Raising children in calm, wise, and loving ways, has always been a privilege and a challenge - generations of parents that came before us will attest to that, I guess. However, it has grown increasingly difficult with current times. Despite certain beneficial advancements that have made parenting easier in some regards (such as increased flexibility to work from home due to digital technology), it is some of those very advancements that in turn detract from our sense of ease, presence, and availability. We are more distracted than ever – and, we are juggling more roles and responsibilities than many generations of parents (specially mothers) who came before us.
For better or worse, we are living in modern times, we can't change that and must adapt to it for the sake of our own wellbeing. While we can’t always change the conditions of the world around us, we can change our relationship to that environment: to both the inner landscape and the outer one (including work, partner, children, and so forth). By harnessing the power of mindfulness and meditation, the shift becomes possible.
Bringing Mindful Awareness to Modern Life
The advancements of modern life have undoubtedly brought increased convenience to many domains of life; however, these have also come with a cost. For instance, modern life changes have made it possible for women to reach and exceed the same career heights as men. While it goes without saying that this is an exceptional advancement that has been long overdue, it has also meant that in an increasing number of cases, both parents are away from the home most days. Today, only about 25% of working American families have one parent focused on work done at the home.
Unfortunately, the work we have to do at home does not accomplish itself. Outside of the typical 9-to-5 workday, parents are still responsible for a lot: taking the children to and from school, doctor’s appointment, play dates, doing the laundry, preparing dinner, and running never ending errands. With only a fixed amount of time each day, the implication is that we’re often left working for a higher percentage of our waking hours - than what is healthy or sustainable without burning out!
On top of this, we are constantly connected. Digital technologies have made it possible to remain ‘in the know,’ but this constant connection makes mindfully disconnecting that much more difficult. And FOMO is certainly a much underestimated pandemic taking over what is supposed to be our leisure hours! So to rest – not just in body but in mind too – requires conscious, intentional effort.
So how do we make meaningful change in our lives through mindfulness? Mindfulness can support parents in a number of ways. First, it can grant us the pause we need to better assess what is out of balance in our lives. Perhaps we are working too much. Perhaps our partnership lacks the nurturing care it requires. Perhaps we are anxiously trying to fit perfectly into each role we’ve defined for ourselves. Mindfulness first and foremost helps us to open our eyes to what is here – in front of us, all around us, and within us.
Once we become aware of what is calling for our attention, we can start to make small, mindful shifts in ways that nourish us. This requires a prioritization of self-care, something that many mothers struggle to do (often because of a misunderstanding about what self-care means and what it entails).
Starting With Self-Care
Contrary to what we often assume, self-care is more than a trend – and it is not self-centered. In fact, true self-care enables us to support those around us (children included) in much more attentive and loving ways than we’d be able to otherwise. Self-care is, in fact, a way of loving not just ourselves but those we are raising, the person we are in partnership with, and everyone else in our lives as well.
The problem with our modern interpretation of self-care is that it tends to center around particular imagery. A glass of wine, a lengthy massage, or new supplements are some of what we tend to associate with self-care. Sometimes (depending on who we are and our relationship to these things) they might be a part of our efforts to care for ourselves.
However, self-care runs much deeper. Self-care can, and should, also be explored with nothing but our own mindful awareness and a sense of inner connectedness and peace. In other words, can we care for ourselves using what is inherent to us? In addition to nurturing ourselves with certain objects or experiences, we can enhance our understanding of self-care by embracing and cultivating the resources inside: compassion, patience, presence, curiosity, and tender inquiry. This is where we must begin because this is what will provide us with the deepest sense of peace, balance, and presence amidst the demands of modern life.
The Importance of Mindful Presence
Now, we can typically sense intuitively that our embodiment of ease and balance impacts those around us. When we are stressed out or overworked, we tend to be less present, patient, and receptive to our children. Energy is often subtle, but children pick up on it. Mindful presence blesses the people in our life with harmonizing energy.
Potential benefits for our children of our own mindfulness and self-care practices include:
· Improved communication with our children
· Reduced tendency to react impatiently or aggressively
· Increased connection and bond between parent and child
· Improvement in parent attitudes
· Improvement in behavioral issues
· Reduced stress for both parent and child
It is not difficult to see how a positive feedback loop is then created. When we are more compassionate, present, and emotionally available, our children respond to that energy. Their behavior shifts accordingly – and not because we have forced something upon them. They have naturally adopted a new way of being from us.
The purpose of this is not to reach a state of perfect parenting (or to have our children behave perfectly for that matter). Mindfulness, meditation, and self-care are quite simply practices that can help to naturally and subtly enhance the harmony and wellbeing of each individual in the family; and therefore, the family as a whole. The point is sustainable progress in our embodiment of wellbeing, not perfection.
Managing Parenting Stress and Fatigue
How does all of this look in practice? What can specifically mothers – and more generally parents – do in practice to better manage the stress and fatigue of parenting? There are a number of exercises we can explore to rest more deeply so that we can show up completely.
1. Remember you are breathing.
We don’t need to remember to breathe; the body takes care of it for us. However, how often do we connect with this fundamental life force that makes our existence possible? The breath is a primary tool of mindfulness and meditation – and for good reason. It is always available to us.
We can reduce stress through mindful or deep breathing. As a mother, you might turn to mindful breathing practices for five-minute mindful breaking breaks after your child lays down for a nap, in the middle of a sleepless night, or before having a difficult conversation with your child. The breath is always there, available no matter what you are going through.
2. Clarify your values.
Amidst the pressure of modern life, it is important to clarify our values. What is most important to us? What do we want to teach our children? Being clear on our core values can help us to set priorities and clear away the things in our lives that only add unnecessary pressure. Knowing our core values can help us to simplify in nourishing ways.
3. Establish healthy boundaries.
As a parent, it is important to have healthy boundaries around the various domains of our life. For instance, we need to ask ourselves how to draw the line between our work and home lives, and between our role as a mother and our role as a partner. Additionally, we need healthy self-boundaries: Who am I as an individual independent from my family and what do I need to maintain a confident and clear sense of self?
4. Nourish yourself in varied ways.
In addition to establishing healthy boundaries around various domains in our life, we need to actually prioritize the care of the many domains important to us. Examples of areas in your life that are worthy of your care include: self-awareness and spirituality; purpose and/or career; family; romantic partnership; hobbies and creative projects; and so forth. If we nourish ourselves in only one or two of the domains that matter to us, we will be left feeling unfulfilled and unbalanced, which will ripple out to our children in subtle, unconscious ways.
5. Prioritize sleep and adequate rest.
When it comes to stress and fatigue as a parent, rest needs to be made a priority. If we have a newborn or a child who experiences nightmares, a full eight hours of sleep isn’t always possible. However, perhaps we can go to bed a little bit early. Perhaps we can make small modifications to make it easier to fall asleep. Turning off electronics twenty minutes earlier than usual, sipping on calming tea, or taking time to stretch or meditate before bed can go a long way.
Furthermore, meditation is an invaluable tool to help us step away from the world around us and to tune into the one that lives within. Meditation offers parents a range of benefits, including helping to reduce the stress response, improve sleep, enhance resilience, and improve the way we manage our emotions. Meditation can focus on mindfulness techniques (such as focusing on the breath or the body) or it can help us nurture much needed qualities of joy, peace, fulfillment and even a restful sleep.
7. Seek extra support when you need it.
Lastly, it is important to reaffirm to ourselves that we do not need to do this on our own. Whether we reach out to our partner, a close friend, a family member, or services in our community for support, it is crucial to find a network to lean on. Though modern life has created a vast web of digital connection, it has left our in-person networks less than nourished. However, support is always available if we open ourselves up to it. You might also find a network of other mothers with whom to share stories and navigate the journey together.
Mindfulness in modern-day motherhood brings us back to our center. It helps us to find balance and peace amidst the varied demands we are faced with as a parent. As we dive deeper into mindfulness and related practices (such as self-care and meditation), we will slowly start to naturally embody new ways of being – new ways of parenting with presence, attention, and an open, compassionate heart.