"The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers." -- Thích Nhất Hạnh, Buddhist monk, author and peace activist
What does it feel like when you are talking to someone and they check their text messages? Or you try to tell your husband about something the children did today and he starts opening the mail?
Mindfulness helps us focus our attention on one thing or one person without feeling compelled to follow distractions where our wandering mind wants to take us. That is truly being present.
What does our child learn if our attention is on our phone and not on them? That they are not important. What does this do to their development, their chances for happiness and success?
A landmark study in 2010 by Dr Robert Epstein and Shannon Fox found that the most important thing we can do for children is express love and affection by supporting and accepting them, being physically affectionate and spending quality one-on-one time with them. (1)
Quality time is attention. Mindfulness helps us train our attention skills so we can give this more easily. We can make choices to prioritize this.
This communicates acceptance and that our children are in fact important. As bestselling author Rick Hanson (Buddha's Brain, Just One Thing, Hardwiring Happiness) said in an interview for our mindfulness4mothers program, children benefit from highly attuned, responsive, sensitive, engaged, emotionally positive parenting.
Over the marathon of motherhood, how do you sustain that? You need to keep resourcing yourself, and mindfulness is a core process for doing that.
Interestingly, the second thing on Epstein and Fox's list of the most important things we can do for children is:
"Stress management: You take steps to reduce stress for yourself and your child, practice relaxation techniques, and promote positive interpretations of events." All of which are also helped through practicing mindfulness.
Emotions are incredibly contagious. You can probably remember a time when you were stressed and grumpy or frustrated and upset.... and all of a sudden, so were your children. This has certainly happened in our house, and it still happens. But now I find there is more often a background or a foundation of calm that stays with me even at these most challenging times -- or that I return to far more quickly.
This is clearly of great benefit to me, but also to my children because I find myself reacting less and making better choices about how I respond to what's happening. We are all able to restore calm and connection and get where we need to go more easily.
A nice metaphor is sometimes used to describe what this feel likes: If you take a teaspoon of salt, stir it into a glass of water and take a sip, it's way too salty to drink. If you take that same teaspoon of salt and stir it into a lake and then take a glass of water from the lake, the salt is dissolved in the vastness of the lake and you can't taste it at all.
Practicing mindfulness meditation creates a steady, calm space so that what used to overwhelm me is far more manageable. I understand from my own observation that what I am feeling in the moment is like a passing cloud. I don't have to deny what I am feeling or push it away. Or feel guilty. I am more accepting that it is normal to experience the full range of emotions in mothering -- that if I do get upset or even say something I wish I hadn't, I am not a "bad mother." I regain my equilibrium and apologize soon after, and, surprisingly, the children seem to be okay with that. They learn that I am not perfect, which gives them permission not to be either. We are all more resilient. And it passes.
Number three on Epstein and Fox's list is ''Relationship skills: You maintain a positive marital relationship and model effective relationship skills with other people."
And you guessed it: mindfulness is great for relationships, too.
Indeed, as Dr Craig Hassed says: "The fact that mindfulness is a single skill that has such a profound range of applications suggests that it is an essential part of our human make-up, which can be remembered and adapted and applied in many and various ways."
Now my time of stillness "on the cushion," or in my case on the chair, is something I look forward to. Not only because of how I feel, but because it is a pleasure in its own right. And it hasn't taken me long to get to this point. I'm not perfect about keeping to my daily practice, but I sure notice the difference when I do. I am more forgiving if I stray and, as a result, find it is far more likely that I will come back. I know the more I do it, the better I am. And there are countless opportunities in every day to be mindful in the moment -- listening with complete attention when my children tell me something, savoring the warm water in the shower, enjoying my morning coffee and noticing the warm spring breeze.
Peace: It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. -- Author unknown
To hear more from our experts and learn more about how mindfulness can support you in your important role as a mother, register your interest at mindfulness4mothers.com
1. Epstein, R., & Fox, S.L. (2010, August). Measuring competencies that predict successful parenting: A preliminary validation study. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, San Diego, CA.