About 10 years ago, before marriage and children and mortgages and life insurance payments, I took a mindfulness class at my workplace. I dutifully participated for the six-week class, sat through our group meditations, then promptly put the mindfulness binder on my shelf to gather dust. Aside from the occasional yoga class or body scan to help me sleep, I wasn’t regularly practicing.
Fast forward to the birth of my second child, when a strong desire to avoid an epidural inspired me to try hypnobirthing. In some ways, this represented a return to the mindfulness practices I had left behind. While I can’t claim to have been carried away to my safe place during birth, I can say that the meditative practices I learned from my hypnobirthing book allowed me to temporarily refocus my attention enough to ease through some of the pain.
More recently, a colleague showed me a book she was reading on mindfulness in education. My interest piqued again, and this time it stuck. I quickly recalled some of the basic mindfulness practices from my early exposure, but this time they took on new meaning. I began to realize that mindfulness and meditation might help me as a mother – especially as working mother of two young children.
The life of a working parent is filled with challenging moments that require patience, whether we are coaching a child through a tantrum, trying to get dinner on the table, struggling to get to the bus on time, or transitioning our work brain into mommy mode at a moment’s notice (and then back again). Understandably, we tend to focus on these challenges and all the strategies we use to get through them. But by focusing so much on the stress of modern parenting, we often fail to notice a whole lot of joy that we could otherwise be experiencing.
Enter mindfulness and mediation.
You don’t have to be a Zen yoga master or go to a week-long silent retreat to reap the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Nope, you can be a regular old parent with a desire to change your focus in life and the ability to carve out 10 minutes each day.
Mindfulness and meditation aren’t about “clearing your mind” or any other such insurmountable challenge. Instead, they are about training your brain (just like you would train any other muscle) to slow down, attend to the present moment, let your thoughts meander by without consuming you, and suspend judgement, especially of yourself.
Earlier this year, I moved from thinking about mindfulness and occasionally practicing to integrating a 10-minute meditation into every day. I also began to dive into readily available resources on the topic. I read books about mindfulness facilitation and mindful leadership and integrated mindfulness exercises into staff meetings with my colleagues.
I added Mindful Magazine to my subscription wish list and liked the Facebook page that shares daily mindfulness tools and strategies. I signed up for a week-long “Mindful Mama Experience” with Tejal Patel to add a few other skills to my repertoire, like morning mantras and midday energizers.
To support my daily practice, I downloaded a few meditation apps to my cell phone, including Headspace and Insight Timer. I put a meditation pillow on the floor of my office right inside the door. In short, I surrounded myself with positive reinforcement for my practice.
Though life still brings its fair share of challenges, I can truly say that I am a happier person as a result of these practices. I’m more satisfied with my relationships, more peaceful at the end of the day, and more able to set aside frustrations in favor of celebrating successes. I credit these improvements in my mental state to the following skills that mindfulness and meditation are helping me to cultivate:
Meditation helps me train my brain to focus on the present moment. While thoughts about my day, my work, or my children constantly enter my brain during a session, meditation is training me to recognize and then release those thoughts – to let them float away for another time and return my focus to my breath or the sensations of my body.
I’ve learned to translate this skill to other areas of my life. When I am with my children and find myself distracted by thoughts about work, I can recognize that distraction and let it go, returning my attention to the moment I’m having with my children.
Mindfulness and meditation are about directing loving kindness toward yourself and resisting the temptation to pass judgement. Mindfulness practices encourage you to focus on your strengths as a parent, a partner, and an individual, and to boost those strengths as you develop a practice of self-care.
Working parents spend quite a lot of time focusing on what we are not doing well and feeling badly about our inability to “do it all.” I love how mindfulness encourages me to appreciate what I am doing and be proud of my inner strength.
With the cultivation of present-mindedness and compassion, we develop our ability to be more patient with ourselves and others. There is no setting in which this is more visible than in my relationship with my children. When I can gently set aside the thoughts that distract me from giving my kids my full attention, I can be a more present and patient parent.
I can give my children the attention they need from me after the long separation of a work day, help them gently work through their frustrations, better communicate with them when I need to ask something of them, and avoid them feeling like they are competing with my cell phone or email account.
It is not always easy to find moments of peaceful contentment as a busy working mom. By incorporating a 10-minute meditation into my daily routine, I have created moments of profound peace in my life. For me, the first five minutes are quiet and enjoyable, but it is the second five minutes when my brain has finally calmed down that are truly peaceful – almost like the feeling of a waking sleep.
I can only imagine that extending the time of my meditation would further multiply that feeling. But for now, enjoying those 10 minutes is enough to change the trajectory of my day.