At first glance, mindful motherhood can seem like an oxymoron. Zen-like calm is not the first image that comes to mind when I think of being a mother. So much about motherhood, and the language around it, is already so rushed.
“Just have another and get it out of the way!” is one of my favourites. It sounds so counterintuitive — are you a stressed out and exhausted first-time mum? I have a solution for you! Have another one!
It’s easier to get swept up in the embrace of endless to-do lists, instead of carving out time to stop and check in with myself. Ironically, exhausted mums like me are in desperate need of being mindful, to help us survive, and maybe — just maybe — even thrive.
One of my former colleagues is an active proponent of mindfulness. She left her full-time job to pursue her passion for teaching mindfulness, and I admire her for her courage. She’s also invited me to about three or four sessions, and I haven’t had to energy to take her up on any of her offers.
That got me thinking. This motherhood gig won’t get any easier. My toddler will continue to grow into her power and test boundaries. If I’m waiting for that perfect moment to attend a serene meditation retreat — it won’t come. I need to carve out the time to make it happen. Or at least, try to slow down a little, so when the opportunity arises, I stand a better chance of catching it. Or at least, catching a whiff of it.
So how exactly do I implement mindful motherhood? How can I practice mindfulness when my toddler is crying from overtiredness, throwing food over the table, or wriggling away as I try to put her diaper on? That’s where my mindfulness practice is the most important — in the heat of the moment. It’s called ‘making space’ for the present moment, and accepting what is.
To help me understand mindfulness in the context of parenting, I’ve been listening to a fantastic audiobook titled “Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” by Shauna L. Shapiro, PhD, and Dr Chris White, MD.
The authors do a brilliant job of describing what mindful parenting looks like, and how we can practice it. This quote from the book sums it up: “The Mindful Discipline invites us to wholeheartedly meet our children, ourselves, and life, moment by moment.”
How does it translate to real life? Something like this: Ah, my toddler just threw her food off the table. I notice myself getting annoyed. I have to wipe up the mess. Again. I notice her looking at me, watching for my reaction. I remind myself that she’s still learning how to feed herself. I remember to breathe. I remember to reconnect with my beautiful little girl. I feel myself calm down and smile at my daughter. She smiles back.
(Now this is also the part where I resist rolling my eyes at myself. Apparently, it gets easier with practice.)
The authors suggest checking into my state three times a day. Am I feeling reactive, responsive, or intuitive? When I’m exhausted, I’m a lot more likely to feel very reactive. When I’m able to take deep breaths and tap into my inner wisdom, then I’m much more likely to respond intuitively.
Often, I’m too tired to even check into my state. Despite this, I know that self-care begins at home. If I want to model calm for my toddler, then I need to live it. If I want my toddler to be able to regulate her emotions, then I need to better regulate mine. Naturally, the perfectionist in me is already panicking. How on earth am I going to pull off this mindful motherhood business, amidst the messiness of real life?
By practicing. Every day. I try to make space to notice how I feel, especially when things get challenging.
From experience, I’ve figured this out: on really tiring days, my mindfulness practice doesn’t even cross my mind, not until much later, when my daughter is fast asleep. Exhaustion makes me reactive. Exhaustion also impairs my planning skills, and the end result is often me dragging my tired toddler around to run errands. That doesn’t end well for either of us.
I hope to plan better next time, chalk that up to experience and exhale. Like any skill, mindfulness takes practice. Some days are easier, other days are harder, but every day is an opportunity for practice.
My mantra? A little bit of mindfulness is better than none at all.