It’s that time of year…cold and flu season. And this year, they are predicting it to be bad. Yep. Didn’t need to read the headlines to know this one. 4 of the 5 of us in my own family have it at this very moment.
That said, I’ve been practicing my mindful mama techniques like mad! Here are my favorite 4 that will make your next run-in with sickness more manageable and (believe it or not) actually bring out your most fanatically calm and compassionate mindful mothering self. (Seriously, we mindful mamas are masters at making the most out of difficult situations!)
1) SWITCH out of guilt mode
Upon hearing that first cough, feeling that hot forehead, or hearing the dreaded, “Mommy, my stomach hurts,” notice if your mind goes to guilt. I've noticed my tendency to beat myself up for my kids getting sick. That first cough sets my mind into action; I immediately chronicle all the recent places I took them: the gym child care center, the indoor community play structure (aka-- the McDonalds play structure on major steroids), or the moms group with all the kiddos running around where they most likely picked up the bug.
Just notice when you are tempted to take responsibility for stuff that isn’t your fault. We know it's not realistic to live in a bubble, and our kids are going to be subjected to germs no matter how much we attempt to avoid it. So if your thoughts go to guilt, a mindful mama switches them around to a more realistic and productive thought: “This just makes their bodies stronger.” It’s true. Challenges in our lives make us emotionally more resilient and sickness in our bodies make our bodies more resilient. Seek the silver lining here, mama.
2) SURRENDER to the moment
This may be the hardest for moms to do. It takes incredible mindfulness and awareness to let go of our everyday, high expectations for how things “should be” in our mothering and allow them to be as they are, especially when our kids are sick.
If, for days on end, your child has been in their pj’s (you, too for that matter), has had nothing to eat but popsicles and ice cream ('cause that's all that feels good on that sore throat), and has watched unlimited television (because that’s the only activity they can muster the energy to do), LET IT BE.
Notice when your thoughts start to resist the present moment and shift to how you think they should be. As you notice them, let them pass like clouds across a blue sky without emotionally reacting to them.
3) SLOW DOWN the speed of life
When anyone in the family gets sick, it’s such a good time to get back to basics. During these long days of caring for your sick child, continually ask yourself: “What’s really important right now?”
As a mindful mama, notice your temptation or desire to keep pace with your “to do” list. Your child will most likely be calling out for your attention every 30 seconds, and if your mind is situated on getting other things done, you are going to get very frustrated, and may inadvertently take it out on your child.
Finding your focus--comforting and caring for your child-- will help you acknowledge the fact that you may not get much of anything else done in the next several days. You might just notice that this break is kinda nice. It’s a great reminder that we tend to do too much anyways.
4) STOP and take a break
How long does it take you to hit your wall? You know, the “I can’t take this anymore” wall. We all hit our walls at different times (I think I lasted about 3 days before I hit mine this time). We all have breaking points. Pay attention to yourself and how you feel. Your body will give you cues that you need to rest.
Caring for a sick child takes constant attention, compassion, and kindness. Maintaining this level of attention is really, really hard day after day, sleepless night after sleepless night. You simply must give yourself permission to take a break! We can’t maintain the levels of compassion that our children need when we are totally depleted. Do anything, something other than caring for someone else, for some part of your day. It will help you to remember the most important mindful mama mantra of all: This too shall pass. It always does. Repeating this mantra at 3 am as I respond to the cries of my sick child really helps me mother in the moment.
Being mindful during stressful times like our child's illness, we are able to give them the ultimate medicine-- attention+love+compassion.
ON THE COUCH
I agree with Bréne Brown when she says, “You know who you are when you call your friends and say, ‘I think I need to see someone.’”
Let's just say, I know myself very well. So there I sat on my therapist’s couch, gaze down, fiddling with my scarf, confessing, “I feel foolish for even being here,” I said.“I really have nothing to complain about. I have my health, my husband has a job that allows me to stay home, and my girls are healthy and happy. I should be happy, right?”
She just sat in silence, not giving me what I secretly wanted-- any verbal or nonverbal validation of my line of reasoning.
“The worst part,” I rambled on, “is that I know all about mindfulness.” (Oh, yes. She was well aware of my passion project MMN!) “I study it. I read about it all the time. I watch my thinking, and I’m just seeing a bunch of unhappy, angry thoughts. I can’t think my way out of this.”
Like any really good therapist, she still didn’t say a word.
Two seconds later, wanting to fill the uncomfortable silence with something…anything… I said, “Ya know, I just have a hard time accepting that this is my life. I want so much to be different.”
That’s when she smiled. “You may know a lot about acceptance, but maybe you are not actually practicing it in your life," she said calmly.
Then I smiled. That’s the moment it clicked.
So there it was-- my AHA!! My anger, anxiety, and general discontent was a result of wanting things to be different than what they were.
"Now what," I thought? It was painfully obvious I needed to start practicing acceptance, like pronto, but I didn’t have the first clue how to do it. How do I accept things, people and situations that seem totally unacceptable? Isn’t acceptance just giving up? Won’t acceptance simply keep me stuck in the undesirable situations that I am trying so hard to get out of and avoid?
These were all questions I immediately sought to answer the second my session was over. So for the next 4 months, I made a commitment to truly do this acceptance thing; practicing it in as many moments as I could... every day. And this is what I learned….
1) ACCEPTANCE is not what we think it is:
Our egos trick us into thinking that acceptance means defeat, total resignation, and failure. When we unconsciously believe that acceptance is weakness, giving up, or condoning, we want to resist what is. Our egos want us to think that acceptance is the way of weak because the moment we truly accept a situation, person, or event, we no longer have a negative emotional reaction to it. Our egos are rooted in fear, doubt, anger, and resistance-- our negative emotional reactions. Cease reacting (as in unconscious, habitual reaction), cease ego's control.
Acceptance is the act of incredible, conscious, compassionate awareness.
2) RESISTANCE never leads to positive change:
I used to think that if I resisted (got mad and angry) about things that I found unacceptable, that would lead to positive change. But every time I have yelled at my daughter to stop crying, she just cried harder and longer. Never has punishing my body with intense workout regimens and restrictive diets ever brought about a healthy self-image and love for myself. Never has pressuring my husband to get a different job or be something other than he was motivated him to change. If anything, all the negativity, resistance, and anger I infused in each of these situations only created bigger problems.
We teach our children about the power of acceptance all the time! Every time our kids are fighting, you say to the one being taunted, “Just ignore your older brother. The minute you stop reacting to him, he’ll stop pestering you.” For you know the longer your little guy whines, “stop it, stop it,” to his older brother, the longer (and with increased gusto) the older brother keeps up the pestering.
We think that our resistance will create positive change, yet it never, ever does. In fact, when resistance doesn’t create that positive change in our lives, we tighten more and attempt to control harder! The more we tighten and control, the more we narrow our mental focus (as in, we obsess about what we don’t want) and the less we are able to get out of our heads and see other possibilities for positive change.
What we resist persists.
3) ACCEPTANCE is not emotionally reacting (which allows you freedom to choose your response):
When my child is throwing a tantrum, and I don’t react with anger and frustration, I practice acceptance. When I am calm, I see a whole host of other options for responding that I never saw when I got caught in my anger. In my calm response, I kneel down, look her in the eyes, and give her a hug. She stops the tantrum almost immediately.
When I see another mother living the life I dream about, and I don’t react with critical self-comparison and envy, I practice acceptance. In my calm response, I see how much I already have in life. I feel gratitude for the life I’ve created, and I’m inspired and motivated to evolve and grow.
Non-reaction is always the best action.
MINDFUL MAMA PRACTICE
Mindfulness and mindful mothering is all about expanding our perception of things because an expanded perception empowers us with options. When we expand our perception, people, situations, or events, no longer need to change for us to be happy because we have the power to change our thoughts about them. The most direct way to expanding and changing our perception is through acceptance-- non emotional reaction.
Resistance arises when we direct massive amounts of mental energy towards wanting things to be different than what they are. When we do this, we focus on lack; we focus on what's missing. The result is missing all the things (people, events...) that are really the most important because we get so caught up in negative emotions that always end up disconnecting us. You can harness the tremendous power of love and positive energy by practicing acceptance. I have a sneaky suspicion you will find that the moment you choose to not emotionally react to those seemingly "unacceptable" situations, they will change right before your very eyes.
LETTING GO IS NOT EASY
Our kids are gonna leave us.
Ugh. Just this thought rips my heart to pieces. Yet, I know that letting go of my girls, baby-step by baby-step, is the deal. It’s what I signed up for, but it’s so hard to do! As a mom, it doesn’t matter if your child is taking her first big girl step into those pre-school doors, or your grown “little man” is hopping into his overstuffed car heading off to college. In moments like these, every mother experiences a range of emotions anywhere from fear and worry to excitement, pride, and hope.
Letting go is an essential part of mothering, and we Mindful Mamas continually refine the art of doing it gracefully (if not for our sake and sanity, for our child’s well being). We have to love our children enough to let them go. They are not ours. They never were. They are their own entities, and our job is to protect and guide them as they become strong, independent, and capable. Clinging to their youth or to our identity as their mother only brings us pain and suffering. So not mindful, am I right?! Anytime we experience pain, fear, worry, anxiety, or a desire to control when it comes to letting go of our kids, we are reminded of the work we need to do on ourselves.
IT’S ALWAYS BEEN A MATTER OF TRUST
Letting go is a crucial part of mindful mothering. Negative emotions like worry and fear always take us out of the present moment-- almost instantaneously. It’s impossible to “be in the moment,” exuding peace and acceptance when your head is projecting into the future events that scare the sh*% out of you! You are never capable of handling future events that aren’t real, and worry and fear are always about the future.
Worry. Worrisome and fearful thoughts always paralyze us because when we project into the future, we feel a tremendous sense of loss of control. And no mama enjoys feeling a loss of control when it comes to her kids.
The secret is that you are always, always, always capable of handling any situation that occurs in the present moment. Always. The way you get yourself out of the mental trap that fear and worry has propelled you into is to rationalize with yourself that if that disastrous moment were to really occur (and we all know that the chances of it happening are highly unlikely), you’d be able to handle it. For you always have, haven’t you? I venture to guess that as a mother, you have a proven track record of handling many worst-case-scenarios in the moments they arise. Remind yourself of that. Trust yourself.
Yet, it’s so easy to forget. Letting go is easier said than done. I know. But we have to do it. We have to let go-- gracefully. Otherwise our minds rage like a toddler who is starving and sleep deprived. And every time this happens, we disconnect from the moment. And every time we disconnect from the moment, we disconnect from our lives, our kids, and ourselves. Since we recognize the power of mothering in the moment, letting of control, worry, and fear as we let go of our kids is what we have to do.
So what’s the worst that could happen if you intentionally let go of control, fear, and worry? My Ego tells me that if I don’t control enough, or worry enough, that bad stuff will surely happen. (If only that were the magic formula-- just worry and then bad stuff won’t happen.) In reality, the worst that could happen is the best thing that could happen… you’d stop letting fear and worry control you and how you mother.
Consider this little secret: when you let go of control and fear, you don’t actually lose anything (not anything worth having, anyway). Rather, you gain something in return-- trust. When we don’t unnecessarily interfere with our kids’ lives, we trust them. Trust is love. It’s a felt emotion. When your child feels trusted, they gain self-confidence and learn to trust others. When you trust yourself and your ability to handle any situation in the present moment, you gain self-confidence and trust life. When you trust the moments of your life, your ability to mother from a place of serenity and love is greatly enlarged.
YOUR MINDFUL MAMA PRACTICE
“Fear is love inverted, or your own mental power turned against you.”
~ Marianne Williamson, A Course in Weight Loss
Give it 5 minutes, and you’ll be faced with a situation concerning your child where fear will strike your heart, and you’ll need to let go gracefully. Instead of turning your power against yourself by entertaining thoughts of fear and worry, choose hope. Choose trust. Hope and trust ground you in the present moment. Choose to trust your child, their strength, their wisdom, their spunky attitude they inherited from you. Let your hopes for your child outweigh your fears. Let go gracefully. For in letting go gracefully we remind our hearts that when it comes to letting our kids go, nothing is really lost and everything is gained.
Moms, are you ready to master the fine art of letting go of your unhealthy attachments in your parenting? In our latest installment of Mindful Moms TV, Jen vlogs about how we can accept our powerlessness and choose FAITH over fear. Check it out!
RUNNING ON EMPTY
We're moms. We've all been there. Completely, utterly, totally....depleted. But this is good! In terms of our Mindful Mama practice, we can learn something in this space. I had just put my twin toddlers down for naps (thank goodness, at age 3, they still do this) and put my 4 year old in her room for her own alone time when I collapsed on the couch. I knew I was tired when I quickly abandoned my feeble attempt to reach the remote to catch up on a couple missed episodes of Giuliana & Bill. All I could muster the energy to do was stare blindly at the ceiling and breathe.
“So…how are you doing? How’s everything going over there,” Ronelle asked. She knows me well. This girl can correctly identify my overall emotional state from a one word text message. She also knows major changes are headed my way. In light of my husband’s new job, we're uprooting our family and moving to a brand new city, a new home, and a new life several states away. That means more chaos, more messes, and more work on top of the already rather chaotic, messy workload of being home full time with three kids age 4 and under.
“I think I just have to lower my expectations,” I sighed, defeated.
It’s only till I get completely run-down and exhausted that I realize how high my everyday operating expectations are for myself. Essentially what I was saying to Ronelle was, “I can’t spend a hour every day giving each child one-on-one attention with educational activities...," “I can’t make every single meal...,” “I can’t meet everyone’s demands the minute they want them met...,” and “I can’t keep the bathrooms spick and span, the kitchen floor gleaming, and the dust from forming a thick layer on the entertainment center...” without losing my mind!
(but in a GOOD way!)
Step one was becoming AWARE of my slightly lofty expectations. I’ve noticed that it’s these self-imposed, rigid “shoulds” that I unconsciously attach to on a day to day basis.
Then came step two-- SURRENDER (which is much easier when exhausted, am I right?). This is the lesson exhaustion teaches us. Surrender. Wave the white flag. Throw in the towel, what have you. The moment we surrender, we release the grip our “shoulds” have on us. We let go of our expectations. We detach from thinking we have to do all the extra crap we think must
do in order to feel a sense of accomplishment. The act of surrendering that comes so naturally when exhausted allows us to cease clinging to what “needs” to happen and allow what is
happening to actually happen…without judgment. “Fatigue is a gift. Like many of the gifts that come to mothers, it is not one you would choose...Fatigue helps you forget. When you are tired, you let go. You drop what you no longer need and you do not pick it up again. You slow down. You grow quiet. You take comfort. You appreciate the smallest things. You stop fighting.”
(Karen Maezen Miller, Momma Zen)
YOUR MINDFUL MAMA PRACTICE
You drop what you no longer need and you do not pick it up again.
What you do let go of when you are so tired you can barely muster the energy to brush your teeth? Pay attention next time (or maybe that time is now). Pay attention to the standards, things, events, ideals, or activities you let go of. Then ask yourself if you really need to ever pick those up again.
As for me, I am not suggesting that I’m not going “pick up”spending one-on-one time with my girls, meeting my family’s needs, or cooking/ cleaning (wait…I’d actually love to not pick up cleaning again!). Rather, what I won’t pick up is my unhealthy attachment to my thoughts about doing these things.
A Mindful Mama is sometimes just too darn tired to label, judge, or react. This is surrender! This is acceptance! When you are too tired to strive to make the moment any different than it is, you’ve just embodied mindfulness to its fullest extent. Make this your practice. Practice this mindset when you are exhausted and then practice it when you are functioning at full speed. You might just find that when you fully embrace not forcing things to be a certain way or pushing yourself so hard, you spend a lot less time being exhausted in the first place.
When you are tired, let go. Changes are pretty good that you won’t let go of anything worth fighting for.