Being a mother is a massive contradiction. It is amazing, fulfilling, hard and isolating, all at the same time. Some days you are winning and they are filled with joy, others you can barely function and just want to run away. You love them but they drive you crazy. It can be blissful, boring, exhausting, frustrating, exciting and exhilarating depending on the day, hour or minute. It is spinning twenty plates with two hands and trying to prevent any from falling.
We are told to treat ourselves, take it easy, rest, recharge and fit our own oxygen masks first. All very wise words but booking a quick hair cut or massage in between your normal daily responsibilities, squeezing in time to read a book or taking a bath are all short-term measures, quick fixes. While these measures are sometimes necessary to temporarily feel like you are surviving you need to find coping mechanisms that run a bit deeper, that reach your soul and give you long term coping methods to thrive at life and not just survive.
I am living this amazing journey called motherhood so I understand the craving for calm and compassion. For balance and understanding. I have lost and found myself more times than I can count, I have been the shouty mum, the one I said I would never be and I have experienced mum guilt as a result. I get it and I am most definitely not alone and neither are you.
This is where mindfulness comes in or more importantly as I know how short on time you are, practical mindfulness. If you have heard the term thrown around and conjured up the preconception that it is some hippy-dippy new age fad, creating buddha-mamas who have nothing better to do with their time, you would not be alone (this was my first thought when I stumbled across this phrase shortly after having my first child) but it could not be farther from the reality. Yes, I’m sure there are plenty of serenely happy, hippy-dippy, buddha mums out there that do practice mindfulness but there are also some highly successful and serious professional working mums who practice it, some perfectly polished and polite stay at home mums who have discovered the benefits, some same sex and single mums who swear by mindfulness and lots of different types of mums in-between.
For a more in-depth run down on what mindfulness is all about visit my previous post, What is Mindfulness? This is a practical mindfulness post to try and give you an overview and some basic activities to get you started.
What is Mindfulness in a nutshell?
To sum up mindfulness is the practice of consciously bringing your awareness to the present moment. And accepting the present moment as it is with curiosity and without judgement. We feel, what we feel and think, what we think without trying to alter our feelings and thoughts or judging them. By being aware of these we have more control over how we react, we can view things in the moment, knowing that hard times will pass. By practicing mindfulness we invite calm into our lives through acceptance.
So how do you practically practice mindfulness?
It’s important to note that mindfulness is just that, a practice. That means that you need to regularly practice mindfulness to see any of its many benefits. Simply reading about it and appreciating the information is not enough.
As a busy parent I’m sure your wondering how you will find any spare time to even read this article let alone start practicing mindfulness techniques. The beauty of mindfulness is you can apply as much or as little time as you can create. What is more important is how frequently you are practicing rather than for what length of time. Five to ten minutes a day is all you need if that is all you have. You need to enjoy the process and view it as a gift to yourself, a bit of down time and something just for you.
I would need to write an entire book to truly begin to guide you fully on your discovery into mindfulness. With a three and a one year old I certainly don’t have time to be writing books so luckily I have found a fabulous book to recommend to you called ‘Mindful moment’s for busy mothers’. It is a brilliantly written book with beautiful illustrations. A lot of motivational and inspiring words and short and easy to follow exercises and activities.
Practical Mindfulness Tip – I like to start all my practices by spending a few moments focusing on the breath to ground me and clear my mind. It really helps me relax and bring my mind into the moment. To follow your breath simply close your eyes and start to notice your breathing. Don’t change your breath just become aware of where you notice it most. The nostrils, chest or stomach? Follow it in and out for a few minutes without judgement.
You don't need anything other than yourself to practice mindfulness. But at the start you might find guided meditations easier to follow. There are lots of free guided meditations on the internet but I can also personally recommend the Calm app for a huge library of mindfulness meditations.
Emotions are complicated little things at the best of times but having feelings about our feelings just takes complicated to a new level. We tell ourselves we shouldn’t feel a certain way, something shouldn’t upset us, we shouldn’t be resentful of our partner or feel sad and angry at our children. We get guilt about the way we feel and try and change our emotions to meet our expectations.
Next time you notice yourself trying to change how you feel or beating yourself up for thinking a certain way, remind yourself that all feelings and thoughts are valid and ok. You are not your thoughts, you have thoughts. You are not your emotions, you feel them.
Try taking a deep breath and exploring your emotions, acknowledging them, not judging them or making yourself feel bad for thinking them, considering how you can take care of yourself, what can you do right now to help yourself?
A Mindful Moment Meditation
- Get comfortable in an alert but supported position.
- Breath in and notice any tension in your body.
- Breath out and release any tension you are holding.
- Continue for a few breaths until your body feels relaxed.
- Breath in and be aware of any thoughts and feelings present.
- Breath out and remember thoughts are just thoughts
- Breath in and notice how you feel and any emotions you are experiencing.
- Breath out and tell yourself this emotion is not you.
- Breath in and smile
- Breath out and relax.
Starting your day the right way
Mornings could possibly be one of the most unpredictable and crazy times of the day in family life. It may be loud and sudden early starts after nights full of interruptions or dragging older kids out of bed and making sure everyone is fed, dressed and leaving on time. In theory mornings are a great time to practice mindfulness. No matter what the day has instore for you, you can start it with a few moments of mindful reflection and calm. Preparing and setting your mindset for the day ahead.
Morning Tip - If you can don’t rush yourself up and out of bed straight away. Unless something is seriously wrong most children can wait 30 seconds while you gently stretch. If you are lucky enough to have a bit more time then try taking a few deep breaths. Breath in strength and energy for the day ahead and exhale any worries and tensions you don’t need to carry with you.
Ten minute morning meditation
With a three and a one year old who are both early risers this mediation is something I rarely get the opportunity to practice. If you have older children or sleepy little heads who like to lay in then you could give this a try. Wake up before everyone else.
- Sit upright in a comfortable but alert position.
- Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath.
- Notice how it feels to be awake when everyone else is sleeping. What can you hear? Does the house feel different, how do you feel?
I Welcome the day
Try This Every Morning:
When you see your child for the first time each morning. Greet them with positivity and love. Try to ignore the fact they have no pants on or they are awake before the sun or any other random act you may want to question. Try Hugs, kind words and positivity for those first moments at least, figure out the lack of pants mystery a little later.
Morning Hydration Meditation
- Tea, coffee or H2o, Fluids in the morning really set you up for the day ahead. Try making some time to really appreciate those first few sips.
- Don’t make a hot drink and then run around getting distracted and letting it go cold, before finally glugging it down so quickly you don’t even taste it.
- Make your drink and allow yourself a few moments to feel the warmth of the cup on your hands. Take a deep breath and inhale the aroma. Drink slowly and really taste the flavour of your chosen tipple. Stay focused on how it feels in your mouth, throat and belly.
Mindful motherhood doesn't make us perfect mothers. It means we create awareness. Awareness of ourselves, others and the environment around us. We do our best to approach our emotions and stress mindfully so we can parent with patience, attentiveness and empathy. So we can be kinder to ourselves and make time for what our body and minds need.
The chances of you being able to silently meditate uninterrupted regularly are probably slim to none. But when your mediation is interrupted by your child, dog or partner you don’t have to give up and end your practice. Just shift your attention to your child or other interrupter. Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening right in the moment. So instead of focusing on your breathing your focusing on your child. Give them your full attention and be present.
Phone or Friend?
I am fairly confident I am not wrong when I say you use your phone a little (lot) too much. I think in this day in age we all do. Sometimes we genuinely need to use the phone, for work purposes or to arrange a play date. But try bringing your awareness to your phone usage by adding a special screen saver or wall paper picture that captures your attention. When you reach for your phone and notice your picture ask yourself what are you looking for when you reach for your mobile? If you are updating your diary, online shopping or looking for directions then your phone is probably a good place to go. If you’re looking for an escape, feeling lonely or bored then maybe the phone isn't what you really need? You don't need to ditch it altogether but by being more mindful of how you use your phone you may start to see positive or negative impacts on your life. If you just searched for inspirational quotes and now feel inspired and happier then that's great but if you have just noticed yourself scrolling through social media and now feel inferior or miserable then that's not so good. This isn't about judging yourself or feeling bad for being on your phone, this exercise is to be mindful of how your usage impacts how you feel and then you can make choices as a result.
Mindfulness doesn't just stop at the end of a ten minute mediation session. We can practice it thought out the day.
We spend so much time in the car. How often do you get to school or work and hardly remember how you got there? Like the journey and details are all a bit fuzzy? This is because you were driving on autopilot. Try to drive more mindfully. Pay close attention to all the details.
- Notice what your body does as you drive
- How does it feel under foot when you put pressure on the brake?
- How do your hands on the steering wheel feel, cold, tight, relaxed?
- If you stop at a junction or red light what do you notice?
Try to focus for your entire journey. If you find this really challenging then just keep practicing and bringing your mind back to focussing on your driving each time you notice it wandering off. You could also try driving a different route to help take you off autopilot and focus your mind.
Creativity is good for your soul and frees your mind. Make time today to do something creative with your children. Creativity doesn't have to be a long activity or a messy one. Below are just a few suggestions but do something you can all enjoy together.
- Colour - If you're on the hunt for a colouring book check out our mindfulness colouring book.
- Turn on some music and dance like no one is watching
- Writing in a journal
- Make each other a Thank you for each other card.
- Work on a scrap book
- Arrange some flowers
- Do some baking
Emergency Mindfulness Tantrum Meditation
Staying calm during a loud, screaming tantrum would challenge even the most mindful minds. I am yet to meet any mother who isn't triggered when their little angels burst into full melt down mode. In truth though often the times our children need our love and support most are the times when their behaviours are least likely to evoke those responses within us. The next time your little one starts getting revved up see if you can be their brakes.
- First take a deep breath and ground yourself. Feel your feet and notice how they hold you in position.
- Let them be your strong roots to keep you in place while you project calm and presence as your child tantrums.
- Try as best as you can to observe the tantrum from an outsider (not as a parent). Try not to fix it but to observe it with curiosity. Can you work out what need your child is trying to meet? Can you notice the moment the tantrum reaches the summit and your child's energy changes and allows her to be ready to receive comfort?
- Overtime, with practice you will notice yourself reacting less. Observe what impact this has on your child and ability to offer appropriate comfort.
Just Be Together
Mindfulness is an amazing tool for children to grow up with. You may want to actively teach them mindfulness or you may focus on your own practice and watch the benefits of them observing you rub off on them more subtly. What may surprise you though is how mindful children are by nature. I love observing the world through my children and being present when we spend time together.
Mindfulness in its purest form. No thinking about what else there is to do or worrying about how much time they are wasting. Just this drink, in this moment.
Round six hundred
They may be a reader or player but I bet they have a favourite activity which you repeat constantly. It doesn't matter if it is reading the same book for the six hundredth time, laying on the floor pretending to be daddy lion or round six hundred of playing snap. This time is the first time you have done this activity this day, with this child, at this age. They change so fast and learn so quickly. This sixth hundred game is slightly different from the last five hundred and ninety nine times you have done it and your child is days, minutes or seconds older than last time you played. So play it again and then again. Really bring your attention to it and watch your child's face, listen to their words and observe their actions. you will never play this sixth hundredth game again.
Happy Days Mindful Activity
Make a list with your children of family things and activities you can do that make you all happy. Going for walks, swimming, colouring together, snuggling on the sofa with movies and popcorn, playing a game or exploring new places. You can discuss why these make you feel good. On days when you don't have much on declare a 'happy day'. Each member of the family can pick from your happy list and you can all do them together.
Family Gratitude Journal.
Keep a special journal or notebook where everyone can find it. Everyone can write in it what they are thankful for. Encourage children to write about family member's that have done something nice for them and what they appreciate about their family. On special nights or when you feel you could do with it set aside time to read through the journal together.
I Spy Mindfulness
You can do this activity anywhere but it can be fun to put on your spy gear and go on a mindful nature walk around your garden or further afield.
Simply observe and focus on:
- Five things you can see right now.
- Four things you can hear right now.
- Three smells you can detect right now.
- Two sensations you can feel right now.
- One thing you can taste right now.
End the day Mindfully
SLEEP before you go to sleep.
S - Savour, what's one positive thing you want to remember about today?
L - Learn, what's one thing you learned from today?
E - Ease, what can you do to bring ease to tomorrow?
E- Engage, what can you do to bring energy to tomorrow?
P- Prepare, what do you need to do to be ready for tomorrow?
Before you go to bed take one last peak at your sleeping beauties. Notice how relaxed their face and bodies are, watch the rise and fall of their chest and listen to the soft sounds of their breathing. With your hand on your heart notice how your body feels as you watch. Call upon this image through the day times when you need to be reminded of your child's goodness and pureness.
Gratitude Body Scan
Lay down in bed and take time to close your eyes and gently scan your body.
Start with your feet, noticing any sensations present. Coolness, warmth, aching, itching, pressure or no obvious sensation?
Pause and express gratitude for all the walking, supporting, running and standing your feet allowed you to do today.
Next proceed to your legs. Are there any sensations present? again express gratitude.
Move up through your body, torso, chest, shoulders, arms and hands.
Finally focus on your face and head, appreciating all the smiles, words and kisses you engaged in today.
Finish the practice with gratitude for your entire body.
Today was hard but I did it and I am stronger for it
When things feel a bit overwhelming tell yourself ‘things are tough right at this moment. What do I need to do right now’ what immediate actions can you take to help yourself in this difficult moment? What do you need to do to help yourself through it?
Remember you get to choose. At any and every moment you get to choose how you react and respond. You choose your mood, attitude, words and actions. By practicing mindfulness it can help you to notice your triggers and patterns and give you fresh perspective on life. With practice, mindfulness can help you react and respond to people and situations consciously, kindly and with control.
Remember mindfulness cannot take away stressors in your life. Children will still throw tantrums, your car may break down and some drama at work will still unfold. But it is with mindfulness we learn to accept whatever is happening because that's what is. The changes that take place happen within you. You choose to relate to the stressors with more skill.
Be Kind to yourself.