Once upon a time, back in the day, loooong before I became a Mum, practising mindfulness was just like practising another hobby. I had lots of time to fit it in and freedom of choice as to when and where I did it.
I recall long slow mornings that followed a predictable routine; mindful yoga followed by a cup of herbal tea, twenty minutes of formal meditation and then off I went to get ready for work. Once I got home I often sat or lay in my room to carry out a body scan meditation, releasing any tension or worries from my day, ending the evening with a soak in the bath or a quick shower before another formal meditation before bed.
That life seems like a world away to me now.
Heavily pregnant with my second child, I spend most days with my energetic toddler, catering to his needs and pretty much doing what every other mother does. I love being a Mum yet there’s no doubt about it- it’s exhausting. You can’t even call it a “full time job” as at least with a job you get evenings and weekends off….!
I knew when I had my first child that my life – in regards to mindfulness -would never be the same again. Being so responsible for little person who needs and depends on me, I no longer have the freedom to “nip off for a quick meditation” or take a quiet, restorative mindful meal alone whenever the need arises.
That’s not to say you can’t be a mindful parent. You just do things a little differently, as I’ve discovered over the past two years and no doubt I will continue to discover once baby number two arrives.
Mindfulness, for me, is no longer focused on formal meditations, guided transcripts or solitary exercises. Instead, I’m using the mindful principles as an approach to living. And so far, it helps.
If I’ve been up in the night with my teething toddler, the house is a mess and I’m feeling exhausted, I try to use the loving kindness principles to go easy on myself.
It’s so easy for parents to feel guilty about everything they’re not doing “well enough” whatever that may be, so I try to remind myself mindfully that I am in fact trying my best and I can just choose to let those negative, anxious thoughts go.
Thoughts are only thoughts after all.
It’s also incredibly easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of busyness when you have children with multitasking becoming second nature.
In the early newborn days it used to feel like a race against time to get everything done during the baby’s naps. And at the end of the day I’d still be dissatisfied with all the jobs left to do so I’d lie awake writing to do lists, determined to tackle them the next day.
I was striving, lost in the habit of “doing” and with little time alone it’s no surprise I found those early days as a mum pretty overwhelming.
But gradually, I started to realise what I was doing. And this is the real beauty of mindfulness; by becoming aware of how mindless I was, things naturally began to change by themselves. And I began to feel much more capable.
I would catch a negative thought more quickly and be able to offer myself the encouragement, reassurance or whatever it was I needed at that time.
I could also sense when my body was becoming tense or over-tired and I consciously reminded myself to slow down and ask for help.
I also began putting away my mobile phone away more, making the most of my time with my son and not getting lost in a virtual world of social media or news. More than any other time in my life, I now needed and wanted to be present.
My breathing spaces and body scans turned into simply being present whilst playing with, bathing or reading to my son. There was no other place I had to be, mentally or physically. So in actual fact becoming a Mum grounded me for the first time in a very long time.
And now as I wait for my second child to appear, I’m reminding myself even more of the compassionate principles Mindfulness endorses.
I’m facing all the worries and anxieties I may have about the forthcoming birth and life afterwards. And by doing so I’m recognising and honouring my own needs, giving myself a voice and essentially being my own best friend.
Which is what I reckon mindfulness has been trying to get us to be all along – kinder to ourselves.
So essentially, it doesn’t matter if I don’t have the ‘time’ to disappear and be mindful formally. Instead, I’m practising ways of making my life a more centred, calmer and grounded one simply by living with awareness.
Watching my thoughts and checking in with how I’m feeling from time to time are the two mindful practices that have transformed my life as a parent. I can choose my thoughts more carefully and live in a way that’s kinder to me.
And if I’m happy and centred, those around me are more likely to be too. So mindfulness is not just a gift for myself. It’s power of presence is a gift for my family also.
So single or attached, with children or without, I know from experience that mindfulness really is for anyone.