Until recently, the term mindfulness meditation was largely unknown. Now, however, it's in vogue in North America. But while many have heard the term, or given it a whirl, this ancient tradition is still largely misunderstood.
While I am no master myself, I have spent the last three years (which is infancy for a meditation practice) learning about the skills of developing a mindfulness practice. I have followed the research to find the empirical evidence of the benefits, which are numerous to every population: veterans, the terminally ill, those suffering anxiety or depression.
But it also holds tremendous value to parents and the unique stress of raising children.
WATCH: Clear your mind with mindfulness meditation. Story continues below.
Parenting is a tough job. We've all wanted to post our #notmyproudestmoment, #shittymommy or #thisisreallife on social media in order to feel some camaraderie with other parents when we've a bad day with our children.
Part of what makes parenting so difficult is that we love and care so deeply for our children. When things are very import to us, we are more likely to be emotionally charged and deeply invested in ensuring life unfolds according to our plan. It's that deep commitment and sense of responsibility to our children that makes us snap when things are not going well with them.
It could help you roll with the punches
Regardless of our best parenting and wishes, things don't go as planned. Our children may have personalities we don't exactly mesh with. Many things are simply outside our control — from the infant that won't latch (dashing our hopes of breastfeeding) to the toddler who develops chickenpox on the family vacation.
Of course there is always the dreaded call from your child's school to inform you that they threw rocks on the playground, or the teen who screams they hate you and tells you that you are ruining their life.
Thanks to the skills practiced in mindfulness meditation, we can develop the ability to roll with the punches and find more serenity even amid the chaos of family life.
Mindfulness meditation is not simply clearing your mind and paying attention to the breath. Rather, it is the study of the nature of consciousness. It is introspection of the deepest kind.
We can actually train our brains to experience our reality differently and reduce psychic suffering. And let's face it — as parents we suffer a lot!
This mental training is similar to learning how to lift weights. We work out at the gym with a trainer who is knowledgeable. We get stronger over time with much repetition.
Similarly, with mindfulness meditation, we learn from the masters in classes, podcasts, apps, Youtube videos and retreats. We practice on the cushion, and we repeat, repeat, repeat. Think of it as doing push-ups for the brain. Next, we take our new abilities and awareness off the cushion and into our daily living.
It could help you control your reactions
Mindfulness meditation helps reduce our reactivity to situations. We get so entangled in our thoughts and emotions that we feel they control us. A child who is dawdling and making us late can result in our erupting into a screaming fit of anger.
When we have practiced mindfulness, however, we are able to notice the emotion of anger arise, but we become experienced in allowing it to pass without actually acting out at our children.
Anger and other emotions are a transient condition, just like a cloud floating by. When we can separate ourselves from our thinking and feelings, we are more likely to grow that gap between thoughts or behaviours and our reaction. That gap that allows us the opportunity to see other choices of how to act and feel more consciously instead of reactively.
Every parent can benefit from taking more control over their emotions and actions.
It could help you be more present
One important aspect of parenting is connecting emotionally with our children. That need to bond and attach to our primary caregiver is primal. Children gain that sense of connection when parents give them their full attention. Notice I didn't say ALL their attention. It is, however, important that when we do spend time with our children, we need to actually be fully present. We need to be all in.
We spend a lot of hours with our child but they can detect when we are distracted in thoughts of to-do lists, worrying about an upcoming event, checking social media, or simply wishing this moment was going a different way. Why must the muffin batter splatter my cupboards?
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Mindfulness meditation allows us to control our focus and attention so we get better at showing up in a meaningfully present way in our children's lives that nurtures that bond. The experience becomes richer when we slow our racing brains and notice the details of the moment.
For example: "I didn't want batter on my cupboards, but it has already happened. I can't change that. I can only decide if I want to allow it to rob me of my happiness, or to allow my feelings of anger to rise and subside before I grab a washcloth and wipe them down and salvage the moment of time together, mess and all."
If you would like to shape your parenting experiences to be more loving, more present, more focused and less reactive, why don't you give it a try? My favourite apps are Dan Harris's 10% Happier and Sam Harris's Waking Up, but there are many other's such as Meditation Timer and Calm. There are even great apps for kids! Check the recommendation here at Common Sense Media.
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