Becoming a mother is an incredible gift. Fact.
Another fact is that it also brings with it a thorough emotional and physical overhaul which can leave us wondering where and who we are and what our shoe size is. Overnight we are thrown into a whirlwind of little sleep, 24/7 demand on our body and spirit and the ultimate responsibility of raising a tiny human with no manual to help you (and, as my amazing aunties remind me, even if there were a manual, said tiny human hasn’t read it). This sudden change of lifestyle and mindset also comes after a full-on and possibly traumatic physical and emotional experience, and there is no time to get your head together: you are needed.
It is a time in our lives when our emotional energy is so split: whilst there is overwhelming love and positivity at bringing a new life into the world, there is also exhaustion, uncertainty and self-doubt. Then more often than not the little mind gremlin pops up on our shoulder and tells us we shouldn’t be feeling the latter because it ‘should’ be a positive, perfect time. So we beat ourselves up, and the self-doubt wheel gets a new intake of hamsters.
But how can mindfulness help? From Katy Perry to Michelle Obama, everyone seems to be jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon. But behind the hype, is there something in it?
Well, in short, yes. There is. Centuries of Buddhist monks and the best First Lady ever couldn’t be wrong. And moreover, a growing body of scientific evidence shows it can actually help us not feel so guilty all the time and even reduce early signs of post-natal depression taking hold.
What exactly is mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn (oft credited with bringing mindfulness to the fore in the Western world) defines it as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”
And believe it or not, mum guilt often creeps in because we are not aware of what is on our mind until its too late and we feel rubbish. Parenthood is all about the milestones. No sooner has your baby reached one goal, then we’re on to a whole all-consuming new one: feeding, sleeping, solids, crawling, walking… We just do one thing after another, without thinking and stopping, and often it’s because we simply don’t have time to ourselves to stop and realise. We go into autopilot.
Once we’re in autopilot mode, it’s all too easy for negative thoughts to slip in and take hold. The early years of motherhood are a vulnerable and emotional time, and it’s all too easy to take on board all the ‘shoulds’ and opinions without realising we’re doing so, to look at other mums and criticize ourselves silently for not being as perfect as they are. Our internal discrepancy monitor starts comparing us to a perceived standard in our mind or on social media. Our mind gremlin starts comparing us to that standard of who we think we should be or what we should feel or what we should look like. Problem is, we’re too busy catching the baby or scrolling through Instagram at other mums to notice what he’s up to.
This is where mindfulness really earns its salt. By learning to bring our attention back to the present (often using an external anchor like the breath which is always with us), we’re able to clearly notice when we’ve slipped into autopilot mode. Instead of believing the mum guilt, we can then call it out for what it is: self-critical thought cycles that are nothing to do with who we actually are underneath. Once we’ve noticed them, that’s the first gauntlet down. Add in a dose of kind, non-judgemental attitude towards ourselves, and we can learn to just let the thoughts be and float on, leaving us feeling much lighter and more balanced. Goodbye, mind gremlin. Hello, calm, kind mummy mind.
How can I learn more?
Come along to a No More Shoulds 8-week mindfulness course in Witney, Standlake or Abingdon this autumn. Pick from one of the following options, and I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MINDFULNESS FOR ALL:
- Monday evenings 8-9:30pm, Standlake, from 17th September
- Wednesday evenings 6:30-8pm, Abingdon, from 19th September
- Wednesday mornings 12-1pm, Witney, from 19th September (Lunch Hour club)
MUM & BABY MINDFULNESS: