Before I gave birth to my son, I had been practicing yoga for about 5 years. I thought I knew a bit about mindfulness...until he was born.
Becoming a mother was a serious wake up call for me. But, not in a bad way. In a million really, really good ways.
The first real wake up call for me was the importance of my own healing. As most of us can say, I had a lot of baggage when I became a parent. Somehow, intuitively or maybe instinctively, I had a sense of knowing that any unfinished spiritual business would find its way into my son's spiritual being. There was no way this lioness was going to let that junk near her cub. It was a lot of work... a lot of commitment, a lot of energy....but, one by one, I unpacked the baggage (and there was a lot of it!), washed and folded the contents...which now rest comfortably in nowhereland, and I no longer have to carry the weight of it!
I don't feel bad about the time and energy it takes for me to take care of me.
I have always felt that parents transfer their "junk" to their children, even though, in most cases, it is completely unintentional. So I felt it to be so important to intentionally set out to become present, right here, right now. I look at the horses as an example. When they are teaching their young, they are firm but fair and they always, always go back to grazing. They don't talk about yesterday tomorrow or last year today. They are here in the moment, mindfully engaging with each other and life. They don't hold grudges and there is a sense of peace amongst them, even amidst the occasional chaos. It's back to grazing.
I have found that parenting holds an unbiased, non-prejudicial MIRROR in front of your face...ie. REALITY CHECK. Some examples that may relate:
In the same breath we tell our children to "sit properly" at the table to eat their meal, we quickly woof back ours over the sink.
At the same time we tell our children to be kind to one another, we yell at our spouse for coming home late.
We tell our children to love and respect animals, while we prepare meals made from inhumane sources and tell the dog to "shut up" when it is barking.
We say "does it really matter what your friends think?" while endlessly trying to obtain approval from our colleagues, employers, friends.
Whatever scenarios above you have found yourself in, there is no judgment here, but there is a message from our children that is much louder than our dictation. Their message is "Walk Your Talk!" The horses are a great example in showing us that our energy is our truth. There is energy in everything we do. If we are saying something to our children but our energy is sending an entirely different message, more times than not, they know it! And the horses, well, they ALWAYS know it. Mindfulness can lead the way to our authenticity, where we can be present as parents, conveying clear messages to our children and compassionately listening to them.
There is no shortcut.
There is no manual.
And, just when you think you have all the answers, they change all of the questions.
The only way to mindful parenting is to cultivate and practice your own mindfulness.
Even if you have made countless parenting mistakes (who hasn't!!??), be kind to yourself and leave them in the past. Starting now, lead by example and begin your own mindfulness practice. There are many ways to mindfulness. I began in stillness.
A great Buddhist teacher once said "if you cannot make 10 minutes a day for meditation, then you should meditate for one hour a day." In other words, you need to make the time.
Start with 10 minutes a day. No excuses.
This 10 minutes a day can change your life (and your parenting!) in so many ways.
You will notice that you begin to accept what arises throughout the day and begin to develop a deeper kindless and forgiveness toward yourself...and others. You may notice that you are more aware of your breathing (or lack thereof!) and begin to deepen and regulate breathing patterns. You will begin to live life in your body in the moment by moment, rather than living in the mind...busy thinking about the past or worrying about the future. You will notice physical/mental changes too...perhaps a slower heart rate, healthier food choices, increased concentration...just to name a few.
Just the fact that you are in the moment will help you present for your children. Things that may have gone over your head will be noticed, as simple as noticing a drawing your child has created or perhaps a change in your childs mood that may indicate a need for connection. You will be mindful of your decisions, from how you communicate with your children to the foods you prepare for (and with) them, the stories you read to them....and more. Sure, there comes a time where we can no longer make these decisions for our children, but through this connection, your child will undoubtedly become more mindful for themself.
Getting Started: A Simple Mindfulness Meditation
Sit in a comfortable position, in a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor.
Begin to notice aspects of your breathing, such as the air flowing in your nostrils or your belly rising and falling as you breath in and out.
Become aware of sounds, sensations, and your thoughts without clinging to them.
Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. It just simply is. If your mind starts to race with thoughts, return your focus to your breath.
Notice how you feel when you slowly come back to present moment awareness. Take this practice with you in your day to day life....and you will begin to see what 10 minutes a day can do for your relationship with your self, your family and the world :) Don't be afraid to share your practice with your children. It is heartwarming when my little boy enters the room while I am meditating...he knows what I am doing and it is cool to notice where he is at that day. Sometimes he will sit and join me, cross legged with his hands in mudra. Other times, he will leave the room and come back when he hears my chime indicating that my practice is complete. Some days, he will ring my chime so that I will come back to awareness because there is an urgency like we are out of Goldfish or something major...LOL I embrace it all. Isn't that the whole point?
There is no shortcut.
There is no manual.
But, there is acceptance of what is...(now you know that overused saying "it is what it is" lol...probably came from a mindfulness practice)
When all else fails...just take a mindfulness moment (even just a few conscious breaths) in order to cultivate a mindful response rather than harsh reactions. Again, this applies to everything, not just parenting.
As I read this post back to myself, I realize that parenting is one of the greatest gifts of life and it makes no wonder that procreation is instinctual for all species.
I am, by no means, an expert. I simply walk the path of parenting, just like you. But I do know that, when approached mindfully, parenting encourages (in many cases, demands!) us to heal, reflect and learn from our greatest teachers, our children.
So the next time you hear those little feet pitter and patter (or even stomp) into the room...take a mindfulness moment and be present with your little teacher. For they require us to be there with what is...whatever that may be on this incredible journey!