Mindfulness and Meditation for Parents

A RADICAL ACT OF LOVE FOR OURSELVES AND THE WORLD

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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. 

Self-Esteem Vs. Self As Team

BECOMING OUR OWN BEST FRIEND

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Originally posted 2017

We can give our kids and ourselves something much more sustaining and enduring than self esteem – a connection to a wiser and broader self.

In my early 20s I did my postgraduate thesis on self-esteem in adolescents. The details of the findings are a little fuzzy now, but two things I do remember clearly is that the way girls viewed their body (their “physical-self”) and the way boys viewed their achievements (their “academic and career-selves”) were two of the strongest predictors of their overall levels of happiness.

My question is, what happens when we don’t meet these “desired” levels of beauty or achievement? Or when the “desired” levels are unattainable due to Photoshop or our natural skill level (or lack of it!). What are we left with? How can we “bounce back” from life’s setbacks?

In my late twenties I remember asking my beautiful Dad “What is the one piece of parenting advice you could give me?”. And he said “Help your child find something they are good at and then support them in it – it helps to build their self esteem and sense of identity”. I remember thinking at the time, “Wow, that is really smart and it has definitely worked for me”.

It has taken me another 20 years to realise that we may be able to develop this approach further. I wonder what happens when can no longer do what we are good at, due to injury, circumstance or just plain old interest? Where does our self-esteem go?

You see, I was a pretty awesome swimmer, in junior school I made the state championships and in high school I was always the last swimmer in the relay (for those of you who don’t know, the fastest swimmer always goes last!) – it became a key part of who I was and I pinned my self esteem to being the fastest in the pool. And then….(dramatic drum-roll), I dislocated my shoulder playing beach rugby (long story) and couldn’t swim for a year. I distinctly remember being devastated about this and asking myself “Who am I now?” and I am sure it sent me into a spiral of negative thinking and questioning my worth and place in the world. Where do I belong if not in the pool? I had nothing to fall back on, no safety net. If I wasn’t a swimmer – who was I?

 I believe we actually need to be teaching our children (and perhaps learning ourselves in the process) that we are much more than simply what we are good at. We are much more than the body, the friends or the career we have. We are more than the car, the house or the handbag we have. We are more than the achievements of our children and more the number of “likes” or “followers” we have. If we continually pin our sense of self onto these external factors, we are continually at the mercy of the constant changing nature of the world. Friends, “likes” and handbags come and go; it is risky to tie our sense of self to these.

So, how? How do we learn that we can experience all of these wonderful parts of our modern life, that we can enjoy and engage with all of them, but that they are not who we are?

I am sure there are other ways, but the way that I have discovered that continues to gift me with an immense amount of freedom, choice and comfort is mindfulness.

However, I have not been practicing mindfulness for longer than I have been practicing mindfulness. I spent the first 30 years of my life pinning my self worth onto my looks, my success, my achievements, the number of friends I had, the shoes I wore. This way of seeing and being had become automatic for me and with this way of living, I was constantly thrown around by the turbulent waves of emotions resulting from the events in my life. With almost 10 years of mindfulness training under my belt now, the waves are of course still there – the waves are part of being human, I just don’t get dumped quite as often anymore. And I have finally realised now that I am not the waves; I am the whole damn ocean, although I periodically forget that too! That’s why mindfulness and meditation is called a practise – we keep practicing and practicing, possibly forever.

However, if we can get this through to our kids from a young young young age, their battle will be much easier than ours. They will still have to deal with all of the challenges of life and of course, it is not our job to protect our children from pain, it is the pain that will make them stronger. However, with the knowledge and understanding we have now about mindfulness and meditation, we can give them the tools to ride the tumultuous waves of this human life with a little more ease. In doing this they may become more resilient that we have been – and to be honest, they will need to be with all of the change and madness that is part of our everyday existence today.

So, I think my dear Dad got this one half right, he got a lot 100% right (be kind, work hard, laugh a lot, eat with great gusto, greet everyone you meet with joy and sing sing sing) however we can build on his advice by supporting our kids to develop their own internal well of self-worth. By teaching them they are worthy of love and belonging, regardless of their achievements, is gifting them the freedom to be themselves and to live, love and work to their full potential.

Mindfulness does not protect us or our kids from the chaos of life; illness still happens, jobs will still be lost and our heart will continue to break – there will be pain, oh yes, there will be pain. Mindfulness however can teach us that we are bigger and more expansive than all of it – the good and the bad. We can hold the joy and the sorrow, the success and the failure in our broad and open awareness and know that it is happening to and within us, but it is not us. With that comes great empowerment and great freedom.