So what is mindful parenting? For me, it just means extending mindfulness into my life as a mum. As with all experiences of parenting, it's a very individual thing. I find it gives me a way to be a parent and a human being - through all the times I'm fallible, vulnerable, or just feeling completely at a loss. Mindfulness gives you skills that help you to cope with whatever life throws at you. And when you're parenting young children, that can literally be whatever toy or household object gets thrown at you!
There are many ways that you can bring mindful responses into your daily life, but the number one question I get asked by fellow mums is how to stay calm when your child is having a meltdown. Now, it may be true that practising mindfulness can help you develop a mental pause button, so that you can respond more calmly to stressful situations. But it's also true that mindfulness won't remove all the challenges from parenting (sorry!). And when you're sleep deprived and run ragged, then no matter how much meditation you do, it's realistic to feel less than serene when a meltdown hits. We're human after all, not robots!
You know the scene - you have to be out of the house in 10 minutes, your child won't put on their shoes and they've just spilt juice all over your laptop. You're determined to take charge and keep your cool. But before you know what's happened, they're pushing all your buttons and your ability to stay calm is being stretched past its limit. But it's not too late for a mindful response. Self-compassion is a mindful skill that can support you in just this kind of real-world situation.
Here's an example of how I bring mindfulness to the more challenging moments of parenting. It took me a little practice, but this is how I respond when I need a Meltdown Rescue. Firstly, as soon as I notice I'm feeling stressed, I just stop, and put my attention on myself for a moment - acknowledging that it's hard for me. I try to offer myself some comfort for the fact that I'm finding this difficult. It's ok to find it hard. Parenting isn't exactly a walk in the park. Once I've focussed on myself, then I can extend this compassion to my child - who is also finding the situation hard. It's about cultivating a sense of 'this is hard for me, and it's hard for you'. Often this also gives me some new insight into what prompted my child's challenging behaviour, so we can avoid it next time.
Then I can choose how to move forward. This might be an apology - from either or both of us. Or it might be a hug. Living mindfully means accepting the whole range of human experience, even when we behave less than perfectly. (And would I really want my child to grow up believing that mistakes are unacceptable because he never saw me make any?)
Self-compassion isn't about having a pity party for myself, or laying a guilt trip on my child. It's about taking a moment to switch my focus from trying to win the battle, to finding an opportunity to connect with my child - as two humans who are struggling in this moment. It helps me to defuse the tension, heal the rift and avoid spending the rest of the day feeling guilty for being Grumpy Mummy. Mindful parenting doesn't stop the meltdowns from happening, but it does mean that normal service can be resumed a little quicker.