At least once a week one of my friends or family members jokingly accuses me of mindless parenting. Chances are, they’re right. I first became interested in mindfulness and mindful parenting because I was unhappy with how often I was reacting to my daughters out of frustration, anger, or boredom. They’d whine or dawdle or throw tantrums or do something that is completely normal for a preschooler or toddler to do, and more often than not, I would snap or even yell at them.
I’m a year into my mindfulness practice, and I can honestly tell you that I still do snap and yell at my girls.
The difference is that now I have tools. Instead of constantly repeating a cycle of conflict and apologies, I know I can choose a more intentional way to engage with my kids. I am getting better at catching myself (sometimes before I lose my patience, sometimes right as it is happening, and sometimes well after the fact), taking a few deep breaths, and making a choice to respond differently. Sometimes I spend much of the day repeatedly reminding myself to breathe (and yes, I do feel like a bit of a crazy person on those days, probably because I am a bit of a crazy person on those days) because that’s what it takes to get me through each moment.
When I do lose it, I am less likely to berate myself for not being a better mother, which was my common reaction in the past. I used to convince myself that I was the only mother on the planet who yelled at her children, and I would sink into a place of deep shame and regret. Those negative feelings made it virtually impossible for me to come to a place of kindness towards myself and my kids.
Now, I try to forgive myself and remember that each moment is a new opportunity to make a different choice in how I want to respond to myself and my daughters. I try to remember that when I can create a little space in the middle of everything, I can choose which thoughts and behaviors I want to hang on to, and which I want to let go of.
I’m not sure how different it all looks from the outside (hence, my friends’ comments), but my internal experience is significantly improved. Most of the time.
Ask any mindfulness practitioner (even the experts, who will likely be the first to tell you that there’s no such thing as an expert in mindfulness) and they will tell you that none of us can be mindful all of the time. It’s not about being some super calm zen Mama as your little Tasmanian Devils are swirling around you. Mindfulness is a practice, a choice we make over and over again to keep coming back to the present moment, to the place in which we stop, breathe, and find space to make a different choice, no matter how far we have strayed.