Motherhood

What happened when I tried to be a ‘mindful’ parent

LEAH MCLAREN

Special to The Globe and Mail

When I had my son James, I tried to be mindful for the first time in my life.

I had practised yoga and meditation and read books on Buddhism and spiritual enlightenment before. I even did a 10-day juice detox during which I hallucinated colours while in a particularly intense reiki session. But I don’t think much of it sank in. I’d go through these phases of “being present” while half-starving on brown rice and spirulina tea and then return to eating canapé dinners and moaning about my charming commitment-phobe boyfriend of the moment.

But as I found out fast after my son came shrieking into the world, there is really no way of caring for a newborn other than to surrender to the experience. As the old gospel song says, you gotta walk that lonesome valley for yourself – ain’t nobody else gonna walk it for you.

Being alone all day with a baby, I quickly realized, is much easier if you can quiet your mind and go to “the baby place” in your brain. This is a state where you can spend several minutes, and eventually hours, simply laying on the floor and empathizing with your infant by feeling the sun on your face and occasionally thinking, “Oooh, look how my fingers move. I think I might do a poo now.”

Of course, many books will have you believe that to effectively care for a newborn you must spend your days sterilizing, pumping and swaddling according to a strict, incremented schedule, but I didn’t do any of that. I just sort sloped around braless for a few months, silently communing with James’s oceanic ego and changing an endless stream of diapers.

Eventually I went back to work and before I knew it I’d turned into that mother – the one in the supermarket lineup scrolling through work e-mails, snapping at the five-year-old to put down the candy NOW and nearly driving off leaving the baby in the cart.

So I started reading up on the practice of mindful parenting, which incorporates the techniques of mindfulness into family life. There was no shortage of material to choose from: In the past few months alone, several new books have come out on the subject. I started reading the daily tips on The Mindful Parent website and even signed James up for toddler yoga and meditation classes at my local wellness centre.

Much of the advice – effective breathing techniques, strategies to still the racing mind, tips for existing in the moment rather than ruminating about the past or fretting about the future – is stuff I’ve read before. Cultivating stillness is difficult, but it’s also simple.

After all this theory, it was time for practice. I decided to start with one of the most basic exercises on The Mindful Parent blog. The idea is to gather your family together and suggest a minute of silence, and in this way, “insert a pause at a time when everyone is otherwise caught up and engaged in the doing of things.” How sweet, I thought, imagining my stepson Freddie and James clasping hands around the kitchen table and doing cleansing breaths.

I decided Saturday breakfast was my best window of opportunity. First, I made sure my English husband had gone out to buy the paper because, although he is very good at being silent and calm, he has an admittedly low tolerance for what he calls “North American hippy bollocks.” Once Freddie and James were finished munching their muesli, I announced in my best Mary Poppins voice that we were going to play a game called “being silent for one minute.” The boys stared at me in confusion, but I persisted. “Doesn’t that sound fun? So on the count of three we all say nothing and keep very still for one minute. Okay, one, two …”

“BIRD!” James pointed out the window at a squirrel.

Freddie narrowed his eyes and let his spoon clatter in the bowl. “So what do I get if I win?”

“Win what?” I did the Mary Poppins smile again, hoping to dazzle him with my attentive enthusiasm.

Freddie: “The silent game. What’s the prize?”

Me: “The prize is that you get to live in the moment and experience the world without judgment. The prize is being silent. Isn’t that cool?”

Freddie: “The prize can’t be the same as the game, silly.”

Me: “Well the truth is there is no prize because it’s not actually not a game. It’s an exercise for living well.”

Freddie: “So you lied.”

Me: “Not really. More fibbed.”

Freddie: “Miss Mackie says fibbing is just as bad as lying. You have to go on a time out for it.”

Me: “And she’s right.”

Freddie: “Samuel went on a time out just for spitting in Ruby’s ear. He didn’t even fib and he still went on a time out.”

Me: “Thank you for honouring us with that story Freddie. Now could we just try being silent? Just for one minute? Please?”

Freddie: “No fair fibber, you make me go on time outs.”

James (pointing at a passing airplane): “CAR!”

And so I laid down on the floor and went to my baby place, where I felt perfectly present.

Namaste.

Michelle Noehren: What I Know About Motherhood Now That I Practice Meditation

Nine months ago a seed was planted. Ok people, not THAT kind of seed. I didn’t do any baby making, but I did start a journey that has changed my life for the better, similar to how becoming a mom made me see the world a bit differently.

Back in September of 2012 I took my first meditation class at a local center in my town. I’d always been intrigued by meditation but was nervous to take the first step and attend class. Turns out there was not a single thing to be nervous about considering every person I have met that practices meditation is incredibly welcoming and nice.

The type of meditation that I practice isn’t just breathing meditation, it’s contemplative too. Over the past nine months I’ve thought a lot about how my state of mind at any given point impacts how I see the world. I’ve meditated on how dangerous anger can be, how the most important thing I can do is to show others kindness (even those who provoke and challenge me) and I have increased the depth of my compassion for others.

I’ve experienced a dramatic drop in my anxiety level and I feel like I’ve healed some relationships in my life that were difficult, not because the other person changed anything, but because I now fully understand that I have the ability to change situations solely based upon the way I think. Powerful stuff peeps!

Naturally, practicing meditation has impacted how I parent my 2-year-old daughter. Here are a just a few of the revelations I’ve had since beginning my practice.

I have a lot more patience than I thought.

Mom, if you’re reading this, pick your jaw up off the floor. This has been a surprising revelation. I have not been known within my family as someone who has a lot of patience but I’ve found that meditation really helps me stay in the now (as cliché as that term is). Most of the time I’m able to resist getting agitated when my toddler doesn’t do what I ask, throws a tantrum or doesn’t want to eat dinner. Taking the time to breathe and remember that my goal is to be kind in all of my interactions, including with my little girl, helps me show more patience instead of just getting immediately upset. As a wonderful consequence, I don’t yell anymore.

I’m not perfect, and that’s ok.

And that brings me to this little revelation; it’s ok to not be perfect. I sometimes refer to myself as a recovering perfectionist. Before meditation, if I felt like something wasn’t done to my very high standards I had to fix it immediately (including craft projects with my kid) or I would have a high level of anxiety. What I now understand is that my thoughts create my world and as I am moving towards a more peaceful state of mind, I don’t really care if my daughter rips a hole in the project we’re working on — I’ll just tape it up and move on (as opposed to throwing it out and starting again!). I have a more relaxed attitude about some things but admit that it’s hard to shake my perfectionist tendencies. Just part of the journey, I suppose.

I am not my body

Ah yes! You know those stretch marks on my stomach and the baby weight I haven’t lost yet? Guess what? That doesn’t define me! Because I’m not my body, I’m more than my body and you are too. How liberating is that? Thank you meditation!

Pre-baby I was more judgmental than I ever imagined.

Before I became a mom I use to judge other parents (I hate to admit that but it’s true). I didn’t realize just how judgy I was until I had my own kid who doesn’t always act like a perfect little angel. Just the act of becoming a mom helped me reduce my judginess but meditation has opened my eyes to the importance of universal compassion. The truth is we don’t really know what’s in anyone else’s mind other than our own and judging others makes it hard to feel kindness and love for them. And as I stated above, showing kindness to people is one of the most important things in life.

Just like meditation, parenting takes perseverance.

With meditation, it takes time to fully reap the benefits. You have to (gently) keep at it, doing your best to put the meditations into practice in daily life. Motherhood is just like that. We just have to keep plugging along, doing our best each day with faith that our efforts will pay off in the long run.

From my meditation cushion to you, keep calm and mother on.

via Michelle Noehren: What I Know About Motherhood Now That I Practice Meditation.