How can mindfulness help parents at this time of pandemic? April 2020
Mindfulness is the capacity to be fully with ourselves from one moment to the next and to be available for life as it unfolds in this particular moment. Mindfulness is not about trying to get somewhere; rather it is about recognising what is already here and giving ourselves the space to be where we are and as we are. Mindfulness is a way of showing up in a real way for our partners, children, families and friends. Never before has there been such a need for parents to be able to cultivate this kind of presence for their families.
Covid19 is taking parenting to a whole new level where parents have become a one stop shop, for their children. Overnight they have become teachers, friends, counsellors, entertainment managers, conflict resolution mediators. All this whilst managing their own workload from home or managing the needs and the dynamics of a family suddenly spending every day in the same space. We might be fortunate enough to live somewhere where there is space, where there is a garden. Or we might live in confined space with no garden, in a city where outdoor green spaces are limited. Our living situations can add to or ease our tension at this time. How do we integrate such huge change to our homelives? Just as there is no manual when we give birth to our children to guide us on how to parent, there is no guidebook to help us to navigate our way through these days of pandemic. What we do have however is our own ability to be present and authentic.
As a parent our role is to provide safety and security. We are the environment in which our children grow but never has this environment been so shaken as it has been by the covet-19 pandemic. What we can do right now is to take care of this environment by taking care of ourselves. There are many wonderful resources offering tips and advice on how to structure your child’s day, how to make learning fun, invite creativity, exercise, have down time etc. And yet the biggest resource that might be becoming depleted is you. Often this is the resource that is taken for granted and neglected. As parents we feel that we have to keep going, keep up a brave face, be positive, come up with amazing fun and creative ideas on a daily basis. This is just not sustainable. Little by little anxiety will build and we will become exhausted. There is enough to be worried about without adding to it with unrealistic expectations of ourselves and our children. It is important that we begin each day by cutting ourselves a lot of slack. Many parents are feeling the pressure and berating themselves for losing patience, losing structure and losing hope.
Our children feed off our anxiety and reactivity and we feed off theirs, such is the feedback loop that exists between parent and child. They also feed off our calmness, our humour, our authenticity and our understanding. Whilst we have no control over what is happening on a global scale, we do have some power in how we make our children feel. It is not with words but with our own modelling of authenticity. It is not about being perfect and positive and upbeat. If we fall apart a little, we can acknowledge it and then find healthy ways to take care of our anger, sadness or anxiety. If our children see us doing this they will learn to do this themselves. They will learn that it’s ok to feel whatever they are feeling. The easing of these difficult emotions comes in the space that we give to our children – we provide a relational container where they can spill into and where we can provide warmth and comfort.
‘It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself’ Joyce Maynard
We need to first offer this space to ourselves. We can’t will ourselves to be strong. False positivity creates more anxiety and leaves us worn out. There is another way, where we take a step back, let ourselves off the hook, let go of our expectations and see ourselves with eyes of compassion. If we allow ourselves to be sad and offer ourselves kindness and compassion then we will rise stronger. If we deny these feelings, they will shout louder and we will end up feeling even more anxious, angry or sad. Self-Compassion unleashes courage that we didn’t know we had .The more compassion we have for ourselves, the more we have for our families. The more courage we have the more support we can give to our families.
As we learn to take care of difficult emotions we become more spacious and we begin to show up in a different way for our children.
Spending time on yourself in a way that changes your perspective, nourishes you, helps you to handle your own difficult emotions is not selfish or self-indulgent but is a gift to your whole family. If one person in the family begins a mindfulness practice the whole family benefit. Mindfulness is a way of cultivating calm, being with whatever life is presenting us with without falling apart. When parents practise mindfulness, they get a better sense of reality and are less likely to be swept away in a sea of reactivity and emotions. We begin to develop greater flexibility of response and find wiser and more compassionate ways of being in the world.
“Children are educated by what the grown up is and not by his talk “– Carl Jung
Recently, I have been thinking about the ‘in the meanwhile’ garden allotments established by community groups and workers in Belfast. Over the last few years, individuals have used the ‘space in between’ to create something beautiful for the community, coming together to plan, sow, tend and harvest. They grow their food on empty, unused sites. These areas may not be permanent, as they could be earmarked for future development; hence, the name ‘meanwhile gardens.’
I find the liminality of these creations beautiful yet unexpected; ephemeral gardens that enact wondrous possibilities. What struck me was how these projects, although temporary, were able to embrace change even in unexpected circumstances. It got me thinking about our current predicament: What can we create ‘in the meanwhile’ as coronavirus plays out in the world? As we continue to meet online, growing community and connection, can we create something as nourishing in such unexpected and limited circumstances?
With the support of others this is easier for sure, and knowing that we are all in the same boat can help us accept these unprecedented changes in our society. Byron Katie says that wishing for reality to be different is like trying to teach a cat to bark. Wishing for reality to be different is useless; in fact, it is exhausting and takes us away from what we can do in the present moment.
The here and now is the only place where we can strengthen ourselves for what might become. We might have habits of thinking ways out of a situation or methods that offer solace, maybe even a sensible viewpoint. However, the pandemic, now, demands more from us.
For me, it is challenging all that has been useful so far and requiring a kind of surrender. When we surrender to something we fall into it. It is deeper than acceptance and we allow ourselves to move with it. There is a shift in our positioning. We let go of struggle and we begin to experience rather than observe and analyse. There is freedom and spaciousness in surrender. We let go into the many beautiful moments as well as into the more painful ones. We surrender to the help and the support of others and to the realisation that we are all connected and our responsibility for each other within that. With each surrender comes a greater awareness and acceptance, an appreciation and a resolve.
In the fear around our families getting sick, the wellbeing and mental health of our parents, children and siblings, the pressure on our health care workers and key service providers, we can easily overwhelm ourselves. This fear and worrying might develop into a reactivity, altering our minds into a new state of permanence. We must resist this mindset becoming our ‘new normal.’
We can do so by cultivating our presence, not from the worrying and panic of our everyday discourse. We need to find the ability to be with whatever comes over the next few weeks. Whatever happens, we will be able to face the uncertainty with the power of our own presence, as long as we know how to access and practise growing it.
We should not push away or deny our own pain during these turbulent times; instead, we can choose where we place our attention. If we situate our minds with fearful thinking over and over again, then we further exasperate anxieties, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. Instead, we can turn inwards and find ways to grow calmness and stability, becoming more of an anchor for those around us.
We could fill the space ‘in the meanwhile’ with information, not only about coronavirus but all the information and suggestions that come with it. We could carve out some time to strengthen ourselves by coming into stillness, feeling our own breath, and our own bodies. By offering ourselves compassion and kindness, we accept the reality of the situation.
If you would like a space with others to practise this and a little guidance please join the regular Monday and Friday meditations at 7 am. My wish is that it is a space that feels safe, where people can practise together and feel the strength and connection with each other. Please send an email for the Zoom link.