By Carla Naumburg
I recently got the following question on my Twitter feed: Do you feel meditation has really changed you? More relaxing, less stress? So on?
The short answer to these questions is YES! All of the above! But that answer isn’t terribly helpful, so I thought it would be useful to share just how my meditation and mindfulness practice helps me to be a better parent.
Before we get into the details, I feel compelled to clarify something. As I have said many times, I am not the Dalai Mama. If any of you were to follow me around for a few days, or spy on me (in a totally non-creep way, of course), you would probably see me snap at my kids or sneak a peek at my smartphone or hide in the kitchen for a break.
You would see me being anything but mindful.
The reality is that I’m doing all of these things less often than I was before I started meditating, and when I do find myself doing them, I am able to calm down, center myself, and make better choices more quickly than before. That’s just what happens when you learn to pay attention to the present moment without judging it or fighting with it. (I actually have a huge amount of experience fighting with reality. I never win.)
Here are the ways in which my meditation and mindfulness practice make me a better mother (in no particular order):
- I’m less anxious. Anxiety is worrying about the future, usually about things I can’t predict or control. I am an expert worrier (especially when it comes to parenting), but the practice of mindfulness helps me see those anxious thoughts for what they are – just thoughts – and then let them go.
- I sleep better. Perhaps it’s because I’m worrying less, perhaps it’s because I have more skills for quieting the endless chatter of my brain. Either way, I know I sleep better when I’ve been meditating. (Needless to say, I’m a better mother when I’m well rested.)
- I’m less reactive. My kids, like most children, are highly skilled at pushing buttons (especially mine). Before I started meditating, I was basically one giant button waiting to be pushed. It’s starting to get better. Maybe I don’t respond the first time they push, or even the second, or maybe my response isn’t quite as intense as it used to be. This is awesome, because I feel a lot less like a crazy person who freaks out at every little thing.
- I can calm myself down faster. As helpful as meditation is, I still lose my temper. I still get frustrated and annoyed and angry and impatient. Rather than losing myself in whatever crappy mood I’ve gotten myself into, rather than spiraling out of control, I’m getting better at taking a few deep breaths and getting myself into a better headspace.
- I’m better at being bored. Let’s face it. Parenthood can be really boring. If you don’t believe me, I have three words for you: Chutes and Ladders. Every time I meditate, I’m practicing tolerating boredom, because there is nothing less interesting than following your own breath.
- I’m more grateful. I’m so good at working myself into a tizzy about every little thing. When I slow down, breathe, and pay attention to what is actually in front of me, I realize that life is pretty amazing. Even when it isn’t that amazing, I still have a lot to be grateful for; if nothing else, my children and husband are healthy and I get to spend time with them. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives.”
- I’m comparing myself to others less. I used to spend a lot of time noticing all of the ways in which other mothers are “better” than me: they cook more, they’re fitter or more crafty, they’ve achieved more professionally… the list goes on and on, and it makes me miserable. Coming back to the present moment, to the here and now, gets my mind off the merry-go-round of constant comparisons.
- I’m learning to loosen my grasp on the future. It’s easy to get caught up in my fantasies about who my children will become and what they will achieve. High school, college, successful careers, healthy relationship, white picket fence, 2.5 children, etc. etc. If I get too attached to my dreams for my kids, I won’t be as open to who they are becoming and what they want. Mindfulness helps me let go just a little bit, so I can focus on strengthening my relationship with my children, regardless of what path they are traveling.
- I beat myself up less about the past. I make a lot of mistakes in parenting (and life) and then I obsess about them. I replay them in my mind, judge myself harshly, and end up hosting my own one-person pity party. I get into a terrible headspace, and often take it out on my kids. Mindfulness helps me let go of the self-critical thoughts and come back to the present moment.
- It’s getting easier to access joy. When I let go of my worries and obsessions about the future and all of my frustrations about the past, there’s a lot more room in my mind for happiness. That’s all.
- I’m better at just being present. This sounds fairly obvious, but it’s worth re-stating. Each time I am able to put down my smartphone or get out of my crazy brain and be fully present for my girls, I am actually communicating something really important to them. I am telling them that they matter to me, that they are worth my time and attention, and that I care about what they have to say. That’s a big deal for children (and for parents).
- I’m kinder. I’m not sure I can explain this one, but I know it’s true. The more I meditate, the nicer I am. I’m less snappy, less impatient, less grumpy, less likely to interrupt or rush or snap at my kids. I’m just plain nicer.
- I enjoy parenting more. That’s the bottom line, and that makes me a better mother. That makes it all worth it.
Carla Naumburg is a clinical social worker, writer, and mindfulness practitioner. She is the author of “Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family” and “Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters.” Carla will be offering “Mindfulness and Yoga Retreat for Mothers,” a weekend retreat at Copper Beech Institute, March 31–April 2, 2017.
Main photo by Heidi.