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. 

A Real Superpower

MINDFULNESS TO HELP US ALL TO RIDE THE WAVES OF LIFE WITH MORE EASE

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Originally posted 2016

We were holidaying in Queenscliff recently and the opportunity came up for me to have 1 hour to myself – my youngest took himself off to bed for a midday nap. Ahhhh peace, it must have been the 1-hour of running along the beach and the 1.5 hours of up hill scooting we had done in the morning. No, I really didn’t mean to exhaust him, honest……

During this nap time, my eldest (7 years old), was complaining he was bored…. And I tried to explain to him that being bored was OK and really, part of life. That he should practice being bored well as, when he is an adult there will be large chunks of his life that are boring but necessary, like putting petrol in the car, lining up at the bank and paying bills online.

Needless to say, he wasn’t really interested in my philosophy at that point and he snapped “its OK for you, you have that super power”….which one I thought? Gosh, I have so many! So I asked him…”what do you mean”….and he responded, “well, you have the power that allows you just to sit out here and watch the clouds and do nothing, I don’t have that power”.

I tried to explain that we all have that power; we just need to practice it. Again, he was really not interested in hearing mum rant on (again) about how accessing the natural clarity, calm and connection within all of us was a basic human right. After helping him to come up with an imaginary game to play with his Shopkins, I stopped and asked myself “what are we doing to our kids?”. The constant entertainment we are providing them today – the iPads and TV, the phones and toys. Are we robbing them of a basic life skill? Of knowing how to be bored and just doing nothing? Just playing for the sake of playing, with no agenda, hidden or otherwise?

Now, I am absolutely not saying that we should stop all technology – as my dear husband (who works in tech and TV) points out to me, it is here to stay now, we may as well embrace it and of course I agree. I just wonder, what is, or more accurately, what will be the cost of this 24/7 stimulation generation we are raising? Are we raising adults who will be so disconnected from their bodies and the present moment experience that they will have no way to understand or sit with less pleasant emotions like boredom? Will this generalize to other human less pleasant emotions like sadness or worry? Are we just teaching them to numb out from a very early age by shoving an iPhone in their face when they don’t get what they want? In later years, will the iPhone be replaced by something more harmful like drugs or alcohol? I have absolutely no idea, I am curious though. I do know though that time doing nothing does feed our spirit, it does nourish our body and it certainly feeds our creativity.

We are at a really interesting point in our evolution, both as humans and, more specifically, as parents. We are raising kids at a time where there are really no parenting rules, anything goes. We have access to books and research that pretty-much support any parenting model we choose to follow: strict rules vs. more lasaiz fair, full time day-care vs. full time stay at home – really anything is OK and it is up to each family to work out what is best for them. And this is how it should be.

One thing hasn’t changed though and that is our core job as parents, which is (among many many other things) to prepare our children to be citizens of the world, to be able to contribute to the world in some way and to support them to live to their full potential. As we know, the “dark” parts of life are often the bits that can help us to learn and to grow most profoundly (such an unfortunate phenomenon this one!), as the quote goes, “we cant get to day without going through the night”.

What will happen if we don’t give our kids the opportunity to experience sadness or disappointment or boredom?

Life is hard and beautiful and hard and we need to equip our kids with a whole tool kit to support them to thrive and feel strong, regardless of what is going on. So, in my effort to help myself and anyone else who would like to listen, I have jotted down a couple of tips to support us to allow our kids to experience the whole rainbow of emotions – rather than just the shiny bits and you know, that really is a super power.

 1. Explore it

When they are feeling sad or worried, ask your child to explore the feeling. Where do they feel it in their body? Can they make room for it rather than fight it? Can they breathe into it and really feel it? Can they allow themselves to hold it gently, as if they are holding a precious flower or gem? Can they see that they are not the emotion, that it is something happening to them? They may even like to experiment with asking the emotion or feeling what it needs right now.

 2. Colour it

Ask your child to describe their feeling in colours or shapes – this can help them to express how it feels using words they are more familiar with. The risk here is that they become really annoyed and just throw something at you!

 3. Celebrate it

When they express either “positive” or “negative” feelings (from a mindfulness perspective, we tend not to assess feelings as good or bad) say, “that’s great, you are feeling, that means you are human and you are alive” or “how lucky are we that we get to feel all of these emotions – lets explore them together”.

If you ask me, we all do have this superpower, in fact, I believe it is our birthright. Sometimes, however, we just need to be reminded and, so do our kids.