Misconceptions of Parenting Right or Wrong
I recently had someone ask me to write a blog about mindful mothering. We had connected through friends and immediately I knew we clicked and had the same mindsets about parenting, cooking, running our household, and just about most things in life. But what if that isn’t the case? It’s so much easier to write to an audience that already agrees with you, than one that doesn’t have the same practices. So I wanted to make it very clear to anyone reading this – you are a great mother!
Judgement and shaming has become all too common among parents these days and I want to toss out the notion that I’m writing to tell you the right way to parent. I am not. I have learned through the past 11 years of being a Mom, that some days my best is just having a shower that day. Sometimes my best is off the charts. But my best changes from day to day depending on so many factors when I open my eyes each morning, because I have other people in the home that all have personalities and moods too. Your best is your best and it isn’t anyone’s place to judge what you can give that day.
How many of you have watched other mothers with their kids at playgroup and wished you could be more like that? Or maybe it’s the opposite and you are silently judging her for the way she’s handling the situation with her child? We have all done it. The kid in the grocery store who throws a tantrum about not getting a chocolate bar and we silently think, his parents should raise him to behave better. That wouldn’t happen to me. Oops… and then it does. Our kid pulls a hairy fairy in the grocery store and we see the eyes on us and we want to suddenly crawl into a corner and take back all our previous misconceptions about parenting right or wrong.
Because once we get a feel for this parenting gig, we feel our way is right. It doesn’t matter how many millions of other parents that are doing it differently, we now gauge our expectations of others based on how we do it. But alas, there is no right or wrong way to get your child up in the morning, or read with them at night, or make their lunches. Nothing is measured in black and white in our household. So be kind to yourself and take everything I say as gravy. These are the moments that reflected in me a need for change and time to be mindful and that’s how I learned what worked and didn’t work for my kids. And maybe you pick up on something you resonate with and want to try it in your household.
My goal in writing about mindful mothering, is to simply share the strategies that have worked to keep the peace, connect with my children, and help stay heart-centred in my organized chaos.
My kids come first you say? Ummm… actually they shouldn’t.
I remember when was on a dating app to meet people over my single years. I saw a very common trend among men who had children. They would all use this sentence: "I have kids and they always come first." At first I thought, Oh what a great Dad, he makes his kids a priority, but then I realized something after dating a few dad’s with kids.
- Having kids gave them an excuse to constantly bail on me
- Having kids gave them permission to always be ready to bail on me
- Having kids became the only thing that defined them
- Having kids made them believe they didn’t have the right to want anything for themselves
- Having kids meant they were always trying to prove to me they were a good Dad
Here is the problem with all of the above: You aren’t just a parent. I really started to question why men always put this on their profile and it got me thinking about one constant – your kids are not the first priority. YOU ARE.
You 100% have to stop and address the fact that you were a person before your kids, and will be after they move out. So if you don’t know who you are without your kids, you’ve got a crisis coming. Stop using your kids as an excuse to never be an independent human that wants things for themselves. I want oodles of things! I want to retire on the water one day after building my dream house. I want to travel all over the world and see places I’ve only read about in books.
You don’t have to prove to anyone you are a good parent. The only accountability you have is to your kids. Becoming a parent is a great responsibility, but it doesn’t exist within a bubble. You had responsibilities before your kids and will after they move out. So stop using them as an excuse to not have time for anyone, or not take time for yourself. And stop trying to prove to me your capabilities as a parent. Who are you really trying to convince?
The Truth About Priorities
When we try and cram a million things into the day, what happens? Well, in my world, I don’t get half of the things done and then I feel like I didn’t accomplish anything. Even if I got one thing done, now I don’t value that one thing, because I didn’t get ten other things done. Sound familiar? So what if we set intentions every night for the next day? What if we said tomorrow I’m going to get up when my body wakes up (or my kids wake me up, because they have alarms)?
If my body says at 5:45am it’s time to start the day, so be it. I get plenty done that day, but don’t forget to have my coffee break and take a walk with my partner. That’s important to me. If my body says sleep till the kids get up at 7 am, I listen to my body.
Because my body knows best.
Listen to it when you get out of bed and stretch. Learning to listen to your body is another important piece to mindfulness.
So let’s just be honest… Showing up for yourself is first and foremost. Because if you can’t show up and be on your game, everything and everyone else around you is shaped on what your best is that day. This includes your kids. I spent years noticing how parents expected their kids to behave a certain way even when they didn’t set that example. I caught myself many times getting upset with my kids’ behaviours, but when I took a good look at myself, I realized I was setting the tone. Now, that doesn’t mean your kids are always happy if you are happy. Let's be real. But what it means is that if you show up with a smile, or at least your truth about how you are feeling that day, you will notice a difference in how you parent them. So you have to be the priority. Wake up and take note of how you feel. If you feel great, just roll with it. If not, how can you thwart yourself from deflecting that onto your kids? No matter how I feel every morning, I am able to still act a certain way with my kids. They will tell you Mom is always happy. How is that possible? Because what a child sees on a regular basis is what they will connect with. Reality is, I’m not always a dancing clown every morning, but if I’m not, I’m honest about how I’m feeling. And I tell them I’m doing my best today. And when you are real with kids, it teaches them that vulnerability is okay and they can be real back. And that is how you get kids to communicate.
Show Up for your relationship
Show up for you first. If you really want to go to Paint Night with your girlfriends on a Wednesday evening, don’t feel bad about getting a babysitter or asking your partner to cover solo with the kids. If you want to reconnect with your spouse and plan a date night, don’t feel guilty about fostering a healthy relationship with him or her, because you absolutely need to make that a priority too. I’m two divorces in and trust me, I know a thing or two about doing it completely wrong. But I also know that because of those experiences, I’ll never let my existing relationship take a backseat to my role as a mother, entrepreneur, or friend.
You have to show up for them too. And guess who is watching how your show up for you and your spouse? Kids learn through watching you. Subconsciously they learn at a very early age to form ideas of how a relationship should be, based on their home environment. If they see warm and affectionate role models, they will learn this is a good example of expectations in relationships. It’s not rocket science. But how many of us over the years have disconnected from our significant others because we just don’t have anything left to give? Because we give ourselves away to others all day long. Kids will see through you. It doesn't matter if you never fight. If you aren't engaged and connected they will notice, if they are mindful. Trust me, it comes much more naturally for kids than adults.
Relationships will never thrive if you can’t show up for each other. Even if that means telling him or her that you are utterly exhausted and just want to curl up together and go to sleep. Connection can happen on so many different levels if you are vulnerable enough to be honest and real.
In my humble opinion, this is the order your priorities should go:
- Yourself (you must show up for you or nothing works. This is a big umbrella.)
- Your significant other (they are your backup, your support and love)
- Your children (they need you for safety, guidance and love)
- Your job (Your passions and your income to support your needs and wants)
- Your friends and other family (an important part of connection)
- Everything else
Hi So What Exactly is Mindful Mothering?
To be mindful, you must have the ability to stop and take in your surroundings at all times. This means watching, listening, and evaluating the moods, actions, and words of others. This means being present. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are always present because you aren’t. Being present is a discipline that I practice every day. If you want an example of what I mean, pick up any object in front of you. Close your eyes and focus on how it feels, smells, and maybe even tastes. (Don’t put your kids’ toys in your mouth). Now how well can you focus on this object? How many times does your mind wander to cooking supper, or sex, or anything that isn’t that object? I’m willing to bet a lot. When we are bored our minds wander. We all space out and lose track of time for a few seconds here and there. We are no longer present.
When was the last time you walked down the street and just stayed present? Try it. Look at the trees and how the wind blows them, the colour of the leaves, and how they drift to the ground. Watch that squirrel scatter here and there to gather food. Get off your phone! Just look around you. Listen to the sounds around you. If you can sit down and write about what you observed, then you were present. This is a practice in being mindful that helps us slow down.
I used to be that person who said, “I don’t have time”. A LOT! I would use my busy household as an excuse to bail on commitments, and always be thinking ahead of the moment. What I noticed over time was that I could only remember the times I was being mindful. I began to actually forget parts of my day when I wasn’t engaged and present. Slowing down doesn’t mean losing time. It simply means you are more aware of everything you do. I surround myself with people who value growth mindset and I read all the books I can get my hands on about living life in a mindful state, and conscious parenting. I have some great recommendations for books if you are a reader, but there are also TedTalks, and podcasts that I love. I immerse myself in the car with positive talk and learning through these medias. With all the technological advances, these are ones I appreciate greatly.
Now take that mindset of being present and use it with your kids. When they walk in the door, watch their body movements, listen to their voices, and what they say. What are they telling you that they aren’t telling you? This technique makes you begin to understand people everywhere better. You can read between the lines, and understand the underlining reasons for why people react the way they do. Be careful not to make any judgements or presumptions. Ask questions. If my son walks through the door stomping his feet and throws his bag down, I can visually see he’s angry. But why? I didn’t get a call from the school saying there were any problems, so what’s happened from school to home? Sometimes kids keep their stuff all bottled up for the day and need to unload when they get home. But sometimes it’s simply a decrease in energy or blood sugar levels and frustrations are mounting. But can you defuse a major blow up before it happens?
The Key Ingredients to Daily Mindfulness with Kids
I always have several snacks at the door waiting for my kids when they come home from school. Many times they are hungry. They munch on something and I can see their mood settle. Food is a major way to alter a possible blow up. Children are growing and they need healthy options all day long to keep sugar levels balanced. They burn it off faster than we do as adults and they need a higher caloric intake. There is a table at the front door every day after school with four options for snack. And it is almost always empty within the hour of them returning home.
If children are active and eating healthy you don't have to worry about how much food they are really eating. So have food available to them at all times. They won’t necessarily be able to tell you they are hungry. Even at 10 years old, I constantly have to ask Emily if she needs to poop when she says her tummy hurts. That’s usually all it is. But kids have a harder time articulating what their bodies are telling them. So be mindful of providing some quick and easy food options throughout the day.
Words of Affirmation
This is one of the Love Languages and Madelyn is my one child who always needs this. She desires more than anything to hear someone tell her she’s doing a good job. I know who she is because I spent years listening to her.
Ask them questions and then show them that you are listening and present by responding to them with words of encouragement and understanding. Your child doesn’t always want your advice. Sometimes they just want you to listen and acknowledge you are fully present. I struggle with this a lot when I work from home. My kids see me typing at the computer and they don’t see the importance of what I’m doing. They don’t care. Reality is that children are by nature selfish. They definitely foster their needs first, and they are meant to. It helps them build character, foster their personality, and encourages them to value their own unique selves. But when I’m working, I can’t be present to what they need. So I have to be mindful of saying,
Mommy is working right now, so please give me 5 minutes to finish this thought and then I will focus on listening to you.”
Your kids can understand that and will most likely oblige with no issues. If you need to approach it differently, you can also say, “Mommy wants to be able to listen completely to what you are saying and right now I’m distracted with work. Can you give me 5 minutes to finish this one task and I will give you all of my attention?” I have never had this not work. BUT… you have to actually listen to them in 5 minutes! You can’t say you are going to do something and not. You won’t find a quicker way to teach your kids that your word means nothing, if you don’t do what you promise. That goes the same if you set up a consequence for a behaviour and don’t follow through. Watch them walk all over that. You have to mean what you say. So in 5 minutes, stop what you are doing, even if you aren’t finished. Get down to their level and listen to them. Respond and let them know what they are saying is important to you.
Not one of my kids can stay angry when I give them a hug. Children desire physical connection with the people closest to them. You are the safest person in the world to your child. When life is up or down, give them a hug. In truth I was the least touchy-feely person ever and it really was a test to my boundaries when, in the span of three years, I had four children crawling all over me.
But I learned to love their affection and in return gave them mine.
I know that my kids need a strong hold around them in times of struggles. I also know that when they are happy they enjoy it too. The more you can snuggle, hug, and show your kids affection, the better adjusted they become. I have always made bedtime routines an absolute. Each kid gets time with us at bedtime. We always insist on reading time. Carter has brain gym and body exercises morning and night. It gives us a chance to catch up with the day, have snuggle time and connect, and they know they are a priority.
Voice and Actions
The tone and cadence of your voice tells your child everything. I rarely raise my voice in my house and if I do it’s because I want them to know I mean business. But in truth I learned not to raise my voice by actually raising my voice. I quickly learned that Carter has a noise sensitivity and yelling near him made him cower and cover his ears. It was horrible to watch him respond that way. The other truth is that yelling doesn’t work. Not ever. It’s the equivalent to spanking. It only instills fear in a child. I’m a product of that generation. I’m 40 years old. It was the parenting style that was mainstream back then. It taught me to fear the wrath of my parents anger. Because when we yell it’s always out of anger. Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents and I certainly have an amazing relationship with them as an adult, but I know that my Dad talks openly about what an exceptional job I have done as a parent, without the fear factor. He isn't proud of the way he disciplined us. He was raised that way and so he did what he knew. I always thought there was a better way, so I explored it with my children.
I want to share these few tips that have worked:
- Get down at their level and pull them in close. Look them in the eyes. Stop what you are doing to listen to them. Use body posture that says you are listening and caring about what they say.
- Use a soft voice. If you’ve ever had a screaming child out of control, watch the change when you get close and speak super softly to them. They have to calm down to hear you and they are curious why you are talking so softly.
- Sometimes it will take you having to really hold your child tightly and tell them you love them. Even when they act like they don’t want it, they do. Nothing feels better than being held.
Research has shown the benefits to playing music in the home. It has proven to change body chemistry and engage parts of the brain that are involved with paying attention. How difficult to do you find it to not mouth the words of a familiar song when it’s playing in the background? Do you move to the music?
Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory. It also makes my mornings run smoothly. Do not underestimate the power of turning on a song. The rhythm sets the mood. Something low and melodic helps them calm. Something upbeat and fun helps them get moving. I’ve been playing music or fun family.gonoodle.com activities in the morning since they were babies.
Emily was difficult to calm as a baby. I remember the day I discovered how much she loved classical music. I would put her in the car, go for a ride, and put on classical music the entire time. It never failed. She always stopped crying and listened, then fell asleep. She still listens to classical every night to fall asleep. It’s no wonder she is now a piano player.
My hope is that through reading this blog you would find comfort in some strategies you can introduce into your house, or even pat yourself on the back for already doing some. Being a Mindful Parent takes understanding and acceptance of change, awareness, and patience. It doesn’t happen overnight. If you find yourself not present, just wander on back to the moment. The more you practice it, the better you get. Don’t be hard on yourself when you slip off the track. Just get back on. Your kids will see the effort you are making. They will ebb with your flow.