Before becoming a mother, I used to sleep until my body decided it was rested enough to wake up, usually around 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. I would drink a big glass of water, slowly sit up and meditate, journal, or do some quiet breathing. My morning felt full of "me" time and I started each day on a note that I chose.
Fast forward to this morning. My daughter is three. She runs into the room to wake me up at exactly 7:01 a.m. each morning screaming; "My clock turned green! It's time to wake up. I want breakfast. I'm hungry. I want eggs. And cereal. Can I drink your water? (I hear the sound of my full water glass being precariously lifted off the nightstand, a slurping noise, I brace myself as she wobbles to put the glass back down) Mommy -- GET UP!"
Needless to say mornings are different. Mornings are now full of the demands of someone else. Someone who will NOT be ignored. I still take a few seconds to do something for me before getting out of bed -- but these days, this involves reading a few quick lines of a short poem or quickly jotting down three sentences from my dreams as my daughter asks impatiently, "Are you done yet?!"
The next hour and a half is full of her requests, her needs; making breakfast, reading stories, getting dressed (an Elsa dress again?!). There are some precious moments when my heart feels so full of love it could burst, and some frustrating moments when I feel a complete loss of control. The emotional roller coaster I go through before 8:30 a.m. (the time I used to wake up!) is intense.
This morning was particularly challenging. School starts at 8:30 a.m., it's literally fifty yards from our front door so we are blessed in that we can leave at 8:29 a.m. and be on time. At 8:35 a.m. (I'm feeling anxious since we're already late), my daughter announces that she wants to play the fishy game FIVE times. I calmly explain that we do not have time to play the fishy game five times. I think I'm being generous when I offer to play it once, but this only leads to her screaming that once is not enough, it HAS to be FIVE times.
In this moment, as she's screaming on her bed, I feel so helpless. And I don't like it. I'm also emotionally worn out from several such battles we've already had this morning. Suddenly, I start to sob.
I'm tired. Tired of needing to explain everything to her, tired of her incessant questions, tired of responding to someone else's demands for the first two hours of the morning.
I leave her bedroom and go out into the living room, sit on the couch and just let the tears flow. I say out loud, "God help me. I'm so frustrated, what can I do?" And that's when I decided to meditate. It may seem an odd choice, to meditate while your daughter throws a tantrum in the other room, but a little voice in me said, "meditate," and I've learned to listen to that voice.
As I sat on the couch, I did a self-compassion practice I learned from leading self-compassion researcher PhD Kristin Neff. Placing my hand on my heart, I told myself the following three phrases:
1. "This is hard. This is a moment of suffering."
And the tears just kept coming, I wallowed in a bit of self-pity but mostly just felt how sad I was and how difficult a time I was having.
2. "Other people have felt this too. You are not alone."
I began to imagine all the other parents struggling to get their children out the door to school. And I thought "I'm not the only one to cry this morning... dozens of parents are probably doing the same thing right now!"
3. Lastly, as I stroked my heart, I said "May I be kind to myself in this moment."
I spent almost ten minutes continuing to say these three phrases to myself, breathing and giving myself the space to calm down. At one point, I thought, "I don't have time for this! Now we're going to be REALLY late to school!" but another voice said, "this is more important."
After about ten minutes, I was no longer crying and I walked into my daughter's room and calmly said, "we need to go to school." She looked up at me and said "but I want to play the fishy game," to which I responded, "we don't have time. We're very late." And she said, "ok mom." She calmly got her things, put on her backpack and we walked out the door.
Now, I'm not suggesting every time you meditate your child will respond exactly how you want them to (if that were the case, meditation would be a billion dollar industry!). But regardless of how my daughter had responded in that moment, the point is that I was able to get myself into a calm enough state to handle her. And, more importantly, I gave myself what I needed when I was upset.
For me, meditation has become a tool that allows me to be present for some really difficult moments. Yes, I still lose my sh*t sometimes, a lot of the time, but I bounce back faster. I'm more resilient. And, I'm able to be kind to myself in the midst of losing my sh*t. That is the biggest difference.
My default pattern in the past has been to beat myself up and feel even worse about myself when I'm having a hard time. But when I meditate, especially when I practice loving kindness or self-compassion, I see myself in a different light.
I see myself as a woman who loves her daughter so much, who is trying her hardest to do the "right" thing, who is frustrated and confused and at her wit's end and deserving of some love and attention herself. I have compassion for ME, and that makes all the difference.
My hope is that some day my daughter will learn to treat herself with the same self-love when she is in a dark moment. If I can't do it for me, how can I hope to teach her to do it for herself?
So this is why I meditate these days, to manage the chaos that I face each morning as a parent. And to give myself the love I need so I can give even more love to my daughter.
If you'd like to start a meditation practice, or expand one you already have, try this Free 30 Day Meditation Challenge. It only takes 5 minutes a day -- great for busy parents or working professionals short on time in the morning.
Vanessa Loder is an entrepreneur, speaker and writer whose company supports women in creating fulfilling lives aligned with their passions and values.
Here is a free Values Assessment tool to help you get clear on your values.
Vanessa received her MBA from Stanford University and is the Co-Founder of Mindfulness Based Achievement, the New MBA, which teaches high potential women leaders how to lean in without burning out. You can read more at Vanessa's blog or find her on twitter @vanessaloder. Join our Free 30 Day Meditation Challenge HERE.