March 10, 2021
I think there’s one thing most parents, of any parenting philosophy, can agree on: parenting can be stressful. No matter how peacefully we try to approach our role as a parent, there will be times when stress seems to take a front seat and override our better judgement until we learn healthy stress management skills that allow us to take our power back.
One easy, excellent, and free stress management skill is conscious breathing. This is also called mindful breathing. Simple, right? Yes! And it works even better when you practice it at times that you’re not stressed or in a state of internal upheaval. Perhaps something as simple as taking three conscious breaths before you sit down to eat allows you to notice how wonderful it is to have food when you’re hungry. Just that observant state creates an awareness which reminds us that we can often create and adjust our emotional state willfully. Once you begin practicing conscious breathing in calm moments, you will begin to notice the effects of this type of breathing, which include reduced anxiety, reduced stress, and an anchoring into the present moment. When we anchor ourselves in the present moment, the past and future don’t matter, only the moment at hand and usually we will find that in the present moment, we have everything we need. This allows us to stop worrying. Even if it’s momentary, it’s helpful. And this especially applies when we’re dealing with children. If you’re feeling stressed at the demands of a little one, or worried because of something they did or want to do, give yourself a moment to breathe, consciously and mindfully. Allow yourself the internal space to inhale and exhale deeply a few times and then revisit the situation.
I often communicate what I’m doing to my children, even if a couple of them are too young to understand. Remember, as parents, we’re constantly modeling behavior to our children, so it’s extra-excellent if the behaviors we project are healthy and conscientious. Even if I have a little one screaming in a full-blown tantrum, I will give myself a moment to pause and breathe, and in this moment, I remind myself who it is I want to be and what type of reaction I want to model for my child. Sometimes, I fail and lose it anyway. But mostly, I find myself being the person I want to be: kind, loving, compassionate, and peaceful.
Another wonderful way to get good at conscious breathing is meditation. Many people cower at the thought of meditating because they feel they can’t do it or they’re doing it wrong. Most of us can spend hours online shopping, engaging in social media, or just plain checking our emails, but the thought of five to fifteen minutes alone with your self and your thoughts seems completely out of the question. I believe the idea of meditation is so daunting because somehow folks have gotten the notion that their first, second, third, or even twentieth time meditating “should” be some transcendental experience where their thoughts magically disappear and they begin to levitate. The truth of a regular meditation practice is that it is exactly that: a practice. Just as you wouldn’t expect to go to the gym for the first time and come home with your body in perfect shape, most of us cannot expect to go into mediation and float away to an ashram in India by the end. It takes time and practice to reach a place where meditation feels comfortable and the results start showing up in your life.
In my opinion, meditation is basically like training your brain to sit still and be quiet. And when does this come in handy? When you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed in parenting! I’ve been meditating consistently for about 5 years now, and let me tell you, my meditative mind will often intercede with my monkey mind at a crucial moment. Instead of yelling or becoming anxious, I remember to breathe--consciously. I remind myself that I’m in control of my-self and I can move through the stressful situation with much more grace. Regular meditation has all sorts of benefits (Google it), but the way it’s helped me become a better parent is the greatest of all. I am more thoughtful, less reactive, calmer, and able to clear the clutter from my mind in a much shorter period of time than before, which allows me to make better decisions regarding my children.
Conscious or mindful breathing goes hand in hand with a happy loving homelife because it encourages us to be more reflective and less reactive. Giving ourselves a bit of space between moments to be aware of how we feel and adjust is possible, but it does take practice. Knowing the information is the first step and second is taking action. Leaving little reminders for yourself around the house to “breathe” might be a good way to create this new habit. However you choose to find your way to conscious breathing, I hope it helps you become more calm, centered, kind, and ready for anything that life --and kids--throw at you!