Mindfulness has helped thousands of people over the world develop greater sense of awareness, contentment and kindness toward themselves. One group in our society that perhaps hasn’t yet made full use of mindfulness skills yet is parents.
Parents can be quite vulnerable in the world we live in. Our lives are getting busier and busier and there are constant demands to keep up with in the house, demands connected to children’s education and extra curricular activities, demands of employment as well as trying to maintain friendships and relationships outside the family. Parent’s wellbeing is being made increasingly vulnerable when we consider the pressures on parents, from making the right nutritious superfood meals for children, to buying them to most sought after toys. It’s no wonder that so many parents question whether they are doing a good job in raising their children and this so is often accompanied by a sense of guilt.
Here are some of the most useful aspects of mindfulness for parents:
1. Being on automatic pilot
Busy family life consists of regular routines, day in day out. As parents we find ourselves rushing to get kids ready and dressed, packing bags, getting to school or nursery and similar routines and lack of time throughout the rest of the day. Parents can find themselves making the same requests to children over and over again (‘don’t touch that’, ‘eat your dinner’, ‘stop hitting your sister’). While necessary, all of this means it very easy for parents to slip in ‘automatic pilot’, where we are just going through life without full awareness in the present moment. We might find ourselves making to-do lists in our minds during bath time, or day dreaming when watching our children play.
Mindfulness can help parents bring awareness to the everyday activities, and open space for us to see the wonder that is before us as well as allowing room for us to acknowledge our frustrations (rather than letting them build up).
2. Being kind to ourselves
When people first start to tune into their internal voices they can be taken aback by how harshly and critically they talk to themselves. Being a parent is a minefield for being unkind to ourselves. Comparisons seem all to easier when we look at how other people’s children are managing, what the parents seem to accomplish in a day and generally our perception of how people are holding it all together.
When as parents we learn to respond to ourselves kindly we begin to foster self-acceptance, knowing for example that we want to make changes, but appreciating where we are in the here and now. Crucially, when we practice this ourselves our children begin to learn that it is also ok to be who they are, not to try and be perfect and that everyone makes mistakes. In a world that’s so highly competitive and where comparisons between people (especially young people) are the norm, this is a skill that can’t be underestimated.
3. Responding rather than reacting
So this is a big one for parents. Being over stretched, sleep deprived, under nourished and overwhelmed can be just some of triggers for snapping and shouting at our kids or having knee-jerk reactions to them or our partners that then lead us to feel ashamed (see point 2 above!). We go into fight or flight response where are heart is racing, our breathing quickens and maybe we start to tremble a little. And this is where all logic shuts down. We might scream, yell, slam doors, throw things, all the things that we don’t want our children to be doing!
Learning mindfulness brings a greater awareness to these situations for parents. It helps parents learn to spot the first signs of emotional shifts physically in their bodies. It helps us steady our breathing and step out of tunnel vision, perhaps to see maybe just for a second what our child/partner is going through. But most importantly it gives us back the freedom in the moment to choose another way of responding. And guess what? This is the key skill of emotional regulation that we want our children to learn too and when we model it for them they start to internalise this as well.
4. Not pushing away the unpleasant
Parenting undoubtedly features tasks that some of us would much rather not do. Getting up all hours of the night? Changing your millionth dirty nappy? Caring for your poorly child instead of going for dinner with friends? The pain of seeing your child upset and fail something? It can be easy to try and push some of these less pleasant aspects of parenting away and long for the more pleasant times where your child gives you an unprompted hug, makes you a thank you card, climbs in bed with you for a story. The trouble with this strategy is that real life includes the high and lows. When we are able to take a step back and see that this is simply the natural flow of life we loosen our grip slightly and these experiences, whether positive or negative, can be seen as coming and going, forever changing. And the amazing thing is that far from dulling our responses down to pleasant experiences, we truly appreciate them because we know that they are fleeting.
Wild and Precious Minds offers Mindfulness for Parents in Tunbridge Wells which are mindfulness courses specifically adapted to meet the needs of busy parents through shorter home practices and focuses additionally on relevant topics for parents, such as taking care of yourself and communication within the family.