A Guest Blog Post from Amy Slater
As parents we can easily lose sight of our own wellbeing as we battle with the balance of staying meaningfully engaged with our little ones alongside keeping up with the necessary tasks of daily living.
I certainly struggle with the endless barrage of ‘should dos’ and ‘need to dos’ that flood my often sleep deprived mind on a daily basis. I frequently find myself in a state of anxious limbo. As I try to catch up on the cleaning, whilst thinking of all the other chores that need doing, I feel a sense of uneasy guilt that I have momentarily parked the toddler in front of a screen. She’s only going to be this little for a blink of an eye and we should be exploring the world (or at least the garden) together. So we head outside and she becomes utterly engrossed in picking moss out of the crevices of the garden wall … and off my mind shoots again making lists of all the tasks that really shouldn’t have been left this long.
This state of disconnect isn’t unusual but it has a major part to play in undermining our sense of wellbeing. Parents don’t have an abundance of ‘me time’ to try to redress the balance and there are times when I have felt utterly overwhelmed by it all. My saving grace has been mindfulness.
Originating within the ancient practice of Buddhism, over the last decade or so mindfulness has established itself within mainstream approaches to good mental health. In fact, when The New Economics Foundation presented their research findings on the fundamentals of wellbeing in 2008, one of the 5 core elements they identified was essentially mindfulness. So, this is not just some woolly feelgood fad, it is grounded within a good scientific evidence base.
Simply put, mindfulness is a state of being fully present in the here and now so that you are really paying attention to this moment. You can give yourself permission to let go and really ‘be’. Inevitably those thoughts about the past and future (especially the ‘shoulds’) will creep in. The point is to not get entangled in them. Just notice they are there, maybe name them to yourself (“I am thinking about that laundry again”) and then relax your muscles and let them go. This can take some practice and it’s important not to let disappointment or frustration get in the way if you find the process challenging to begin with.
But what does mindfulness actually look like in the real world? Well, for me it’s about choosing a piece of time each day to switch off the autopilot, let go of the lists and just be fully engaged. More often than not I choose a period of time with my daughter, as at her tender age she is a master at being utterly in the present moment.
So, when she starts to pick those pieces of moss from the garden wall I sit alongside her. I focus on the feel of the moss as I pluck it from its crevice. The way it begins to crumble between my fingers, leaving its mark on my skin. I notice the breeze on my cheek and the little arm that is now resting on my knee. I awaken to the world around me and feel a sense of momentary peace.
I believe that when I choose these moments with my little one, I am not only nurishing my own mental health but I am also offering a deeper level of presence to her. We are both fully in the moment, sharing it together without there being quite so much of the usual inner distraction of the adult mind.
I would invite anyone to give it a try and just see if it works for you. If you feel you would be better trying it alone then maybe next time you grab a few minutes to do the washing up just have a go. Notice how the warm water feels through your fingers and the way the cutlery clunks in the bowl. I know it doesn’t sound like the stuff of meditative bliss but it’s surprising how even the most mundane of tasks can awaken the senses if you let it in.