Mindfulness and Meditation for Parents



How can we make space in our busy day for our own nourishment? 

Modern parenting is hard. We have so much information coming at us all the time when it comes to what we “should” be doing to ensure we raise balanced and well-adjusted adults. Sign them up for “this” extra-curricular activity, read “that” book, watch “this” TED talk, do more, be more. We are so inherently uncomfortable with the struggle or discomfort of parenthood (and any discomfort, to be honest) that we seem to be constantly seeking to fix or numb the situation by any number of antidotes.

Firstly, we need to become discerning when it comes to where we place our attention when it comes to how we parent. We need to choose the philosophies or experts that align with our personal values and then build on our inherent wisdom that way. We are wiser than we give ourselves credit for, often, we just need to learn to see clearly to access that wisdom. We know, there are many routes to the same destination (and in this case, the destination really, is children who are thriving – but not at the expense of broken parents) and for us to be prescriptive about which way is “right” is foolish. However, from my personal experience as a daughter, a parent, a psychologist and a meditation and mindfulness teacher, I truly and wholeheartedly believe the best thing we can do as a parent is to build our own capacity for self-awareness and then choose to live and to love consciously, rather than automatically. Meditation is one way for us to build this capacity. And yet, in our busy lives, full to the brim with so much richness and activity, it can be really hard to find the time to, basically, do nothing.

 So how do we do it?

Valuing it more than the laundry

So many of us barrel through our days so mindlessly, that we are not even aware of where our attention is at any given moment. This is absolutely not our fault. It is a small glitch in our evolution and one that can be worked with and even rectified. By becoming aware of where our attention is, we can actually choose where we would like to place it. This choice can become conscious and can be guided by our own personal value system.

 Imagine this, it is the evening, the kids have gone to bed, the house is finally quiet and you slump down on the couch to watch TV and attack the epic mound of laundry that has been piling up over the week. This point in time is a moment of choice, we can either watch TV and fold, we could go to bed and read (or sleep!) or we could mosey over to our meditation cushion and simply watch our breath, feel our body, open our heart or do whatever we do when we meditate. It is all about how much we value each activity. We might ask ourselves, what is the best way I can spend my time right now? Or What is the most important thing? Whatever it is, do that. Often we will actually find that the laundry can wait until tomorrow, the kids can even burrow through the mound and find clean socks in the morning.  Better still, leave it on the couch and see if someone else does the folding for you.

 The shift comes when we start to value our own self-care and our own ability to wake up and bring choice and freedom into our lives, over other seemingly urgent tasks that are simply calling to us with the voice of conditioning and habit. When we step outside of the conditioning we may have inherited or learned, we can choose how to spend our time, we can choose with wisdom and with heart.

 A radical act of love

Self-care is not selfish. When I make time to meditate, I am a more grounded and present and more loving parent. The same goes for physical exercise, cooking nutritious food or leaving the kids at home to go out to see friends or a film or play. When we become a parent, our need for nourishment doesn’t simply disappear – we are still human. I don’t know about you, but I certainly need more in my life than just my kids (as grateful as I am that they are in it). So, I will always remember the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Meditation is a Radical Act of Love”

I can’t guarantee exactly what he meant by that but for me it means: meditation is an act of love for myself and therefor love for my kids AND love for the greater community. The more centered, present, loving and “mindful” I can be, the better I am able to contribute positively to myself, my family and my community. It all starts with us, we are the ones we have been waiting for, but to remember that, often we need to get out of our own way.

 Choosing a time that works for you and your family

The time of day I have meditated over the years has varied as my children have continued to get older. When they were little babies, I was often too tired for a long formal meditation practice (as I would nod off the minute I closed my eyes) and so I prioritized sleep in those moments I could steal. Now, they are much older and can entertain themselves for a time.

 When our kids are babies – 0-6 months

Sleep when you need to sleep, don’t meditate. When we have babies, we can use this time to really practice being mindful and present with them – both of us are nourished by this practice. Our baby can become the object of our typically distracted attention as we become engrossed in their eye colour, the shape of their ears or the wrinkles on their little hands. As our mind wanders to our “to do” list or other plans or worries, we can gently bring it back to our baby. When we do this over and over again, we start to learn the typical places our beautiful minds go and can start to become familiar with our own internal territory. This will till the soil for our growing consciousness as parents. “Mind the Bump” is a free app I helped create that has some great practical tools to help us through this age-group.

 6 months – 2 years

When my kids were in this age-group, I would meditate either before they woke up in the morning or while they napped in the middle of the day (if I was at home).

 2-5 years

As we sadly say good bye to our midday naps, we may need to either start getting up before our kids or asking a partner to watch them for us so we can sneak in our morning meditation practice before the day begins. I know what I am about to write is not PC at all but, we could even pop on a couple of episodes of “Peppa Pig” and sneak to our meditation cushion. I mean, they are probably watching it anyway so why not make the most of this time to nourish ourselves rather than do laundry?

 5 years +

I will never forget the time I wanted to sneak into the study for a midday meditation and I told my oldest son (5 years old) that he needed to entertain himself for 15 minutes. I think I set up blocks, puzzles, drawing or something for him to do. About 5 minutes into my meditation, I started to hear a gentle bump against the study door…bump….laughter….bump….laughter…I wasn’t sure what it was and everything in me wanted to get up from the cushion to see, but I continued to sit. So I decided to simply include the “bump…..laughter” into my meditation. These sounds were just like the thoughts that were coming and going in my mind or the dull ache in my knee that was starting to make itself known, they simply contributed to the moving landscape of my meditation. When the time was up, I gingerly went out to see what was going on – he had been making paper planes and throwing them at the study door and then falling into fits of hysterics. I was teaching a class not long after this experience and I remember including that insight into my teaching – everything that happens in our awareness can simply be included into our practice.

These days, with a 6 and 10 year old, I get up early-ish and meditate most mornings, either while they kids are asleep or waking up (they know not to disturb me unless someone is bleeding!). Sometimes my meditation happens after school drop-off or in the middle of the day, sometimes in the evening. I do find however, that my day tends to run more smoothly when I spend, even a few minutes, centering myself in the morning.

Parenting is wonderful and hard and tiring and exhilarating – all at once. Meditation is a wonderful addition to our kit of resources. To welcome meditation into our lives in a meaningful way, we need to be flexible with how we do it but value it enough that we prioritise it over the thousands of other tasks calling to us. And you know what? By modelling this nourishing activity to our kids, we can only hope that they build their own practice of stopping, of noticing of expanding and of loving – the world sure could do with more of that right now. More radical acts of love I say.