyone’s needs today!” “What a horrible day this is!”), we can let the mind hover over the calm tidal inhalation and exhalation.
When we’re stressed, we usually clench the tummy muscles, shoulders and face. We lock up the breathing mechanism and instead of filling the lungs, the breath only reaches the upper chest and ribs. Allowing the breath to move right down towards the tummy softens those muscles and calms the mind. When parenting is hard and you need connection with your child(ren), try the pursed lips breath: breathe in through the nose and when you exhale lightly purse your lips and gently but smoothly blow the breath out until you have released every little bit of breath. You may be surprised at the length of your exhalation and how quickly your tummy becomes involved. Repeat as many times as you need to calm yourself and let go of tension.
Each of these three ideas is a practice. It’s something we try to do as much as possible during the day, but there are times when we might not feel as though we’re terribly good at being mindful. All of our responsibilities won’t go away, but mindfulness can help to bring a little more peace to pressured moments.
One of the fruits of all of these practices is self-compassion. With time and practice you will become more aware of the way self-critical thoughts beat you down and prevent you from living authentically as a parent. Don’t let them win: persevere. Even better, if you can get to a Yoga class, a one-to-one teacher or a meditation class, then do. In my opinion, it’s the best investment you can make into your parenting.
Trips to the dentist only come round twice a year, but as a parent I face challenging situations every day. There’s no one recipe for being a “good” parent. With mindfulness we let go of those value judgements and we simply aim to be the parent our child needs. No parenting manuals, no how-to’s. Just real, satisfying, meaningful connection.
©Lisa Hassan Scott 2013.
Lisa Hassan Scott is a Yoga teacher, freelance writer, breastfeeding counsellor, home educator and mother of three children ages 4, 8 and 11. She blogs at lisahassanscott.co.uk.