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 ‘Should Have’ 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? It’s become a bit of a buzz word of late, so I’m not surprised if you’ve been put off. 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. I believe there is. I figured donkey’s years’ worth of Buddhist monks AND K-Pez couldn’t be wrong. And moreover, the evidence shows it can actually help us mums not feel so darn guilty all the time and even reduce the risk of post-natal depression taking hold.
What exactly is mindfulness and is the Perry on to something?
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 bubba 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. In strolls Mr Should Have Gremlin again with a nice hamper of mum guilt, and 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, Should Have Gremlin. Hello, calm, kind mummy mind.
Conclusion? K-Pez was definitely not wrong. I mean, let’s be honest: is she ever?
The next challenge: how to fit mindfulness into your day! Watch this space for my next post…