Could mindfulness be a real game-changer for parents? Mum-of-three Lizzi Hosking investigates mindfulness techniques for new mums & dads
What did you have for breakfast this morning? Cereal? Toast? Or a helping of I-can-barely-remember-my-name? Turns out, you’re not alone. A whopping eight out of 10 parents have confessed they feel as though they’re on autopilot most days. Throw parenting into the mix and it’s no wonder we can feel as if we’re starring in our very own Groundhog Day.
So far, so normal. But it means that all those magical moments with your child can pass by in a blur. Time, then, to take a mindful pause…
With the explosion in apps, courses and books extolling its virtues, you can’t ignore the march of mindfulness into the mainstream. Corporate giants like Google have adopted it as part of their employee packages for the past few years, saying it leads to happier workers. GPs now often refer patients with anxiety for mindfulness techniques. Even the NSPCC recommends it to help parents stay sane.
“Mindfulness is about being aware of what’s happening right now,” explains Tessa Watt, founder of parenting mindfulness app Quality. “We’re so often replaying the past or worrying about the next thing. Our kids need us present – mentally and physically.”
Pay more attention
It starts with something right under our noses: breathing. How many times a day do you notice your breathing? Close to never, we’re guessing. Yet it could be a gamechanger when it comes to easier parenting. “There’s a reason you’re advised to take deep breaths when you’re angry or stressed – because it works,” says Tessa. “There’s nothing mystical or new age about it. The idea is that you spend five minutes a day focusing on your breathing – the rise and fall of your chest, for example – and every time your mind wanders, bring it back to this focus.” The more you do it, the easier it gets. “It gives you a ‘pause’ button to enable you to enjoy life,” says Tessa.
Over time, you should start to notice that all the emotions you get swept up in – irritation over your baby spilling their juice or anger at them for not eating their broccoli – don’t have as much power, explains Tessa. “Mindfulness gives us that little pause between something happening and our reaction,” she explains, “which allows us to respond in a more intelligent, and ultimately more helpful, way.”
More than a third of mums describe themselves as ‘stressed out’, according to a recent Mintel report, and maternal mental health issues are often in the headlines. So how can mindfulness help? If you’re calmer, your baby will be, too. “It’s about getting your mind on side,” says psychologist and sleep expert Chireal Shallow. Take the bedtime routine. “When you’re trying to get your baby to sleep, try to shut out distracting thoughts and focus on the moment,” says Chireal, author of The Gentle Sleep Solution. “Stroke their head, whisper in their ear. Babies pick up on anxiety. Once you learn to regulate your own stress, your baby will relax, too – even sleep better.”
Turn off the tech
But why are we all wired not to live in the moment these days? “As a society, we’ve become addicted to stimulation,” says Tessa. We all swore we’d never be ‘one of those mums’ strapped to their phone instead of interacting with their baby. But parenting is [whispers] sometimes boring. So, whether you’re obsessively scrolling through your newsfeed while your little one’s busy building blocks, or trying to get the cutest photo to share on Instagram, the reality is you’re not properly present.
“The trick to being able to use technology skillfully is noticing why you’re doing it,” says Carla Naumburg, who interviewed scores of mums for her book, Ready, Set, Breathe. “I recommend what I call the WAIT method ie: Why Am I Tapping? If it’s because you have free time and want to check in with friends and family, go ahead. But if you’re using it to escape from boredom, anxiety, anger or other big feelings, pause and focus on your feelings. When we notice the feelings that lead us to log on, we can make a different choice.”
Be more… child
There are lessons to be learned from our children, too – they’re idly sifting through every pebble as you rush around. “Children are naturally mindful,” says Tessa. “To them, the world is a very interesting place, but as we get older, we lose our interest and curiosity. Of course, there are times we need to rush, but mostly we have a ‘rushing mentality’ when we don’t need to. Children can teach us to slow down and enjoy life.”
Carla agrees: “I’ve learnt two powerful lessons from my children’s slow pace. One: sometimes the in-between moments are just as sweet or important as the activities either side. The other is that barking directions at children rarely works. Now, I slow down, work out what needs doing, and get down to their level to tell them what I need from them. The whole process is much smoother.”
So, the next time your six-month old is stacking cups, get on the floor and join them. Life is all about enjoying these everyday moments – and the more you see, the more you’ll get.