Being a parent is hard. Super hard.
You are often overwhelmed, under-prepared, overtired, and under-resourced.
Mindfulness can’t make all that go away. It can’t stop the screaming toddler, the grunting teenager, or the colicky baby. But it can give you tools to help you manage your stress and to find more calm, acceptance, and even more joy amid the chaos that we call parenting.
Last fall, my daughter broke her arm when she fell off the monkey bars. Once the shock wore off and the pain subsided, she was totally fine. I, however, was a wreck. When she had her cast on, I was terrified she would bang it. And when she got it off and returned to those monkey bars, my heart was in my throat. Using mindfulness tools, I was able to see that my worries were getting the best of me and I could come back to the present moment where everything was actually okay. But my default was definitely full-on-anxious-parent mode.
I’m one of those people who assumes I need to call the hospital if my family is ten minutes late coming home. If they gave awards for stress, my trophy case would be full. I remember panicking while pregnant with my daughter: how could I possibly take care of someone else when I can barely handle myself?
Now, stress isn’t all bad. We actually need some stress to push us to work hard, accomplish goals, even have kids in the first place! Good stress builds resilience. Stress becomes a problem when the demands of our lives consistently overwhelm our ability to meet those demands, and when we get stuck in the mode where stressed becomes stressed-out.
When the brain perceives a threat, it triggers a hormonal and physiological response: fight/flight/freeze mode. This evolved to help us survive in life-threatening situations. Once the threat passes, the nervous system is supposed to return to a deactivated state. The problem for many of us is that our nervous systems can’t tell the difference between a life-threatening situation and worrying if our children are eating too much (or too little). So little things are actually over-activating us, i.e. stressing us out because we feel we cannot meet those demands. If we are always feeling threatened, the nervous system never gets to relax, leading to mental and physical imbalance and dysfunction.
As parents and caregivers, we know that demands and stresses are part of the package. It’s not like I’m going to stop worrying any time soon. So it’s not a matter of getting rid of all of our stress but responding to it in a healthier way. With mindfulness, we can see when we get caught up in fears and thoughts and then choose how much power to give them. We get the tools to deactivate our triggered nervous systems and find more balance in our minds and our lives.
Caring about our kids is easy. Caring for them can be impossibly hard. And caring for ourselves might be the hardest challenge of all. Mindfulness has helped me manage my big emotions (and my daughter’s) and supported me in finding more calm, acceptance, and even more joy amid the chaos that we call parenting.