I recently read an article by a brave PMAD survivor (article linked here), who made a distinction between being mindful and being mind-FULL. I love the simple brilliance of this. Mindfulness terminology is often used in the meditation world and so beautifully applies to all areas of life, including parenthood.
Over the last year or so, I have incorporated mindfulness meditation into my daily routine (except for the days when I don’t because, well, parenthood). I am nowhere near an expert on the subject, but I can undoubtedly attest that becoming more mindful has improved my life.
For those of you who are not familiar with this practice, the basic idea of mindfulness is to be present in the current moment. During mindfulness meditation, I sit quietly and focus my attention on my breath. Naturally, outside thoughts will enter my mind and, when they do, I briefly acknowledge and then release them, bringing my focus back to my breath. I find this practice calming, and it teaches me to focus on the present rather than the past or future. This is immensely beneficial for a professional worrier like me!
So, what does this have to do with parenting?
When I became a parent, I was introduced to an entirely new level of exhaustion and overwhelm. As parents, we have packed plates and can be constantly bombarded with worry.
How will I know if he’s eating enough? Which of the 500 available creams is best for diaper rash? Is that an upper lip tie or just a pronounced frenulum? Why isn’t she talking as much as her classmates? Will I traumatize my child if I sleep-train him?
You get the picture.
In addition to the anxiety that comes along with parenting, we also tend to juggle responsibilities on several fronts. Many of us are trying to find a balance between working, parenting, maintaining healthy relationships with our partners, making time for friends, shopping, cooking, attempting to incorporate self-care, and more!
With all of these obligations, it makes sense that we can easily become mind-FULL. In other words, our minds can become cluttered with thoughts and worries that are unrelated to our immediate circumstances. Often, this noise drowns out what is happening in the current moment. In this state, we cease to be truly present. We become so distracted thinking about the past or future that we miss out on what is happening right now.
As a parent, I am certainly guilty of being mind-FULL. More often than I would like, while with my son, I have found myself worrying about an upcoming appointment, or thinking about work, or making future plans, or ruminating over something that happened earlier. We all do this at times, right? We are physically there but not entirely there.
For me, this brings to mind the thought that our children will only be little for so long. There will likely come a day when I will look back on this time, as exhausting and overwhelming as it can be, and wish I could relive it. This, then, leads me to question if I am truly living it now. Am I a present parent? The honest answer is: sometimes. Sometimes I am present and mindful and other times I am distracted and mind-FULL. I can feel the difference, and I imagine my son can as well.
The point here is not to add to the parental guilt and pressure we already feel. I do not know anyone who is mindful all the time, including highly experienced meditators. It is natural, perhaps necessary, for us to be mind-FULL at times. There is also a reason we refer to mindfulness meditation as a practice. The more I practice mindfulness through meditation, the more I am able to bring that sense of presence into my life and parenting. It is a journey, not a destination. I do not expect myself to be a mindful parent all the time – I only expect myself to keep working on it.
In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn,
“the only time you ever have in which to learn anything or see anything or feel anything, or express any feeling or emotion, or respond to an event, or grow, or heal, is the moment, because this is the only moment any of us ever gets. You’re only here now; you’re only alive in this moment.”
Considering this, I am working to be here now, to be alive in this moment. As a parent, I am trying to slow down, to put my phone away, to stop rushing through moments and to truly experience them instead. I am working to give my worries less mind-space. I will undoubtedly be imperfect in this endeavor, and you will be as well. Rather than carrying guilt over this, we can show ourselves a little compassion, then refocus on our journey. The goal is progress, not perfection. When it comes to parenting, perfection is not ideal anyway. We can simply strive to be a little less mind-FULL and a little more mindful.
Click here to read more about the gift of being an imperfect parent.
Want to try out mindfulness meditation? Here are a few helpful resources for beginners:
Written by Ashley Abeles