If ever there was a moment to choose to see yourself and your child as you both are, it is now.
The coronavirus crisis may give us back what we lost: simply being present with our children.
In some ways, our family life may have become much simpler to manage, as the majority of us don’t need to bring our children to day-care, school, sports, friends, and pick them up afterwards, no need to arrange babysitting as we are not going anywhere, no worries about where our adolescents hang out and with whom as they are home.
But this time also demands new things from us as parents and as co-parents. Being home together 24 hours a day, we are thrown back to the very core of our existence: our family. Our parenting, our parent-child relationships, our co-parent relationship, are placed under a magnifying glass. This time of forced standing still and distance from the outside world may help us us to see more clearly what is going on in our family relationships, with our children and our co-parent(s), and perhaps most importantly, our relationship with ourselves, and what is needed-if we take the time to look inside.
- See also: Coronavirus and mental health: how to pursue therapy goals while social distancing
- See also: Teach me well
Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “the awareness that emerges from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to things as they are”. Mindful parenting is turning this specific attentiveness to our children, ourselves as parents, and our co-parent(s). When we do this, we may start to notice the simple things of family life better, and enjoy them. For example, do you really notice how it feels when your kid comes into your bed early morning, how it smells, how it sounds, how its body feels?
Often we are not living that moment, but we are in what is called “doing mode” or “automatic pilot”: we want to have our kid showered and dressed and ready for school, we want ourselves to be got ready for our working day, or we want to sleep some more because we want to be rested for the day to come. So rather than simply being in the moment of the experience of our kid crawling in our bed, called the “being mode”, we are thinking about the future, planning the next moments of our day.
Not that anticipating or planning is a bad thing, but when we are in planning mode, thinking about the future, we miss the experience of the present moment, the precious moment of meeting our kid on this brand-new day. And mindfulness does not mean that it has to feel good, it can also be a bad feeling of how tired we are when our kid wakes us up early morning, or when our kid does not smell good. Being mindful in our parenting life simply means that we are aware of and welcome parenting experiences, the good, the bad, and the neutral ones, at the moment they arise, and as best as we can postpone our judgment of those experiences.
Much of our parenting stress comes from wanting things to be different from how they are right now, resisting reality. For example, we are working from home, the house is small, our kids are restlessly playing computer games rather than listening to the teacher or doing their homework, the house is a mess, our partner if we have one is not doing any cleaning or shopping, and on top of that the neighbors are rebuilding their apartment which makes a lot of noise.
We want a private, spacious, quiet working room, we want concentrated motivated children who do what their teacher asks them, a clean house, a partner who is doing the cleaning and shopping, and neighbors who decided to postpone their rebuilding until after the corona crisis. The discrepancy between the reality of our life and how we ideally want it to be makes us stressed and sad and angry and adds suffering to the suffering. We start to shout at our kids, partners, neighbours. We want this corona crisis to end asap, we fantasise about another life with another partner, or without a partner, we worry about whether our kids may fail their exam and we may fail our work and about other neighbors who will also start rebuilding their homes once these ones are finished. When we dream about another life or catastophise about things that may happen, we are not in the present moment, and add suffering to our suffering.
Mindful parenting offers another way. What if we would sit in the midst of all that is going on right here, right now in our house, and welcome it as best as we can? If we could do a breathing space - as we practice in mindful parenting- feeling where our body makes contact with what we are sitting on, asking ourselves how we are feeling in this very moment. Acknowledging our tiredness, worry, anger, lack of focus. Acknowledging our children’s difficulties with concentrating on their schoolwork. Our partner’s hyperfocus, which goes at the cost of cleaning the house and shopping. Our neighbours who are trying to improve their living. Giving ourselves a little hug, and saying to ourselves: “Whatever it is that I’m feeling, it is ok, let me be with it.” If we would then simply follow a few breaths, all the way in and all the way out of our body, and feeling our whole breathing body sitting amidst of this all. Asking ourselves: “What do I need?” Perhaps, in this way, we could transform our stress into selfcare.
In my book Mindful Parenting: Finding space to be in a world of to do (Pavilion Publishing, 2020) you will find lots of practical exercises to help you cultivate mindfulness in your own house and family, especially now!
Susan Bögels, professor in Family Mental Health & Mindfulness, developer of mindful parenting, writer, mother. www.susanbogels.com
The World Health Organisation advises people experiencing anxiety related to Coronavirus to put a daily limit on their consumption of news related to the pandemic.