Mindful parenting: Falling off track and getting back on again
I went through a rollercoaster of emotions last weekend. I think I can pretty much blame pregnancy hormones but it meant that I wasn’t in a good headspace and I raised my voice to Elliott. I hate it when I raise my voice with him when there was no reason for me doing so.
It meant that my endeavour to parent mindfully fell by the wayside. I had been doing so well for so long to parent mindfully, to keep calm, to not sweat the small stuff, to appreciate the moments and then, in one snap of my brain, I failed.
The look on Elliott’s face said it all, his sobbing made me feel so guilty. “But Mummy is always so happy, fun, nice and calm, why did she just raise her voice at me?” he was probably wondering in his little 4-year-old mind. The poor thing.
I’ve come a long way with mindfulness and mindfulness exercises, not just in parenting, but in life in general.
Pre-kids I was always anxious and snappy, I’d raise my voice a lot through sheer frustration. When I had postnatal depression and anxiety after Elliott was born, I was the same. I snapped a lot, raised my voice a lot, I wasn’t a very nice or happy person. To get from that point to where I am today has taken a lot of patience and hard work on a psychological level and when I break that hard work, it really gets me down. It means I missed my trigger, it slipped through the cracks and often, comes straight out of my mouth.
When I let it slip through the cracks like this, it’s a sign to myself that I need to revisit how I’m dealing with my emotions and how I’m addressing the things happening in my life that introduce my strong emotions and can make me lose control.
So, I decided to revisit some mindfulness exercises and techniques that I’ve learnt over the past few years, particularly when it comes to mindfulness of thoughts and emotions which are the areas that seem to be getting to me lately.
Mindfulness of Thoughts
The thing that always seems to catch me is the fact that I tend to take my thoughts too literally. Thoughts are just that, thoughts. They are not real, they have not yet happened or if they have happened, they are of events that happened in the past and that cannot be changed.
One thought I have had going through my head this past week that has made me feel quite down is, “I’m not as successful in my business as I thought I would be.” I have taken this thought much too seriously and instead of defusing it by accepting that it’s just a fleeting thought with no validity, I’ve taken it on as more of a reality.
In her book ‘Change Your Thinking’, Sarah Edelman PhD suggests that we need to think of these type of thoughts like clouds floating by without actually engaging with them.
So, if we think of these thoughts as floating clouds and accept that they are in fact nothing to worry about means we can catch them and label them in order to accept what they are and move on. This is what I didn’t do just recently, sometimes it’s not easy.
Labelling negative thoughts once you’ve caught them is a great idea that’s worked for me, once you catch them and label them, try to send them off somewhere. For example, imagine them as leaves and then send them down a stream, acknowledging them and then letting them float away.
It does take a lot of practice to catch and label these thoughts and creating distance between yourself and the thoughts, it doesn’t always get rid of the thought, but what it does do is not let the thought take over. When you don’t engage with it and simply acknowledge and let it go, it won’t take over. It’s mind control at its finest.
Mindfulness of Emotions
It is so easy to fall into the trap of feeling emotional but then trying to make yourself feel better by seeking out positive emotions. This is what I tried to do, forgetting that it simply doesn’t work and actually makes the feelings worse.
Secondary emotions are a pain in the arse too, these are what I’ve also been experiencing. What’s a secondary emotion? Well, in my case, my recent negative thoughts and emotions have lead me to feel quite anxious and down in the dumps because I worry that my postnatal depression and anxiety will return with baby number two. So, I’m pretty much getting depressed about getting depressed.
Similar to dealing with negative thoughts, I’ve found often found that simply observing and accepting negative emotions, the thoughts floating through my head and the way my body feels is much better than trying to actually change them. Obviously, I forgot this part recently, but it has worked for me in the past.
When we stop trying to force pleasant feelings, they are freer to emerge on their own. When we stop trying to resist unpleasant feelings, we may find that they drift away by themselves.
– Williams, Teasdale, Segal and Kabat-Zinn, The Mindful Way Through Depression
I know we all tend to fall off the bandwagon sometimes and I accept that I did and that it’s ok, but I also do know how much better I feel when I stay on track with my mindfulness techniques. Staying on track means I’m on a cycle of positivity that will keep going and as long as it keeps going, I’m free of any worry or distress and I can be fully present and calm with mindful parenting.
Do you use mindfulness techniques or focus on mindful parenting?