[Looking after yourself as a parent] Do you find you’ve sometimes driven somewhere and don’t remember actually driving there? Or end up ruminating on past events whilst doing the chores? Do you spend more time planning the shopping list and weekend’s tasks in your mind than the time it takes you to actually just get in there and get it done? Does your mind end up in a different place whilst reading the kids a book? Read on to find out more about how to step out of your mind and into your life, and your important role as a parent!
What is mindfulness?
Whilst this term has many different meanings and people from all walks of life will practice it differently according to their circumstances, here are some ideas of how I, as a parent, have understood ‘mindfulness’.
- training your mind to be concerned only with the present moment
- finding ways to turn your ‘monkey mind’ off, the one that keeps dragging your mind to chattering, negative or ruminating thoughts
- judging thoughts and gossip about others no longer have a place in your mind
- only being concerned with your own self and not the worries of others (whilst parenting does bring a sense of responsibility, we can also allow our children to live their own lives)
- dealing with any task at the time and not spending extra energy planning for it ahead of time
- like yoga, mindfulness is a ‘practice‘, so you are always learning to get better at it!
Don’t forget you can take a peep into the past or future when needed, but the main aim of mindfulness is to avoid getting distracted by anything that isn’t in the present.
The benefits of mindfulness
- it can be used as a wonderful stress-relief tool for personal or parenting issues
- it helps us to improve the sharpness and clarity of our mind and in turn improves our memory
- this sharpness helps us to stay on track in our busy days and become more efficient…at everything!
- it helps us to notice how we react to our children, particularly in trying times
- it allows us to slow down and take the time to appreciate our children (and our life)
- it can be done discretely anywhere, anytime
- principles can be taught to your children to help increase their confidence and resiliency
How do I become mindful?
The most difficult part is catching your mind when it is not in the present or playing up. Whether your mind is stuck on past events, judging others, worrying about things to come or just plain chattering away, the first step is to recognise when you are doing this. Yes, this does account for the majority of people’s thoughts! You might spend a week just naming any thoughts, be it judging, ruminating, worrying or chatter and planning.
As suggested in the book The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris, take the time to sit back and allow your mind to let any thoughts come in. As they float in, acknowledge them and let them float straight back out….then sit and wait for any others to come along…and do the same. It is to demonstrate that you don’t have to ‘entertain’ any of these thoughts and will get your mind accustomed to ‘letting things go’.
Now let’s think of some thoughts that you will want to stop in their tracks!
getting annoyed by your husband’s dirty washing on the floor – talk to him about it later, but move on
planning what you will say to your annoying brother on the car ride there – with a clear mind, you will say it better at the time
- ‘I can’t believe she just did that!!’ after your child poured water over the couch – you have dealt with it and know better for next time, move on
- worrying about how you will deal with the evening witching hour whilst your husband is away – with a clear mind, you will deal with it better at the time
- remembering how your life used to be pre-kids – give it a quick acknowledgement and come back to what you have right now..
So once you have identified a thought that isn’t in the present, how can you stop it…and where do you send your mind to then? Below are some strategies on stepping out of your mind and into living life and being a parent.
- Breathe! Place your hand on your belly and ensure you push it out as you inhale, pull it in as you exhale. No shoulder breathing!
- Take notice of your surroundings, your present moment. What can you see around you? The traffic lights? The clothes line? The trees? Your children? What can you smell? What can you hear? This is the time to take the attitude of gratitude, which helps to move away from the negative monkey mind!
- Breathe. Check in. Are you still breathing deeply with your belly and not your shoulders?
- Feel your feet on the ground. It can help to sit or stand up straight which brings your mind to attention and helps you to breathe with your diaphragm better too.
- Now you might consider your feelings and thoughts. What were those thoughts in your mind? Were they just cluttering your mind? Did you have feelings attached to those thoughts? It can be useful to identify any feelings you may need to deal with (that’s when you turn to the book The Happiness Trap for information on how to do this).
- Next you might consider if your body was reflecting these thoughts and feelings. Did you feel tension, strain or pain anywhere? Did you feel any heaviness? How were you breathing as you caught yourself?
How else can I help my mind?
Sometimes our children can bring on the thoughts, the planning ahead or the tension. But they can also be the solution!
- With an attitude of gratitude, take the time to notice your child’s eyelashes, their hair or the way they smile. Does this calm you?
Other practices dedicated to focussing on stepping out of the mind are:
- tai chi
- reading books (have a look for Dr Russ Harris and Dan Spiegel)
Did you know most people can only stay focussed from six to ten seconds and then become distracted? So you will need to really remind yourself to be present, regularly throughout the day. You can set an alarm or put up a few post-its, ‘be present!’, ‘breathe’ around the house. There are even mindfulness apps out there. Before you know it, your mind will be clearer, your days will be easier and you will enjoy being a parent even more. It’s never too early or late to start!