Mindfulness for Parents
By Eline Snel
We are all in urgent need of a Pause button. We, too, would love to lie down on the couch with a blanket from time to time while the kids play by themselves. We just want to rest peacefully without doing anything, without our minds being filled with parenting strategies or guilt! Let’s put some earplugs in our ears instead of always trying to be attentive to everything.
Then what? Then it’s time to start the listening test. Not to test your sense of hearing but to listen to what your body is saying—those signals from your tired shoulders, tender neck, and brain jumbled full of things that would be perfect to do at some point. But you don’t need to do anything right now.
Most of the time, we live too much in our heads and not enough in our bodies, even though our bodies can tell us a lot. If you really listen to your body, you will notice the signals it’s giving you. Like a fine-tuned instrument, your body reacts to a whole series of emotions, such as anxiety, joy, tension, and exhaustion.
These signals are not there for nothing. They’re speaking to you about how you’re living right now. They make you feel your limits, along with your need for space and a moment of rest. But we don’t always react appropriately. Instead of listening to our bodies, we seek help outside of ourselves. We get a massage or physiotherapy for our tight shoulders. We take pills for pain or lethargy. We have thoughts like, “I don’t have time to sit down, because my dear son will wake up the moment I do.”
Sometimes we don’t trust what we’re feeling: “Me, tired? No, everything’s fine!” We just keep going. We are brave. And...we’re in a rush. Rushing to get rid of difficult emotions, we eat chocolate, go on Facebook and Instagram, and scroll through other people’s posts that say “Look how happy I am.” Whether it’s sleeping pills, wine, making ourselves seem excessively happy, or retreating to our phones, none of it really helps.
Mindfulness teaches you to stop for a moment and start to get in touch with your body instead of neglecting it. It will teach you to get back in touch with this part of yourself that is with you wherever you go.
As my son Oliver races on his balance bike across the living room, knocking over a chair and bumping into everything in his path, I often catch myself shouting, “Calm down!”
Saying this phrase helps. Not always for him—but it works for me! This little phrase helps me understand how much I first need to press my Pause button before I can teach my children how to stop whatever they’re in the middle of doing. I say it to myself more and more, warmly, like an invitation, a mantra.
“Calm down. Sit down for a moment, get a cup of tea, and relax your shoulders. You’re not endangering world peace by stopping for a minute.”
Obviously, this isn’t possible when the children or the furniture are in danger, but there are many other moments when it is.
As soon as I begin regularly getting in touch with my body, I learn to recognize its gentle signals. I learn to feel it instead of neglecting it or getting worried about it. I calm down more often: when I wake up, when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store...or when I’m falling asleep.
It’s not always pleasant to be in touch with our bodies. It can even be a source of tension. But it’s always a good thing. And it’s always beneficial to regularly check whether everything’s feeling okay and working properly. When you know this, you can take account of yourself, ask yourself what you need in order to remain in good health and stay as relaxed as possible, so that the little warning lights don’t come back on.
Sports and yoga are good ways to, through a certain amount of effort, help you to relax and stay flexible and in shape. Mindfulness exercises make it possible to release physical tension and restore the lost connection with your body. All you need to do is close your eyes and open yourself up to the signals coming from your body. Visit those places where you can feel emotions or tension: in your chest, around your heart, or in your stomach. Collect information without immediately trying to change it or hope for something. Just calm down... and things will get better.
Excerpted from The Little Frog Awakes: Mindfulness Exercises for Toddlers (and Their Parents) by Eline Snel, translated by Christiana Hills, illustrated by Marc Boutavant (Shambhala Publications, 2022).
Eline Snel is a therapist and runs the International Academy of Mindful Teaching in the Netherlands. Find her at elinesnel.com.