When we’re hustling to get a child out the door and make it to the bus stop on time, or watching in horror as our toddler throws a tantrum in the aisles of the grocery store, it can be hard to be the chill, measured parent we hoped we would be. When an older kid breaks curfew, or fails a class, or struggles to make friends, we lie awake at night fretting for hours, because we know there is no easy solution.
At every stage of the game, there are joys and there are challenges. It never stops: as parents, we are constantly in motion. And we are often pushed to our limits.
How then do we stay sane in the long run? How do we avoid letting anxiety or frustration get the better of us? Answer: By practicing mindfulness.
According to author and professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”
In some ways, it’s not that different from meditation. It’s about being fully present with an experience, whether good or bad. It’s about fullness of attention, immediacy and avoiding or warding off distraction.
Mindfulness has long lasting health benefits because it reduces the amount of stress we feel. In 2010, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 39 studies exploring the use of mindfulness-based therapies and found that in many cases they demonstrably improved how people thought and behaved. And, how people think and behave can lead to stress and disease—or to health and happiness.
Here are a few exercises you can try right now. In some ways, its not that much different for Meditation.
- Sit quietly. Focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment.
- Notice subtle body sensations such as itches or tingling—with no judgment—and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
- Pay attention to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch. Name them: “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
- Allow emotions to be present, again without passing judgment on them. Practice a steady, relaxed naming of those emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.”
Seems incredibly simple, yet it is deceptive. The trick to making mindfulness work really lies in the practice. Try it now and you’ll instantly feel calmer. Continue with the practice, and over time you’ll make a habit of it. People who practice mindfulness regularly report feeling frustrated less frequently, less irritable, feeling being kinder and happier, and feeling less anxiety when things go wrong.
The benefits far outweigh the difficulty of the practice. When you’re more aware of what you’re doing in the moment, you’re less reactive and more in control of your responses. With increased self-reflection, you’ll find new freedom and confidence in choosing intentional responses to situations you encounter.
In addition, you can compare what you’re feeling now with past experiences, learn from the differences, and consciously improve your parenting skills — and, in the process develop richer connections with people.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but when we’re mindful we notice the positive things, too. It helps us become more aware of the good qualities in others—including our screaming four-year old—which allows us to live with greater joy in the everyday, and with increased patience.
And there’s more!… Apart from reducing stress, living mindfully also helps boost your working memory, improves your ability to focus, and gives you greater cognitive flexibility! All in all, a win/win situation.
Next week we’ll dive into the six stages of childhood growth, to help you prepare for the path ahead of you.
See you then,
Susan & Sarah