Parenting

  • What is Mindful Birthing?

    Written by Amy Jane Wood

    Pregnancy and childbirth can be some of the most special, significant and singular experiences in a woman’s life. But for so many, they also bring a lot of fear, pain and uncertainty. Happily, research from the University of Oxford has shown that mindful birthing may hold the power to transform and ease the experience of pregnancy, labour and delivery, as well as the relationship with the new baby after birth.

    At this point you might be wondering if mindful birthing has a connection to hypnobirthing. Although there is some common ground between the two practices – both place emphasis on breathing exercises, for example – they are essentially quite different. Hypnobirthing focuses on self-hypnosis – using affirmations, visualisations and relaxation techniques that help to prepare for a positive labour and birth. Mindful birthing, however, follows the principles of mindfulness to support both pregnancy and birth. It teaches how to skillfully work with pain, fear and uncertainty, and to shift perspectives by optimising the mind/body connection. Pioneered by Nancy Bardacke, an experienced midwife and mindfulness teacher, it is also known as the MBCP (Mindfulness-based Childbirth and Parenting) course -- an adaptation of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

    Mindfulness is uniquely positioned to help with the birthing process because in its modern form it was initially devised to help with pain management. Jon Kabat-Zinn was the first to study the connection between mindfulness meditation and pain when he set up his MBSR program in 1979 to treat chronic pain patients at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His landmark study years later showed that patients who were trained in the program and took a mindful approach to their physical pain, experienced significant reductions in intensity.

    In this way, mindfulness strategies can give mothers-to-be the tools to change the way they manage pain during labour and delivery. Fear and resistance can sustain and inflame physical pain, so by learning to relate differently to the discomfort that may surround intense physical sensations – to welcome it and work with it – women can reduce the likelihood of being overwhelmed and losing control.

    Beyond pain management, expectant mothers will benefit from the core principles of mindfulness – acceptance, letting go and trusting – which can help them to prepare for the unexpected during labour and delivery: a change to birth plans, sudden interventions or unforeseen outcomes. Cultivating the skill of awareness during pregnancy – which is the ability to notice thoughts and feelings as they arise – also allows expectant mothers to observe any fearful stories that the mind may be creating about birth from a more objective standpoint, and therefore identify with them less, which can help to reduce overall stress and anxiety.

    Recent research by BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth also shows that mindfulness may offer important maternal mental health benefits following childbirth. In 2017, pregnant women who undertook in an intensive course based on the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) education reported benefits including improved psychological adjustment and reduced postpartum depression symptoms. Well beyond pregnancy and childbirth, mindfulness skills keep giving, because they are skills for life. With regular practice, they have the power to transform future experiences of parenting, as well as all other areas of life. 

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindful Pregnancy & Birthing Workshop

    Mindful Parenting Workshop

  • Enriching Parenting with Mindfulness

    children

    written by Liz Lowe

    It’s often said that time seems to speed up as we get older. Weeks whizz by, then months and then seasons, and before we know it we’re shaking our heads in disbelief as another year has passed.

    Adding children into the mix intensifies this feeling. With so many precious milestones we have more opportunity to wonder how they can be crawling already, or putting sentences together or waving goodbye at the school gates for the first time. Surely we only brought them home from the hospital yesterday?

    Mindfulness offers many benefits to parents, but a key one is that it helps us to truly appreciate the fleeting moments we have with our children.

     As parents, life is often hectic: we feel we must focus on the logistics of getting things done and ushering everyone through the day’s schedule. Continually planning our next move prevents us from being mindful. But when we pause and engage with the present moment we are more likely to notice the little things that make life so sweet. This helps us to strengthen our connection with our children, as well as adding to our sense of wellbeing and feeling of gratitude. Being mindful also enables us to appreciate the transitional times, rather than just focusing on the agenda items: sometimes the walk to the park can be as much of an adventure as the park itself.

    Mindful parents take as much opportunity to connect with their kids as they can. We tend to talk about ‘quality time’, but really any time spent together can be made meaningful. Being present during seemingly mundane interactions is just as beneficial as making time for mindful play or other focused activities. Pausing for a quick cuddle during the breakfast rush, or making a game out of packing bags for the day, makes our daily schedule more enjoyable as well as building closeness.

    Morning and evening routines sometimes feel like chores when we’re tired or stressed, but approaching these mindfully can make them more pleasurable, and even relaxing. Modelling mindful behaviour is also the best way for parents to encourage kids to adopt it for themselves, and mealtimes and shared routines are a great opportunity to do this.

    Giving someone your full attention is a great gift, and making the effort to truly listen to our children has many benefits. As well as allowing them to feel heard and understood, we are better placed to uncover any issues that may be hiding behind words or behaviour. When we allow ourselves to tune into and be led by our children’s cues, we ensure we are meeting their needs.

    And, although it may feel like it at times, of course parenting isn’t all about the child! Practicing mindfulness also ensures that we are attuned to our stress triggers and are able to regulate our responses. This enables us to parent from a place of calm, with kindness and empathy, and encouraging us to remain positive even during challenging days.

    Mindful parenting helps us to really value the transient time we have with our children and they, in turn, will thrive as we strengthen the parent-child bond.

    .....

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindful Parenting Workshop

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

  • Six Ways Mindfulness Eases Parenting Stress

    parent

    written by Liz Lowe

    As soon as I had a child, people who already had them began telling me several times a day to, ‘enjoy it,’ because, ‘it goes so quickly’.

    Sometimes, battling through endless sleepless nights followed by tired, tantrum-filled days, I just wanted time to fly by faster.

    But time flows on, and today’s stresses become tomorrow’s fondly recounted anecdotes. No matter the age of your child there are always challenges, and as we move through each stage there’s a tendency to look back at the previous one and realise how good we had it.

    Chaotic family schedules, differing agendas and conflicting opinions or advice can all cause stress. Parenting is a full-time job (on top of our other roles and responsibilities), but one with no motivational appraisals, nor promise of promotion to an executive role with more sociable hours. Of course there are bonuses though: one cuddle or belly laugh can soothe a tired head, and make us forget that we just spent three hours scraping porridge off the sofa.

    Developing a mindfulness practice is undoubtedly one of the most positive things I have done for my family. Here are six ways that mindfulness can help parents to savour the sweet spots and sail through the storms.

    1. Mindfulness helps you press the ‘pause’ button

    Our auto-pilot setting seems useful at times; when you’ve done the school run and appear to also be dressed, yet can’t quite remember how it happened. But it can result in days that blur into one another, and missing out on the little moments that give life sparkle. Being mindful enables us to pause, appreciate and imprint those moments into our minds.

    1. Mindfulness improves our response to stressful situations

    Communicating effectively with young humans requires depths of patience we never knew existed. They can push our buttons like no-one else, and it’s easy to interpret their boundary-testing behavior as a personal attack.

    Parenting, especially when we’re being challenged, can bring up fears and negative beliefs that were born in our own childhood. By recognizing and addressing these feelings we are better able to empathize with our kids, and to respond with kindness. And in turn, their response to us will be far more positive.

    1. Mindfulness puts us on our children’s wavelength

    Children, especially younger ones, naturally exist in the present moment. They don’t have ‘to do’ lists; they do what they feel like doing. They’re oblivious to the oppression of ticking clocks; they do things in their own sweet time.

    When you’re running late, a toddler that wants to stop and pick up every leaf on the path can be ‘quite’ annoying. But slowing down to their pace, even occasionally, opens our eyes and brings a fresh perspective to familiar scenes. Sharing in their wonder at the world can bring a sense of happy calm, as well as strengthening our bond with our child.

    1. Mindfulness builds our resources

    Nurturing ourselves is crucial if we are to support others. A regular mindfulness and meditation practice, even just a few snatched minutes a day, boosts our energy and positivity and helps to keep things in perspective. Better still, mindfulness can easily be incorporated into our everyday routine.

    1. Mindfulness helps us to accept things as they are

    Mindfulness helps us to accept a situation for what it is, in all its messy, imperfect glory. We learn to resist wishing that things were unfolding in a different way, or fretting about how to make them better: we can just ‘be’, and engage with the present moment.

    Even uncomfortable circumstances can provide the opportunity to explore our feelings and learn from them, becoming less critical of ourselves and more tolerant of others.

    1. Mindfulness helps us appreciate what a great job we're doing

    Being mindful increases awareness of our actions and the feelings behind them. And once we’re conscious of our triggers, it becomes easier to pause, reflect and move forward with a calmer outlook.

    It’s important to take time to appreciate our efforts and progression. Perfect parenting is an impossibility but any time we respond mindfully, and with kindness, we are officially winning.

    And remember: just enjoy it, it goes so quickly.

    .....

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindful Parenting Workshop

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

  • An Introduction to Mindful Parenting

    Stocksy_txp4e2f17f2k4S000_Small_405050Cultivating mindfulness in our role as parents will certainly be a challenge at times, however the benefits that mindful parenting can bring make it a challenge worth accepting. By being present with our children, and our own emotional process, we can make better decisions and react with greater clarity and compassion.

    Children Are Already Half Way There

    Small children easily switch from one emotion to another, without clinging to previous thoughts or feelings. In this sense, they are already present; they are in the moment with each emotion. However, what children lack is conscious awareness of their experience. They don’t yet have the language to explain their feelings, and so they express them through their behaviour. They don’t know what it means to be angry, sad, disappointed or exhausted, just that they feel the discomfort from it. As parents, it’s up to us to teach children about their emotions, to give them words for their feelings, to help them understand why those feelings have arisen, and about how to deal with them. Meeting these experiences with mindfulness means that we can do this is an effective and compassion way.

    Modelling Mindfulness

    Compared to other species, human beings are born “immature”. What this means is that our minds are more open to learning from the environment we are born into, rather than having a set of fixed instincts and reflexes. A major way that we learn how to fit into our environment as children is through imitation. A good example of this is when babies play with toy telephones, lifting it up to their ear and pretending to talk. There is no evolutionary need for a baby to know how to use a telephone; they do it because they have watched us do it many times. 

    This really highlights the importance of mindful parenting. Say for example that our child is having a tantrum; if we yell at them to calm down, what they are learning from is our angry tone, not our words. If we can practice mindfulness, and incorporate it into our day-to-day way of being, we can successfully demonstrate mindfulness to our children so that they can imitate it and learn from it.

    Where to Start?

    The best first step to mindful parenting is to practice mindfulness for ourselves. It may be useful to look through our blog for tips on how to become more mindful in different areas of life, or to sign up for one of our courses or workshops. Our Lab also offers lots of free meditation links, articles and videos to get you started. Most importantly, practicing mindfulness for ourselves will help us cope better with the challenges of parenting, so that we can enjoy less stressful lives.

    And Then….

    When we start to become more aware of our own thought processes, emotions and reactions, this will change the relationship we have with our children for the better. We can step out of reactivity (although of course we’re only human and will still get caught in emotional reaction sometimes) and into being more present with whatever our children are going through in the moment.

    Some Practical Examples of Mindful Parenting

    Avoiding Reoccurring Problems

    Albert Einstein famously described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Mindfulness can help us notice unhelpful or unproductive habits so that we can adopt new strategies.

    Say for example that going to the supermarket with our children is always a headache. Our child always ends up seeing something they want, we tell them they can’t have it, and so they become grouchy or angry. We may get so frustrated with their behaviour that we eventually cave in and let them have it, just so that we can get some peace. Situations like these can turn into regular patterns that cause a lot of stress.

    Being more mindful can help us pre-empt such situations and deal with them before they happen. We can, for example, explain to our child that we will only be buying what’s on our shopping list, and ask if there is anything they can think of now that they might like to add (within reason). We can create a routine whereby the family as a whole stops making impulse buys at the supermarket. This gives our child a structure that they know will always be in place.

    Owning Our Emotions

    Let’s face it, children can be a non-stop stream of changing emotions and challenging needs. It’s stressful, and this means that, like our children, we may find ourselves on an emotional rollercoaster. Although we don’t intend to, children can provide an easy outlet for our anger or frustration. We can talk to children in ways that another adult would not let us get away with. This is why it’s important to take a step back to acknowledge and own our emotions, so that we don’t unintentionally lash out at our children or make them responsible.

    There are different ways that we can take responsibility for our feelings. Sometimes we may need to explain to our children that we are feeling very angry, but that it isn’t their fault. Other times, it might mean that we need to make extra efforts to give ourselves self-care, i.e. that we arrange childcare so that we can take some time out. Self-soothing practices may also be useful, such as placing our hand on our chest, or giving ourselves a hug. In other words, sometimes we’ll need to be our own parent and look after our own wellbeing.

    Shifting Our Perspective

    Mindfulness helps us reframe situations so that we can see them from a different angle. Sometimes what we think of as ‘problems’ can actually be opportunities for growth and bonding.

    For example, in a situation where we discover that our child has lied to us about something, our immediate reaction may be of disappointment or anger. We may want to tell them off or punish them, with the aim of teaching them that it is wrong to lie. However, sometimes it may be more helpful to use the situation as a chance to understand our child better. Applying some openness or curiosity may help us find a deeper bond with our child. We can ask questions to find out why they felt they should lie, and try to reassure them that it is safe to tell us the truth. Of course, for this to work, we must be mindful of how we react to them when they do tell the truth. We may realise that we haven’t made it safe for them to come to us, and so this gives us the chance to be more present with them going forward.

    Parenting is a complex process; there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This is why presence of mind is crucial, so that we can deal with each unique situation as it arises. By applying the key concepts of mindfulness, such as compassion and non-judgemental awareness, we can really enrich our family life.

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindful Parenting Workshop

  • How to Mindfully Cope with Difficult Parents

    If we have dealt with challenging or damaging behaviour from our parents in the past, this can make our present relationship with them feel like an emotional minefield. We may even feel that we don’t want a relationship with them at all, but feel guilty for that, because there is so much pressure from society to have positive relationships with our parents. How can we navigate these complicated dynamics and look after our own well-being at the same time? And, if we want to have a good relationship with our parents, how can we remain open and present with them when there may be so much pain from the past?

    Accepting Our Feelings

    Many of us probably loved our parents unconditionally when we were children. Although there may have been times when their decisions or behaviour seemed unfair, we generally accepted that they must know best. This may mean that they unknowingly left us with some negative beliefs about ourselves. For example, if a parent had a quick temper, we may have grown up thinking that they were right to get so angry all the time because we are bad. It’s usually not until we’re older, and can see our parents with more objectivity, that we realise the problem wasn’t with us, it was with them. Even so, those old, ingrained beliefs can be hard to shake off, and so we may find it difficult to let go and forgive. But this is okay.

    Mindfulness practice helps us notice our true feelings, and encourages us to accept them without judging or clinging. Although it can be tempting to think that judging ourselves for having feelings of anger, resentment or disappointment may push us into letting them go and replacing them with more ‘acceptable’ feelings, it usually does the reverse. By judging our feelings as bad, we end up holding onto them more tightly, fuelling our original feelings with added guilt and shame.

    Accepting our feelings simply means that we acknowledge the reality of the moment, whatever that contains. It’s not about what is right or wrong, or good or bad, or what should or shouldn’t be in an ideal world. It’s about saying to ourselves, “These are my feelings. This is my current experience. And that is okay.”

    The Importance of Self Care

    Now that we are adults, we have the option to give ourselves the care and understanding which may have been lacking in our childhood. Rather than pushing our feelings away or making them wrong (in ways that may echo how our parents reacted to us when we were in need), we can use some self-compassion to finally acknowledge ourselves and take care of ourselves.

    We can also use this self-compassion to create clear boundaries with parents who may be behaving unreasonably. Although we may feel that we ought to always be around for our parents, especially as they get older, if they are being emotional abusive we can give ourselves permission to take a step back. This could be in temporary ways, for example we cut back on how often we visit or telephone our parents. Or this stepping back could be more permanent, depending on what we feel is right for our situation.

    Caring for ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean that we do anything differently when we’re with our parents. We don’t have to tell them how we feel about them, although sometimes that may feel right to do. Coping with difficult parents, rather than changing anything on the outside might actually be a very personal, private process, which is more about coming to terms with uncomfortable feelings, and giving those feelings a kind and patient space to exist within.

    Becoming Clear on What is Right For Us

    If we go through life mindlessly, we may feel that we are not really in control of anything. We might make decisions that are based on old beliefs, habits or the expectations or wishes of others, rather than having a clear idea of our own present values and needs. In a parent-child dynamic this can feel magnified.

    We are so used to interacting with our parents in a certain way; perhaps with us giving our power away to them, and perhaps them expecting it to be that way too. In some ways this is inevitable; they spent years guiding us, making decisions for us and shaping who we are. Yet by becoming more mindful about what we want to get out of, and give into, the relationships in our lives, we can start to make more conscious decisions about what is and what is not okay for us – even with our parents.

    Being more mindful in these difficult situations with our parents can help take us out of knee-jerk reactions and auto-pilot responses, so that we can act with greater clarity, self-compassion and in ways which are more aligned with our values.