We are a family of seven – there’s my husband, myself and our five children. I love having a big family, but life in our household can get hectic at times. I signed up for the Renew Your Mind mindfulness course two years ago. Before the course, my parenting relied on gentleness up to a point, but coercion, persuasion and manipulation if required to keep the peace intact.
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The mindfulness course showed me how I could accept and connect with my children just as they are, even in the bad moments. I learned how to be a more mindful mum who enables my kids to grow up calm, peaceful, connected and secure. It didn’t take long for me to decide it was time to put it into action.
The day it all started
I vividly remember the day I first put what I’d learned into practice. I parked up the hill from school as always, and one by one my children jumped into the car. It was a hot day and by the time the youngest two turned up, the first three had drunk all the water I’d packed. One of the twins was not happy and started to yell. In the past I would have gently reminded her that we had a five minute drive, we would get to water very soon and there was absolutely no need to make a fuss. I would have up my sleeve a range of consequences available to me, if she didn’t pipe down.
This day, however, I mindfully acknowledged her emotions. “Hun, I can hear you’re really thirsty and that makes perfect sense given it’s a hot day. It’s hard to have to wait.” There was a pause, it sounded like it was going to work, and then the crying came even louder. “They always drink it all, it’s not fair!” Before I had a chance to validate her feelings again, the rest of them decided they were tired of waiting and enough was enough.
“Just tell her to be quiet!”
“Oh for goodness sake, it’s just water”.
“Mum, make her stop!”
Mindful parenting was not as easy as I thought! My kids weren’t used to it and not everyone was impressed with the change. (Especially when it involved allowing high levels of emotion in an enclosed space, instead of my usual attempts to achieve peace at all costs). Becoming a mindful mum was going to require more than just a shift of script on my part.
Creating a new family culture
A couple of years later, I realised the real challenge was not just to become a mindful mum, but to become a mindful family – to create a new family culture, to make mindfulness the norm for everyone. As it turns out what was needed was understanding, practise, conversations, more practice, explanations, experiments and accepting that there would be a little more chaos initially. It can be messy at times when you move from an attitude of control, to an attitude of mindful acceptance. But it pays off.
How mindfulness has changed me
Mindfulness practise has changed me as a person and a mum. The techniques have equipped me to manage stressful family situations without resorting to measures I may regret later on. I have greater access to feeling calm and centred – it’s is like having an extra layer of cushioning so I’m much less easily triggered. This helps me to stay connected to myself, my husband and my children even when things are rough.
How mindfulness has changed our family
Mindfulness practise has also changed our family dynamics. I love seeing my kids more comfortable with expressing how they feel and processing rather then suppressing or becoming stuck in their emotion (at least most of the time!).
I am also beginning to see my older kids validate and acknowledge the younger ones from time to time, continuing the culture of mindful acceptance in our home. It seems that everyone is feeling more validated and accepted, just as they are. This has made the dynamics more real, honest and open instead of controlled and managed.
I still set clear boundaries and expect certain behaviours from my children, but these ideas are expressed more calmly. The boundaries are related to their actions, and not to their emotional responses – however inconvenient or embarrassing, those may be. It is an ongoing journey but I believe that our home has become a safer place for my kids to feel safe to express emotion, and develop a mindful attitude towards others and themselves. This is teaching them skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Attend a Toolbox parenting course
Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.