Taking care of children means taking care of mothers.
be still and heal
ThÃch Nh?t H?nh, Buddhist monk, author and peace activist
How that insight could have helped me as a new mum ¦ if I ™d had even an inkling of the value of being still.
Realities of Motherhood
No-one prepared me for the unrelenting demands of motherhood. The realities of a 24/7 responsibility that left no time for myself. That lonely time after the front door closed behind my husband each morning and I felt like I had to cope and should be happy about it.
I had wildly unrealistic expectations of myself as a perfect mother and was hard on myself if I didn’t live up to that. Even though I was living a dream come true, and the overwhelming love for my daughter blew my mind, the exhaustion and sense that my life was somehow out of my control was quite a shock. It was a whole new world full of emotional highs and lows.
Thank goodness for mothers group (and coffee). It was a lovely safe place to find out if other people were in a similarly bewildering fog. But I needed more.
If only I had remembered it, what a help mindfulness practice could have been! It's being the mother of two delightful, exhausting children that has really convinced me of the value of mindfulness in helping me to be a happier and more settled mother, and a calmer and more grounded person.
Mindfulness and ˜loving kindness ™ meditation have changed me and how I parent. I ™ve come back to what I now know to be a rock solid way to care for myself and my family.
It's more than just being attentive in the moment “ although that is important. It also means meeting any experience with kind and gentle curiosity rather than self-criticism or judgment as either good or bad, without trying to push it away or change it “ taking it ˜as it is ™. It can be something you sit still and focus on for a few minutes at a time or a way to approach your everyday tasks. Preferably both.
As women, and mothers, many of us have a tendency to help others, but we're not always as good at caring for ourselves. Living mindfully is the best thing we can do to take care of our health and happiness, and, as the following research shows, one of the biggest predictors of our children’s wellbeing is how happy we are as mothers. Investing in our own wellbeing is the best gift we can give our children.
The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.
ThÃch Nh?t H?nh, Buddhist monk, author and peace activist
What does it feel like when you are talking to someone and they check their text messages? Or you try to tell your husband about something the children did today and he starts opening the mail?
What does our child learn if our attention is on our phone and not on them? That they are not important. What does this do to their development, their chances for happiness and success?
Most Important Thing for Kids
A breakthrough study in 2010 by Dr Robert Epstein and Shannon Fox found that the most important thing we can do for children is express love and affection by supporting and accepting them, being physically affectionate and spending quality one-on-one time with them. (1)
Quality time is part of mindful parenting. Mindfulness helps us train our attention skills so we can give this more easily. This communicates acceptance and that our children are in fact important. As bestselling author Rick Hanson said in an interview for our Mindfulness 4 Mothers program, children benefit from highly attuned, responsive, sensitive, engaged, emotionally positive parenting.
Most Important Thing for Moms
Over the marathon of motherhood, how do you sustain that? You need to keep resourcing yourself, and mindfulness is a core process for doing that.
Interestingly, the second thing on Epstein and Fox’s list of the most important things we can do for children is:
“Stress management: You take steps to reduce stress for yourself and your child, practice relaxation techniques, and promote positive interpretations of events.” All of which are also helped through practicing mindfulness.
Emotions are incredibly contagious. You can probably remember a time when you were stressed and grumpy or frustrated and upset…. and all of a sudden, so were your children. This has certainly happened in our house, and it still happens. But now I find there is more often a background or a foundation of calm that stays with me even at these most challenging times — or that I return to far more quickly.
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. We are all able to restore calm and connection and get where we need to go more easily.
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.” I regain my equilibrium and apologize soon after, and, surprisingly, the children seem to be okay with that. They learn that I am not perfect, which gives them permission not to be either. We are all more resilient.
And it passes.
Number three on Epstein and Fox’s list is ”Relationship skills: You maintain a positive marital relationship and model effective relationship skills with other people.”
And you guessed it: mindfulness is great for relationships, too.
Now my time of stillness “on the cushion,” or in my case on the chair, is something I look forward to. And it hasn’t taken me long to get to this point. I’m not perfect about keeping to my daily practice, but I sure notice the difference when I do. I am more forgiving if I stray and, as a result, find it is far more likely that I will come back. And there are countless opportunities in every day to be mindful in the moment — listening with complete attention when my children tell me something, savoring the warm water in the shower, enjoying my morning coffee and noticing the warm spring breeze.
Mindfulness is not another set of instructions on how to be a perfect mother. Far from it. It's a profoundly reassuring and soothing investment in your own health and wellbeing which opens the possibility of:
- Greater fulfillment in mothering.
- Inner strength and comfort in difficult times.
- Greater connection to your child and yourself in good times and bad.
- An ability to stay balanced and have greater flexibility in how you respond and how quickly you recover from the frustration and unpredictability of mothering.
- Better sleep and lower stress.
- Less worry, and freedom from anxiety about imperfection.
- Confidence in your ability to set nurturing limits.
Wherever you are in your motherhood journey, the simple and research based practices of mindfulness and self kindness can help you recharge, find greater calm, strength and joy “ and get better sleep.
More than any other skill, mindfulness gave me more confidence in my own ability to care for my children. No-one knows them better than I do, and instead of following a list of prescribed steps, I tune in to what's actually going on in the situation for me and my child. I stay in the present, instead of worrying about what it means for their future. Because right here and now is where and when they need me.
- Epstein, R., & Fox, S.L. (2010, August). Measuring competencies that predict successful parenting: A preliminary validation study. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, San Diego, CA
To hear more from our experts and learn more about how mindfulness can support you in your important role as a mother, register your interest at: http://mindfulness4mothers.com