Sometimes being a parent can be tough! There are often a million things to do with so little time to do them in. Sometimes we can think that we have everything under control and will be out of the house FOR ONCE on time when all of a sudden there is a nappy explosion or a child can't find their precious toy that they must have with them at all times. We all know that we should act appropriately, model calm to our children, and show them how we manage our emotions in a healthy way in these circumstances, however our own fight and flight systems are in activation in response to these stressors. That means that our brains are telling us we are in DANGER, our body and minds become flooded with adrenaline and our heart rate increases, all which limits our ability to problem solve and remain calm. Some of what I have found helpful in these circumstances is practising mindfulness. I have completed courses and training on mindfulness and found this helpful on a personal level and within therapeutic work. My first experience of mindfulness was "oh my god I hate this", closely followed by "I don't have time for this!" Like any new skill practice helps us to both learn and more readily use these skills. Overtime I actually started to enjoy it too!
For the science bit, mindful parenting has been shown to be helpful for the parent- child relationship through allowing us as parents to listen more fully to our children; increasing emotional awareness for ourselves and our children; increasing compassion for ourselves and our children; regulating emotions; and through helping to cultivate non- judgemental acceptance for ourselves and our children.
I have thought about some simple ways that informal mindfulness practice can be incorporated into everyday parenting.
Naps/sleep- getting my daughter down to sleep can be tricky at times. She needs me to sit with her for around 5-10 minutes until she falls asleep. Now is that such a bad thing? Well when in a "mind-full" rather than a mindful mindset I spend that time with many stressful thoughts swirling around my head ("Oh my god will she ever just sleep so I can clean up downstairs and hang up the washing...)- these thoughts do not make her sleep faster. They just make me miserable and time goes by a lot slower. Rather than spending these 5-10 minutes going through my ever increasing list I have found it much more helpful to focus on her to ground myself in the non stressful present moment. I do this through going through my senses (hearing, touch, sight, and smell) whilst focusing on her. I listen to her breathing changing, I focus on how lovely it feels to have her warm little hand (that I made from scratch) in my hand, I scan her little body from her head to toe and marvel in how precious she is to me, noticing some of the things I commonly overlook such as the shape of her eyebrows for example. I notice what I can smell in her little room, sometime this is the faint smell of her creams, her milk or even the smell of the washing detergent I have washed her clothes in. This brief exercise gives me a little bit of time in my day to return to the present moment instead of having "to do" darts flying through my brain.
Walks- Again the same principles can be applied when going for walks- it's not much fun constantly peering into the pram to see if they have slept yet and also again increases stress and anxiety. Why not use that time being outside to recharge. I again find it helpful to use my senses to ground myself in the present. I notice the ever changing landscape of sounds, sounds that may be closer to me like children laughing, the crunch of leaves, the sound of the wind, and sounds that are further away like distant traffic. I notice the feeling of my body as I walk, how it feels to have my muscles moving, my feet making contact with the ground, and I notice where the sun, wind or rain touches my face. I notice the sights around me and the changing smells as I walk around with my daughter in the park. Through these focuses I am allowing myself some time to simply be without focusing on parenting pressures like whether my child has slept.
Other ways that I have found my senses helpful for bringing me back to the present moment has been when playing and when eating together.
Good ways to learn the practice of mindfulness is to try out free mindfulness audios, Podcasts or phone apps like Headspace. Once you become familiar with the practice of bringing your mind back to the present it becomes a lot easier to apply this at various times throughout the day when being with your child. You can also learn from the masters- your child. Children are much more mindful than adults, luckily for them their minds are not constantly bombarded with a million different competing thoughts and they tend to spend more of their day experiencing and exploring the world than being in their own minds. I really noticed this one day when I saw my daughter playing with dust particles that were caught in a stream of light coming in through the window. I could have missed this experience that was so fascinating to her, and then to me if I were in my usual mode of running through my minds "to do" list!