When you’re a new parent, time can seem very elastic: whizzing by in the daily routine of caring for your baby, then ticking oh so slowly when you’re drained and sleep deprived (like that 5am feed). You can feel stressed, anxious, exhausted and caught up in a never-ending to-do list that still leaves you wondering what you did all day. This is when mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness is about paying deliberate attention to what’s happening to your mind and body in the present time, not what you’ll be doing once the baby wakes up or worrying about what you did ‘wrong’ yesterday.
When you practise mindfulness, and become fully aware of the present and the sensations around you, you wake up from auto-pilot mode and can fully cherish being with your baby. Your thoughts will become calmer, too.
“Mindfulness is about observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself,” says Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. “When unhappiness or stress hover overhead, rather than taking it all personally, you learn to treat them as if they were black clouds in the sky, and to observe them with friendly curiosity as they drift past. In essence, mindfulness allows you to catch negative thought patterns before they tip you into a downward spiral. It begins the process of putting you back in control of your life.”
Practising mindfulness can help you appreciate the best bits of being a parent, and turn down the draining self-criticism dial.
“Mindfulness is an opportunity to really enjoy the joyful moments which we can so easily miss,” explains Eluned Gold, a psychotherapist, teacher and trainer of mindfulness for 20 years at the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice. “Mindful parenting is about consciously taking a pause, like when your baby smiles at you.”
Take care of yourself
Lose the idea that your baby has to be the priority in every waking second of your day. Unless you take time for yourself, you won’t be able to fully appreciate the deep joy of being with your baby.
“It’s really important to take care of yourself - so you can take care of your baby,” says Eluned, who teaches mindful parenting. “In those moments when you do get a break - and there are some - really do take the opportunity to enjoy them fully in the moment.”
Instead of taking the opportunity while your baby sleeps to do the hoovering or the next batch of laundry, Eluned suggests practising mindfulness by simply sitting still and becoming aware of your body. “Deliberately lengthen your out breath, experience the feeling of the chair on your back, sink down and let go, really feel the taste of your hot tea,” says Eluned.
Catch joyful moments
“The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones,” says Eluned. “This negativity bias may have helped humans survive, but when it comes to parenting we need to consciously rebalance.”
Instead of beating yourself up about ‘being a bad parent’ because your baby needs a clean top or the kitchen floor could do with a wipe, take time to acknowledge how fabulous it is that you have brought a baby into this world and that you’re doing a good job of nurturing your child, physically and emotionally. Stop your to-do list and enjoy the present moment of being with your baby and giving your full attention.
Accept that perfect parenting is a myth
When you find yourself comparing yourself to other supposedly perfect parents, whether that’s on your social feeds or at the baby group, realise that you’ve fallen for the hype and that no one is perfect. And remember these words of wisdom from Eluned: “Perfect parents are no good for kids. Children learn by example, seeing and feeling you manage your emotions is good for your baby.”
Manage your stress
When you feel stressed and anxious, try to press the pause button and consciously calm yourself. “When you find yourself irritably jiggling your crying baby to supposedly ‘calm’ him, you’re feeding the situation,” says Eluned. “Pause, breathe out, feel the crying as vibrations, feel your baby’s soft skin and you’ll feel calmer - and your baby will relax too. Mindfulness doesn’t stop stress, but it help you catch it and settle yourself.”
Happy mum, happy baby
Mindfulness can help your baby feel loved and connected to you. “By consciously enjoying being in the present, you’re creating positive, emotional contact with your baby,” says Eluned.
Continue to practise mindful parenting and your child will grow up with the experience of a parent whose taken the time to fully be with them, consciously listening and giving her full attention. In later years that will equate to an increased resilience to stress and anxiety, an ability to bounce back from problems.