"Become silent in your children's presence. Free yourself of all distractions, and attune yourself to them in a state of curiosity and delight." - Dr. Shefali Tsabary
In many ways, the joys and pains of parenthood are equal to the joys and pains of labor and birth. Both are beautiful, messy, emotionally fueled, and chaotic. Every parent experiences profound transformation and personal growth, along with inescapable challenges such as self-doubt and elevated stress levels.
From bonding with baby to developing parent identity, and from changes in relationships to establishing social support, the developmental tasks involved in parenting are hugely demanding. Learning how to regulate your baby’s emotional state, while simultaneously trying to figure out how to manage your own, might be the greatest challenge of all.
These and other obstacles in your parenting journey can sometimes feel insurmountable - like wandering around a dark forest without a map wishing for a magic key to Pandora’s box. Fortunately, we live in a time when mindfulness practices are widely accessible. While the word may be heavily overused, like a popular fashion accessory, mindfulness is an extremely valuable, research-based tool, and perhaps the closest solution we have to a parenting manual.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the originator of mindfulness, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training, and world-renowned researcher at the Center for Healthy Minds, focuses his research on cultivating well-being, the essence of mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally” says Kabat-Zinn. He sometimes adds that it is about paying attention to your thoughts in the service of self-understanding and practiced wisdom. When used wisely, mindfulness techniques can lead you and your baby towards the path of well-being.
Mindfulness and Parenting
From Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR training, many adaptations of this program have been born. Studies on programs such as Mindful with Your Baby, Mindful Motherhood, and Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) have proven benefits for parents and babies. Participants in these programs have reported that learned mindful awareness exercises helped to decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, decrease parental stress, develop more attentiveness to themselves, attune to their babies, enhance connectivity to their child, and to respond in more positive ways.
The idea of practicing mindfulness can inflame the already overwhelmed, hustling parent. There is only so much one person is capable of managing in a day. What caretaker wants to add one more thing to the “to do” list?
Reality check: there is no such thing as "not enough time." I repeat: there is no such thing as "not enough time." It’s how you choose to spend your time and how you choose to spend your time impacts how you feel. Ask yourself: how do you want to feel?
Mindfulness teaches a person how to tune into their senses. In doing so, everyday rituals and routines can feel more sacred, valued, and cherished. Without a doubt, being present to your life is the foundational framework for your own mental health as well as your relationship with your child.
Through formal and informal meditations, on-the-go practices, in-the-moment practices, activities, and intention setting, a mindful parenting practice offers several portals to presence, and can ultimately lead to a child’s well-being wrapped in love and connection. Studies suggest that the use of formal meditation, in particular, can produce positive results in as little as 3 - 5 minutes.
Many of us are already practicing mindfulness intuitively with our children, but if you are looking to begin an intentional mindfulness practice with your new baby, it’s never too soon. There are many efficient and evidenced-based strategies that can help you regulate your own nervous system (emotions, stress, etc.) which can help regulate your baby's too.
Formal Five Breaths - Five Senses Meditation
This daily meditation is intended for you to practice while your baby is sleeping or is being cared for by someone else.
To begin, bring your awareness to your breathing. Breathe in and out five times. Focus your attention to what you can hear around you, and stay with that attention for five breaths in and out. Return to your breathing for five counts. Next, bring your attention to what you see for five breaths. Return your breathing for five breaths. Then, move your awareness to what you taste for five breaths. Return to your breathing for five breaths. Shift your awareness to what you what you can smell for five breaths. Return back to your breathing for five breaths. Now, move your attention to physical sensations (what you can feel) for five breaths. End with your focus back on your breathing for five final breaths. Pause and notice how you feel.
Informal Five Breaths - Five Senses Meditation
The same meditation exercise can be done while driving, taking a shower, on an airplane, or during any other activity. You don’t need to sit or lie down with eyes closed, all you need is to return to your breath and body through your five senses again and again, wherever you are, using the formal application meditation as a guide.
Multi-sensory Experiences With Your Infant (0-12 months)
Practice the Formal Five Breath - Five Senses Meditation while your baby is in the room. Don't tune your baby out, but rather notice when and where the direction of your attention tends to wander.
Turn sensory-experiences into bath time rituals. Scan through all of your senses while imagining the experience your baby must be having.
Make daily baby massage a ritual and use aromatherapy to stimulate smell for both you and baby. Incorporate singing and eye gazing into the ritual.
Eye Gazing Exercise
Eye gazing is a powerful bonding experience. It’s more than just looking at someone in the eyes. When you look into your child's eyes and are able to see your reflection in them, you have really seen your child and you've allowed them to see you. Make this part of your daily routine. Marvel at who you are through the eyes of your child. This exercise becomes a lot more fun as they grow older. When you ask them to find a picture of themselves in your eyes one day, they will say “I see me in your eyes!” It sets the tone for eye contact for future conversations and once your child discovers their reflection in you, they will forever seek it out. To strengthen your own self- awareness, try it on yourself in a mirror. Can you see your own reflection?
Before going to bed each night, or upon waking in the morning, mentally sketch a plan for the day ahead of you. Decide who you want to be, how you want to be with yourself, and how you want to be with your family. Do you want to feel rushed or at ease? How can you plan for smooth transitions? Plan without expecting perfection and remember to stay flexible when things don’t go exactly as planned (which is almost always).
When bumps in the road arise, and they always do, notice and accept them with compassion, then try and gently return home to your five senses. Regulated parents can help regulate their children. It isn't always easy, but it is possible and it is worth it.
About the Author
Michelle Newman is the owner and founder of Grow Wise, an independent company based out of Lancaster, PA, where she has been teaching yoga and mindfulness to kids and families for the last 10 years. She is a writer and blogger for people who desire to live a fulfilling life rooted in health, wellness, self-awareness, and personal growth. Mindfulness is at the heart of Michelle’s work, and she believes it is key to helping people improve their human existence.
TagsParenting Early parenting Mindfulness Mindfulness in Parenting