Ok. So I'm going to get real with you all here. I've been practising mindfulness for 3 years now and I am NOT a Zen goddess. Far from it. My mindfulness helps me (and my family) enormously but if people are thinking that I walk around completely carefree and my children are little angels....well that's just not the case.
My fear when starting my Mindful Mama blog was that people would feel I was being preachy. There's so much pressure as a mother and so many of these blogs telling us the 'right way' to do things. I didn't want to be labelled as just another example of someone trying to show their perfect way of doing things and a perfect idea of motherhood that no normal person could possibly live up to. So the truth is that whilst mindfulness has impacted me in so many positive ways, and helps me manage stress, anxiety and pain, I do also have days where I am literally at the end of my tether and would pay good money not to see my children for at least 24 hours.
This is parenting. Kids, even ones who meditate, know how to push your buttons and mine frequently take the opportunity when they can. They can be downright mean. My son told me the other day that I was a bad Mum and that he didn't think I loved him because I don't let him eat chocolate often enough. Ugh. This comment came after he had kicked his sister in the head, trapped our new kitten in a drawer and poured orange juice all over the kitchen floor. I was not in the mood to entertain his emotional warfare at that moment. He went to his room and played whilst I, feeling angry and stressed at the chaos my son had caused in the proceeding 20 minutes, sat down for a cheeky episode of Friends on Netflix before making dinner (I did rescue the kitten first). The 'mindful me' might have gone and done a meditation to calm myself down. And I do do this regularly when I'm feeling overwhelmed. But in that moment I just felt exhausted and wanted to lie down and laugh at some funny TV. I guess in a way it was being mindful because I was just going with what I needed in that moment.
My point in sharing this is that although I like to share the meditations I do with the kids and tips on how mindfulness can calm anxiety and stress, I am just a human being. A mum who still makes mistakes and doesn't always remember to be mindful. You might think 'Why bother at all then?' but I can honestly say that the difference between now and before I started mindfulness practice is like night and day. I am a completely different person and without this essential tool my life would be utter bedlam!
Mindfulness isn't about being perfect and mindful parenting isn't about being a flawless mother. Mindfulness is all about non-judgment and being compassionate to yourself and so when you see people talking about it don't think that it's just something else to feel bad about because you don't do it. Try to be curious and wonder what it might feel like to engage with it.
Here...let's do a little mindful exercise. Sit or lie down where you are right now. Close your eyes and whilst they are closed wiggle your big toe on your left foot. Wiggle it and take your attention down to it. Really pay attention to it. Do this for about 60 seconds. Now repeat on the other foot if you want to.
How do you feel now? Calm? Silly? Irritated? Confused? That exercise is a really simple mindfulness practice about that helps to ground you in the present in the moment. When you were focusing on your big toe you were in the moment feeling the sensation of your toe moving and feeling whatever emotional response you had to the exercise. So you were in the moment. This leaves little time to be worrying about something you're stressed about in the future or an incident that occurred in the past that is causing you angst. We sort of give our minds a little break from being stressed or anxious and focus on our big toe for a minute! There are longer versions of this that you can do- a full body scan for example which could be 5, 10, 30, 60 minutes. You can make time to sit and do a full meditation or you could just implement 'mindful moments' in to your day. When you're brushing your teeth instead of thinking about what you need to pick up from the supermarket focus on what you're actually doing. The feel of the toothbrush in your mouth, the taste of the toothpaste and how it feels. Perhaps in the shower focus on the water on your back, the temperature and water pressure. When you have a cup of tea or coffee take the time to pause briefly and smell the drink, drink it slowly and notice the taste and sensation on your tongue.
This ^^^ is part of mindfulness practice. It's not this really scary hard thing that you need to make loads of time for in your life. You can just start really simply with mindful moments in your day and gradually build up from there. Meditating every day is great too but don't beat yourself up if you don't do it. That isn't in the spirit of self-compassion. Start small and work your way up. If you do want to start meditating then I can't recommend the Headspace app enough. It is amazing. You can trial it for free to see if you like it and then sign up if you do. There are amazing packs for anything from stress and anxiety to sports recovery. Plus there's a whole load of children's meditations on there too. The calm app is also very good! Give them a go and you'll see that mindfulness isn't as intimidating as you maybe thought!
Friday morning was not a good morning for meditation. Neither of my kids were interested. We had to pop into the store on the way to school so I decided we would do our meditation in the car once we got to school should there be enough time. We were there in plenty of time and I started the 3 minute 'calm' Headspace meditation which both my kids know well. They were not having any of it! My son kicked the back of my chair for the whole 3 minutes and my daughter just huffed, crossed her arms and said "I'm NOT doing it..."
I don't know why that morning was a no go for them. They're usually pretty up for the meditations, especially my son. For whatever reason it just wasn't going to work and there was no point in me getting upset or cross. I just did the meditation on my own and when it was finished proceeded to drive up to the school drop off. I hoped that by not making a big deal about it and demonstrating how you should behave during a meditation they will follow my lead next time. But hey...kids are kids right? They don't always do what we want them to.
"Eat your vegetables" "Brush your teeth" "It's cold outside so put your hat on"
I don't think there can be any parents who haven't struggled to get their kids to do something they don't want to do. It's the ever infuriating aspect of parenthood. Trying to get your little people to do things we know are good for them. Eating veggies is a common one. But you cannot force a kid to eat vegetables- unless you physically pin them down and force-feed them in which case you're probably causing more harm than good. All you can do is keep giving them vegetables and persevere with encouraging them to eat it. If you give up and stop offering them they will never eat vegetables. If you persevere and keep offering them, eat with them at mealtimes and set a good example for them by eating your own vegetables they'll eventually.
It's exactly the same for mindfulness and meditation. If you try to pin them down and FORCE them to meditate then you won't get anywhere. They'll start to resist even more. However, if you keep introducing it to them and demonstrate yourself how to do it then they will eventually start to embrace it and will even start asking you to meditate which is such a fantastic feeling. Knowing you've given your kids a really valuable tool to use when they need it.
That's my experience anyway. Today was a much better day. The sun was out so we did meditation in the garden. After having a swing on the monkey bars my son came and joined me and my daughter and we practiced "Metta Bhavana" otherwise known as the Loving Kindness meditation.
So hang in there. It will be worth it I promise ;)
One question I see asked a lot is "How do I get my kids to meditate?" My first response would be "Are you meditating regularly yourself?" and if the answer is no then that would be the first port of call.
Meditation is such an important part of self-care generating some alone time along with stress management and a development of self-awareness. There are so many benefits. It is so important to culture this practice for yourself before you try to introduce it to your children. They learn from watching you and if they see you cultivating this practice for yourself it will make them more intrigued than if you just whip it out with no prior warning!
Once you have developed your own regular practice, either using an app like Headspace, a book or even attending meditation classes (which I highly recommend) then you can start to introduce your children to the idea of meditation. There is no right or wrong and the best thing is to remain free and easy about it. Your kids will NOT meditate in the way that you want them to straight away. There is no right or wrong way for them to start their meditation journey. They can keep their eyes open if they want, lie down, sit down or even hang upside down or jump around the room if they want. I remember a particularly hilarious session with my son when he was 3 where the meditation was trying to get him to visualise a frog and instead he just leapt around the room pretending to actually BE a frog! I remember feeling a little frustrated at first that he wouldn't just sit down and behave but then I realised that he was only 3 and this wasn't something that came naturally to him. During our early sessions I reminded myself to be patient and just allow him to respond however he wanted to the meditation recording. It was more important that he was introduced to the idea that we were going to take time out of the day, to have a break and listening to the recording, than he be forced to sit still follow the meditation instructions precisely.
The most important thing to remember is to try to stay free and easy with it and not let it add to your stress which is the exact opposite of what you're trying to achieve. Try to pick a time to begin with that is a quiet time in your day, maybe after school. Trying to introduce meditation at the beginning of the day when you're running around trying to get them to school is probably not a good idea. Equally last thing at night when everybody is tired and you're desperate for them to just go to sleep is also not the best plan. Meditation is a great part of a sleep routine but I wouldn't choose that time of day when you're just starting out, especially if your child is particularly resistant to wanting to engage with it.
In my house we now meditate in the morning before school and it is part of our bedtime routine but we don't always manage to meditate every day. In the mornings if we're running late we'll make our way to school and then if there is enough time we'll do a 3 minute meditation in the car before I drop the kids off. But if we're super late then we just skip it and try to make sure we do the bedtime one. However life can get in the way and kids have a habit of disrupting routines so don't beat yourself up if you don't manage any mediations at all. Mindfulness is all about non-judgement and so there's no criticism allowed especially of yourself. Just by attempting to introduce meditation to your family's life you're doing an amazing thing. So be kind to yourself and your family and take it one day at a time.
Question: How can I be the perfect parent?
Answer: You can't
In the world today there is so much pressure to be perfect. Perfect weight, perfect clothing, perfect house, perfect car....etc etc....and as parents we give ourselves a hard time comparing ourselves to Mary Poppins and falling short. Here's the scoop.....she was in fact a fictional character. She doesn't exist. Neither does a perfect parent. We can only do our best. That best may be considerably lower at some times versus others!
One thing I have learned over the last few years is that in order to be a good parent it's important that you start with yourself. We're programmed not to put ourselves first as that is seen as 'selfish' but we aren't any good to anyone if we are not functioning properly. Think of the safety announcement on a plane "If the cabin air pressure should fall oxygen masks will fall from the ceiling. Please secure your own mask before helping others." YES. THIS! We're no good to anyone if we're passed out on the floor. It's the same in life and most definitely when it comes to parenting.
So how does mindfulness help? What IS mindfulness? Why should you be bothered with it?
The definition of mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, non-judgementally and with compassion.
It can be SO hard to live in the moment. Particularly if that moment is stressful/tiring/boring/just plain crap......
So how do you do it?
It takes time. You won't go from frazzled Mum to Zen guru overnight. My own mindfulness journey started with a retreat in February 2015 with Akanista Mindfulness. I was literally at the end of my tether. I was stressed beyond my eyeballs and couldn't see a way out. I was failing my family and myself and I just needed to escape. I went online and started searching for retreats to help overcome stress and anxiety and I somehow ended up on the Akanista site. I'd never really heard of mindfulness but the retreat looked like exactly what I needed. And it was. I came back a totally different person.
What brought about the miraculous tranformation? Firstly some time on my own was great. I love my husband and kids but having that time to myself for the first time was genuinely needed. Secondly I learned that I was allowed to feel my emotions. Even the negative ones like anxiety. For months I'd been trying to get rid of it with pills and talking therapies when in actual fact I just needed to FEEL the emotion and accept it. I needed to be in the moment.
Not everyone has the time/money/desire to go off on a retreat and its not entireluy necessary to start practising mindfulness. There are so many books and apps you can access. Here are a couple of my favourites:
This app is fantastic for guided medition. It's free to download and to do the basic beginner sessions. After that its a subscription service but well worth the money I would say. There are specific packages for pain, stress, anxiety and even a kids section.
Book: Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world
Mindfulness isn't just about meditation. Yes, the meditation will help you to achieve focus and will ground you in the moment but it's also about the way you live your life on a moment to moment basis. This book comes with a CD full of guided meditations and has 8 weeks worth of lessons. Within the lessons are various tasks to help you become more mindful.
But I don't have time......
Ok so I know.....when you have kids there is NO time. Like EVER. It's like you give birth and then they suck all the time out of the world, along with any energy you may have. I'm going to sound like a cliche but you must MAKE time. To begin with just take 10 minutes out of your day. I personally prefer to meditate in the morning but it doesn't matter what time of day you do it. It could even be the 10 minutes before you go to sleep. If you forget or it just doesn't happen for whatever reason then just try to remember the next day. Mindfulness is about compassion and non-judgment so scolding yourself isn't allowed.
There is recent scientific evidence that neural pathways within your brain will change after 12 weeks of daily meditation. You will start to feel calmer, less stressed and you will become less reactionary to daily challenged. Different types meditations can give you different perspectives on the world and can help you to allow yourself to let go of anger and resentment which only hurt yourself in the end.
My advice to any parent who wants to feel a little more content, less anxious and/or stressed and maybe shout a little less at their kids/partner/random strangers is to start by downloading the Headspace app and go from there. It's free financially and the time cost is honestly worth it! Just do one 10 minute mediation a day and see how you go. You'll likely feel a little silly at first, I know I did, but it starts to become more natural and you may start to even look forward to your meditation sessions. So what are you waiting for?