Mums, who else out there is tired? I am. I’m so tired that I’m tired of being tired. I’ve spoken quite a lot about baby and toddler sleep (or the lack of it!) on here, but I naïvely presumed that we’d be over the worst of it by now. Forget sleeping through the night, I’d just be happy if Baby Sunshine was sleeping in her own bed in her own room, but of course my strong-willed daughter has other plans. She’s more active and inquisitive than ever, more demanding of my time and my emotional resources and I’m constantly torn between overwhelming love and affection for this new, beautiful stage in her development, and the exasperation and exhaustion that comes with being stretched too far for far too long. The only way that I’ve found I can get through the day and manage my dual life as both a mummy and a blogger/freelancer is to embrace mindful motherhood.
So what does that even mean?
Well, what is does not mean is embracing your inner-hippy and meditating for hours on end, while you ignore the dirty dishes that are stacking up in the sink and turn a blind eye to your hungry toddler who’s somehow found their way into the biscuit tin again. It certainly doesn’t imply that you have to put your life on hold and concentrate solely on being a parent for years of your life.
To me, and countless other mums around the world, mindful motherhood is all about finding peace in the midst of the chaos. It’s about embracing happiness and simplicity to make your life simpler and easier. It’s tackling motherhood and all that comes with it, with an open heart and an open mind. When you’ve mastered it, you are able to keep your attention to the moment and what’s happening between you and your child in the here and now. It enables you to become more intentional in your parenting style, to be less sensitive to outside stressors, and to display relaxed and gentle parenting behaviours (and in turn, impart better behaviours on your children too).
At the end of last year, I attended a Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute course, in association with QD&CC here in Qatar. The course is the brainchild of an ex-Google employee (you might recall me talking about it here) and involved two full days of mindfulness training. I came out of it feeling like a new woman.
Here is an abridged version of four practical tips that I learned during this transformational weekend, which you can use to start you off on your journey towards mindful motherhood. They are all incredibly simple, but require practice until they become a daily habit, so be prepared to run through the actions in your head again and again until they become second nature. Trust me, the rewards that you reap will be more than worth it!
1. Bring your attention back to the here and now
Life is full of distractions these days. If it’s not the TV playing in the background, your phone ringing, or the need to constantly be on top of what is happening on social media, then it’s email correspondence to keep up with and WhatsApp notifications to see to, all while trying to maintain some semblance of a tidy home and an organised life.
When was the last time that your mind felt completely free and uncluttered of any other thought other than what you are doing with your child right there and then? When did you turn your attention to notice the subtle cues they display when speaking to you or absolutely immerse yourself in a game with them?
It’s incredible how simply breathing can bring your focus back to the present.
Practice: Find a quiet and comfortable space and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in. Hold it. Release that breath. Think about how it makes you feel. Where do you feel that breath in your body? Take another breath. If you find your mind wandering, bring your mind back to your breath. Continue this for two minutes. Practice until you start to find it easier to concentrate on nothing but breathing. Soon, you will have mastered it enough to practice this with your eyes open, in public. Eventually, you will breathe in a mindful way without even noticing.
Benefits to you: Peace of mind; relaxation; stress-relief; full attention; health and wellbeing.
Benefits to your child: When you spend time with them, you are completely and utterly ‘present’ like they need you to be.
2. Leave your stresses at the door
These days more than ever, to be a ‘mother’ means many things. You’re not just co-principal caregiver, but you’re part-time cook, cleaner, judge, security guard, party planner and teacher. Add a job or outside hobbies into the mix and you start to find your daily life is all about balancing many delicate, spinning plates that are at risk of falling if you don’t keep your full attention on each of them at the same time.
Now stop a moment. Put those plates down. You need only to spin one at a time, and you’ll find that when you concentrate on just one, it will spin more freely and easily and you’re far less likely to make a mistake.
You can use the ‘three breaths’ technique to ensure you only take up one plate at a time in any given situation.
Practice: Before you arrive at a new destination, when you’re in between places, or before you walk into a room to do something new, take three deep breaths. With the first, concentrate on simply breathing in and out. With the next, think about how you feel. With the third, think, ‘Now what?’
Benefits to you: Better focus and clarity; greater awareness of emotional state; ability to put difficulties to one side and move on; readiness to tackle anything that comes your way; adaptability and agility.
Benefits to your child: No matter what the day’s thrown at you, you will always be ready for them.
3. Put yourself in your child’s shoes
You know those really embarrassing times that we all experience as parents? We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a toddler tantrum in the cereal aisle at the supermarket, or a truculent teenager playing up at a family party, those stressful parenthood moments can really put your mindfulness training to the test and can make even the most zen-like mothers break into a cold sweat. But before you react, do you routinely stop to think about how your child might be feeling in this moment?
As soon as you put anger to one side and open your mind to the fact that your child has some very strong (and valid!) emotions too, you can start to rationalise what is happening and come up with a strategy to change the situation by addressing the root cause of the issue rather than reacting on impulse and anger, which often does more harm than good.
Practice: During a quiet moment, sit near to your child and close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath going in and out, until your mind is free from thought and worry. Then turn your thoughts to them. Think of a stressful situation that they have been through recently. Remind yourself that you are just like them, that you’ve experienced similar stresses and difficulties in your life. Feel the connection with them. Remind yourself that your attitudes and thoughts are the same, that you are more alike than you know. See the situation through their eyes.
Try writing a letter to them, expressing your thoughts about the situation, and offering kindness and forgiveness.
Benefits to you: Release of pent-up frustration and anger; improved empathy and understanding; increased ability to actively listen to what your child is trying to communicate to you.
Benefits to your child: You are more likely to turn a potentially volatile situation into one of kindness, positive solutions and change based on mutual support and understanding.
4. Practice self-love
This one is the most important of all. Have you taken time out recently to think about how you are smashing motherhood and all of the curve balls it throws at you? How you single-handedly grew a baby for nine months and are now bringing them up in this scary world and everything is actually turning out OK, and a lot of this is down to you!
In this post I explain how I’ve had some difficult moments as a mother, and how learning to be kinder to myself has helped in my journey to happiness and self-fulfillment.
Practice: Make journalling a daily habit. Scribble down the things that have annoyed you, the challenges you’ve faced, the things that are making you feel alive and what you’ve added back to the world that day.
You can also keep a jar of positive affirmations to read when you need a pick-me-up (the colourful ones in the photograph below are by Smiles By Julie).
Indulge in self-care. Make it a part of your daily habit or routine.
Benefits to you: Acts as a therapeutic release of emotions; provides a reflective and considered look back on events; lifts depressive or anxious moods by encouraging you to look for the positive in every day; nips negative thought patterns in the bud; builds confidence and encourages emotional well-being.
Benefits to your child: Happier, more confident mum = happier, more confident child. Fact.
So this is the change in mindset that I am continuing to work on day by day. Like everyone, I have my good days and bad days, but on balance, embracing a more mindful motherhood has irrevocably changed both mine and my daughters lives in so many positive ways. Now, even in my most sleep-deprived state, I’m just happy to let myself be at ease with what’s happening right there and then in my present.
Are you interested in starting your own journey towards mindful motherhood? Join QD&CC for an eight week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course at Six Senses Spa, Sharq Village & Spa from January 30th. For more information head here.
For information on shorter Be You courses, and all of the work that QD&CC does, head to their website here.
For further information, contact Tina Ringer Mogenson at: firstname.lastname@example.org