During my years of infertility, I dreamed of the idyllic life I’d have if only I could become a mother. I visualized details: rocking my new baby softly in the wee hours of the morning; hearing her squeals of delight as she took her first steps; cuddling her when she was scared; her first lost tooth and first day of school. I imagined every rite of passage and special milestone. I would embrace and cherish each one.
Once I overcame infertility and had kids of my own, those precious moments were, admittedly, not as picture-perfect as I had originally imagined. You see, after adopting, I became pregnant when my new baby was only three months old. I battled chronic morning sickness for nearly six months while working full-time and trying to care for my husband, two dogs, and our 3,000 square-foot home. And then—surprise!—babies three and four were on their way. I was living my dream but at a very (very) harried pace.
Without even realizing it, I flew my early years of parenting on autopilot.
As much as I loved being a new mom and as much as I adored my sweet babies, on many days I had to go through the motions just to keep my kids fed, changed, and safely occupied, while balancing work and the upkeep of my home. I viewed grocery shopping and pediatrician’s office visits as luxuries.
Every parent knows you can’t get by without a little help from friends and family. In addition to the tremendous help I received from my support system, I was fortunate to receive a wonderful book from one of my best friends called Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, written by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Its poignant, thought-provoking essays for every day of the year were geared at helping busy women get centered and become mindful of the joy and abundance surrounding us if we tuned in and learned to appreciate it.
That book became my bible for the next dozen years. To this day, I still have a copy on my nightstand. I loved it so much I gave all my best friends and each of my three daughters a copy.
The first summer I had four small babies to care for was a turning point for me. I realized I had two choices:
- Continue on my insane path of trying to get everything done no matter what the cost to myself or my family.
- Stop the insanity and start enjoying the simple parts of my parenting day—no matter how small—and relish every innocent, delightful second.
I didn’t realize it 20 years ago, but when I made the decision to stop scurrying from one moment to the next, I was embarking on what we now refer to as practicing the art of mindfulness.
Simply put, I believe that mindful parenting is learning to go back to the basics with all that you do for your family. Remove all the bells and whistles of today’s non-stop lifestyle and just enjoy whatever you and your children are doing at that very moment. This might be noticing how energized your child is when removing his cleats after a stellar soccer game. Perhaps your daughter is feeling defeated after all her friends got asked to homecoming but her. Maybe it's reveling in the fact that your entire family is chomping at the bit to taste the pot roast you prepared for dinner on this beautiful autumn evening.
Paying close attention to how your family is feeling and interacting when you are all together, rather than being distracted by smartphones and the whirring of thoughts, may well be the greatest gift you can ever give them. (And yourself.)
As the mom of eight kids, I truly believe that parenting in the moment is not only the ultimate, loving gift you can share with your child, it’s also a wonderful skill to teach them. I’d like to share with you five simple mindfulness habits that you can begin incorporating into your parenting life today.
5 Ways to Practice Mindful Parenting
- Set Your Daily Intention
- Practice Mindful Awareness
- Listen With Your Whole Body
- Learn the Five Second Rule
- Practice Self-Compassion
Let’s delve into each of these further.
1. Set Your Daily Intention
While I was experiencing six long years of infertility, I'd wake up each morning and give thanks for my life as it was, but I also asked the Powers That Be to allow me to become pregnant. Each day I held out hope that my dream would be fulfilled as long as I believed and asked for what I so much wanted.
Fast forward 25 years and now I'm the grateful mother of eight kids in their teens and twenties. My entire life has changed, but one thing that's remained constant despite my new hectic norm is how I start each day with an intention.
If you want to get into the beautiful habit of practicing mindful parenting, one of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to set a daily intention before you even get out of bed each morning.
Juliet Turalski explains this beautifully in her article Why Setting an Intention Every Morning Will Change Your Life. “By acknowledging how you desire to feel, you can enter any situation with a whole new sense of being—even as you’re simply drinking your cup of joe, stuck in traffic, or throughout your working. When you get clear on how you want to feel, you can make clear decisions that create the life you truly desire to live. The moment you tap into the feeling, you get your power back."
As parents, we know that we are going to be faced with dozens (OK, hundreds) of varying scenarios to address every day we raise our kids. This is why I set an intention every morning before my feet hit the floor. I want to embrace whatever comes my way with positive energy and a loving outlook.
For example, my intention this morning was this: "Thank you for this beautiful late summer morning. I look forward to my powerwalk where I will spend time with my own thoughts and get pumped up for a fantastic day. I know Brady will do a wonderful job driving with his learner’s permit, and back-to-school shopping will be a breeze today with Annie happily finding the items on her list. We’ll gather for a delicious dinner together as a family before Austin heads back to college tomorrow. I love this day already!"
My intentions change depending on what’s happening in my life, but I set them every day without fail and am usually very pleased with the results. I encourage you to try this each morning yourself and watch how differently your days will unfold.