With changing times, every life domain has evolved at an unprecedented rate. Mindful parenting can only equip the contemporary parents to enjoy this journey.
If you are reading this blog, I am sure you want to be an informed parent and wish to consciously take this up as a responsibility of nurturing a life for which you and your partner have consented. Being mindful is not just the need for parenting, I believe it is a need of the hour. If you wish to be a mindful parent, the transformative actions will begin at every front of your life. These reforms will make you feel more sorted, balanced and mindful as a person and as a parent.
Mindfulness is a 2600-years-old practice of intentionally bringing your attention to the present moment. It has its roots in Buddhist tradition and it was derived from an element called ‘sati’. Sati originally means ‘memory’ however within the practices of Buddhism, it means consciously being in the present moment without judgement. In the modern context, when globalisation is at its peak and one needs to practise mindfulness more than ever before, it starts from being aware of your bodily sensations; one can then move on to feelings, thoughts and environment without being judgemental and watching it as a bystander of an incident. The acceptance of the incidents as they are, take time to attain.
Easier said than done, it becomes difficult for all the working people like me to assess an information/ thought without comparison or judgment, which is the basis of practising mindfulness. Nevertheless, it is a skill one can develop through meditation or training. So, my quest to practise mindfulness began long back during my college days when I was introduced to a meditation centre. I had got no idea back then what a powerful tool, I was about to experience. After my first exposure to meditation, I was blown away and I kept practising for almost two years and it gave me a lot of peace to deal with the then challenges. But life has a tendency to keep throwing challenges and I again fell back to the vicious cycle of routine. And then, one day I realised that I am going to nurture life and as a responsible parent, I should give the best to this new life. After a lot of thinking and contemplating, I realised that the best gift I could offer to my child will be raising him/ her as a conscious parent. I was very sure that as an informed contemporary mother I would be the best at parenting also. But as I mentioned earlier, life’s tendency is to keep throwing challenges and again I was caught with professional and personal life. However, due to earlier practices, the subconscious kept on knocking at my door of consciousness and one fine day I decided to make a move. Practising and training one’s mind take some time and I took four years to reach this stage where I can proudly share these practical steps with you from my experience.
Step-1 Start monitoring your own breathing
Like any life begins with a breath, the first step to mindfulness starts with practising breathing. You may either do it while sitting in a comfortable position or while moving as well, just keep the shoulders broadened and let the air reach the abdomen. It is suggested to do it early in the morning however if this is not the first thing you may like to do initially, you may start doing it during the day.
How to do it–
- To begin with, just sit in a comfortable position first. Release the tension in your shoulder and close your eyes. If you are unable to sit like a yogi, no issues, just pull a chair and sit and keep your arms relaxed on your thighs. Try to take deep breaths by inhaling slowly. Start counting while inhaling and count till 4.
- Take a pause for 4 counts and then,
- Release it in 6 counts.
Do not rush into counting, initially it may be faster but try to go as slow as possible; it becomes your habit gradually. Many apps help practise deep breathing but I always did it naturally. Deep breathing does following to you-
- it increases the oxygen supply to your brain,
- reduces muscle tension due to stress, and,
- also reduces the cortisol (stress hormone) in the blood which makes you feel better instantly.
You may also practice this technique while you are doing other things. I used to practise while travelling in the metro or waiting in queues for either some work or appointments. I would also walk mindfully and be aware of my breathing especially when I would sense a trigger. With young babies and infants, it often gets difficult to maintain a sleep routine so you might think that I do not have enough time and I can not do it but remember this is just your mind tricking you, going back to your comfort zone and cursing later. You have to learn to steal time for yourself. Even 5-10 minutes are good. Just start and see the difference.
Step-2 Keep taking frequent but short breaks
As a researcher, it is our tendency to get lost in tons and tons of data, reports, research articles and reviews. The flow of thoughts can go wild and even distract you at times from the key topic. Small and frequent breaks helped me being on track and not lose my calm. The breaks were taken after every 30 minutes but only for 5 minutes. I avoided talking to any colleague or friend or taking a call during that 5-minute break, as I would tend to increase the break time and would end up cursing myself for not being mindful. So, keep it short and even during the breaks try to practice abdominal breathing. If you have a sitting job, you may get up and walk in the corridor where it is less crowded.
Raising a child is also no less than a full-time job and mindfulness is a strategic tool to manage it. Accept that things have changed, and I have an added responsibility however, you can always ask your spouse and family to share this responsibility for a while when you may take a small break and return with a fresh mind and vigour to deal with this new change.
Step-3 Feel the taste and texture of food while eating and prefer eating healthy options.
This is again a very simple technique to be in the present moment. If you are at home engage your baby for a while with something, either your family, toy or whatsoever fetches his/ her attention and keeps them engaged. While eating, do not get involved in screen time or phone calls unless it is urgent. However, you may watch TV or your favourite series once in a while with popcorns or snacks. But do keep in mind, not to overdo it. Remember not to restrict yourself too much at the beginning as the brain’s tendency to rebel and come back to its comfort zone is lethal and it would not let you be mindful.
If you are in the office, you can again sit calmly and have a peaceful meal, try not to indulge in any office gossip. Keep a track of everything in the beginning. Write down either on a small notepad or your phone about your experiences during the day. Simple things, how your day started and could you practice breathing techniques during the day, if not what happened and if yes, how did you feel. How was the food texture you had taken and how much did you eat, was it enjoyable and so on and so forth.
It is also well researched that our gut is our ‘second brain’ as an extensive neural network of the gut is directly linked to our brain and is believed to be partially responsible for our varying states of mind and immune. However, the network is majorly responsible for digestion, it also regulates emotional stability in routine.
Step-4 Practice keeping the phone aside while being with children
Yes, as much daunting as it may sound, the best thing you can offer to your child is to give them complete attention by keeping the phones away. For a child’s development, it is essential to have reciprocal and transactional communication i.e., the adult understands and responds sensitively to the child’s needs and find ways to sustain the communication. For example, we are throwing a ball towards a child and they throw it back to us, that’s being responsive while playing. That is how the communication also goes on. It becomes even more critical during the early years when their brain is still developing and are not fully equipped for communicating and managing their own emotions. At this age, the child still feels frustrated, angry, upset and all range of emotions as adults, they are just not able to regulate it, hence as a caregiver, it is your responsibility to lead them to the desired behaviour.
It does not matter how long you sit with them or spend time with them, whatever it is, it should be distraction-free and wholehearted. At different ages, children need different kinds of help and support even while playing. You may therefore see and judge what suits your child and how much time from your busy schedule is possible to be squeezed out. One fine day, when my daughter came to me and was pushing me to play with her and I was busy reading some article on my phone but I had to leave it and I was playing with her half-heartedly. My mind was constantly urging me to pick my phone up and I finally succumbed to it, and then just in a few seconds, my daughter raised her voice to catch my attention. By the time I could look up, she was gone whining and I realised what a beautiful moment I missed. The article could have been read later and in a worst-case scenario, I might have missed it, but I traded over my child’s emotions over an article that seemed unfair to me. And then I decided to keep my phone away when I am with my child. Since then, I never pick the phone when I am with her. Of course, I have to manage work and social life but I have reserved time for everything with mindfulness.
Step-5 Try to identify the trigger in a stressful situation
Psychology says every emotional reaction is a response to a stimulus called a ‘trigger”. While raising a child, we often face these situations when small triggers can throw us off track and our own emotional hijacking doesn’t help us deal with the situation mindfully. With a growing child, this can be anything, right from throwing a tantrum for a toy to separation anxiety. When it started happening with me, I started reading in-depth, learning, implementing and evaluating on my own. Based on my own learning, I developed these simple steps to handle any such stressful situation with a success rate of 95%.
- Take a pause of few seconds.
- Identify the source of the trigger, whether it is because of your child or it is you.
- Identify whether it is your natural response or you are reacting because of your work or other stresses.
- If it is not, you should check what is there with the child, is it because of lack of sleep, hunger or any other physical or emotional distress.
- Learn to understand the situation first and then respond.
- Do not look for immediate control. It suppresses the emotions of a child.
- Avoid shouting but keep a firm voice when it is just a behavioural challenge with the growing child. At times we raise our voices because of our own fears and insecurities or habits. Try avoiding that.
- Manage time efficiently to have a little for yourself also. That should be only you. I practise a morning routine to have this “Me” time else I go for a walk when my child is sleeping. Even half an hour would help to decrease the stress hormone.
Step-6 Write a Gratitude Journal
Yes, taking a 5-10 minutes break from our routine is possible, especially when it is about realising, accepting and thanking for our blessings. In the gratitude journal always mention two to three things in a day that made you thankful. For example, you were waiting for the bus and suddenly your colleague came to your rescue and you saved time and energy to be in the office on time. Say thank you to the Universe and see it more coming to you. You had a very important presentation for the office and your neighbour agreed to babysit your child for that duration, write this in your gratitude journal. You are blessed with a healthy baby, isn’t it a blessing in itself? Ponder upon this, you will never go off track. While writing these positive affirmations, your mind automatically comes back to the present.
With years of research studies, mindfulness in parenting has helped parents raise resilient children. In the coming future, health experts predict mental health to be one of the biggest issues in the world. To top it all, the pandemic has even worsened the situation and the news on rising issues of mental health have already come to light. It is, therefore, a mandate to gradually develop this skill and pass it on to the next generations to take a proactive approach towards saving our mental peace and integrity. We can not deny and run away from the fact that the internet is going to influence our world and the world of coming generations. However, just being completely present in the given moment can make a big difference to how to we respond to it and not let it affect us at a deeper level. If we practise tranquillity in our mind, it will eventually be portrayed in our parenting also.