Mindfulness has been on my mind for a while now, especially since I realized how much nicer a human I was to my family once I went on sabbatical and more more mental space/energy to reflect before I reacted. I also realized the value of separating action from reaction, in the sense you choose the first and you let the second happen. This managing reaction piece is very much part of mindfulness practices.
Before the holidays, I dove more into these ideas. I learned about Dan Harris (from Ten Percent Happier) from the anti-diet dietician I follow, Christy Harrison. Harrison was pairing up with Harris to make a series of meditations for an Anti-Diet Challenge in December, so I listed to the Ten Percent Happier podcast where Harris interviewed Harrison. I liked his podcast, so I read his book, which is part memoir, part introduction to meditation. And then after reading his book, I decided to commit to exploring meditation beyond the sleep wind-down meditations on Headspace I was using to help me fall asleep (which, were pretty effective until they weren't).
All this led to me starting off the new year committing to meditating a little every day and doing yoga (which I talked about in a previous post). But one of the outcomes so far has been on my parenting--specifically bolstered by another podcast, Childproof with Yasmeen Khan, which directly connecting parenting and mindfulness. One of the first episodes talks about the idea of observing our mindsets in certain moments, and accepting those feelings (and thus choosing how to act versus reacting out of those feelings and then feeling terrible as a parent and human because you then screamed at your children).
I'm only two episodes in, but I think I'm going to really like this podcast. For one, it's not really focused on "how to parent" but more about sharing that if you have certain feelings/reactions, you're not the only one. But there is useful information in terms of how to reframe those things--it's about supporting parents. And the reporting is great, and Khan is using all her research and reporting skills to good effect, so the episodes are engaging and enjoyable to listen to.
I was thinking about that idea of mindsets this morning, and one thing meditation is helping me see is what is happening around me and in my head that usually makes me lose my temper. A big one? Chaos. Parenting is big-time chaos, and that's ok--I am learning to accept that--but also recognize that it's ok that I don't like having too many things happening at once. So what can I do? Take a breath and try to find a way to remove some of the things competing for my attention. A big one is in the kitchen when I'm cooking, so it's either finding something for the kids to do, involving them in the cooking, or accepting that I might have to do things a little more slowly. Or (especially if it involves hot things, like dealing with the oven), I get L to grab a kid to keep them safe and lower my anxiety. So far, this observation of my mindset has been enormously helpful in allowing me to choose my action instead of just snapping.
But, sometimes you yell as a parent, or snap in frustration. And so the other thing I do is apologize for yelling (growing up, an adult NEVER apologized to me, and I think it would have been great if they had when they were wrong), and then I talk to my older kiddo about what I was feeling. I don't want him to have to take ownership of that, but I can help him see how his actions might affect me. Or I can talk through how I'll try to act in the future, modeling making mistakes and trying again. These conversations seem to have a good impact on him. And when he does something, instead of yelling at him, I have him pause, talk about what he's feeling, and then sometimes practice an alternative (so we get a bit of playacting in), and that also seems to help.
These are things I'm trying. I'm not always good at doing them, but I can see how mindfulness and meditation are helping me feel calmer and more centered, which then helps the kids feel calmer, which helps me feel calmer...and so on. I feel great because I don't feel angry/frustrated nearly as often, and I have a good impact on the lives of the people closest to me.
The challenge will be next year, when I return to "normal" work and all the competing demands. I'm hoping to continue to make space for these kinds of practices and use them to have healthier interactions with my colleagues and students, even amidst a lot of stress. It'll be a challenge, but I hope the skills I'm building this year will carry me through.