Question:

Hi Andy,

I was wondering if Andy has any advice about starting a mindfulness journey when you are a stay-at-home parent to little kids. I need more mindfulness to help me be a better parent and to improve my relationship with food. My day starts with a crying toddler at 5 a.m., and I have the company of my kids (a four-year-old girl and two-year-old boy) continuously for the next 14 hours, five days a week. My husband is home on weekends and is fantastic with the kids. He and I take turns getting up to do the breakfast routine, so perhaps three days a week I could do an early morning practiceโ€“and get very good at blocking out noise!

I guess parenting seems antithetical to mindfulness sometimes because it involves doing one thing, whereas you’re constantly listening out for trouble and being interrupted by the needs of your kids. For example:

I am trying to be mindful when I’m eating. For breakfast, I make a cup of tea and some toast and sit down to enjoy it, to notice each mouthful. Two bites into my toast, my toddler fills his nappy with a giant poo. I stop what I’m doing, attend to him, and come back to my cold breakfast. I get no joy from that.

I want to be mindful while doing mundane chores. So I’m washing up, feeling the sensation on my hands and enjoying the view out my kitchen window. But I am also listening to my kids argue about who had what toy first and now there are tears and a dispute to resolve.

I want to be mindful while preparing meals as part of improving my relationship with food. But while I’m chopping carrots at 4 p.m., my two-year-old is standing on my feet (not at my feet, on my feet!) crying to be picked up. Then he is opening the pantry and pulling food out because he is hungry and for a two-year-old, 15 minutes until dinner is an eternity.ย You get the idea.

I’ve done the foundation course and loved it. I often had to do it at 9 p.m., but I got there, and found that I could be a calmer parent. But I haven’t been able to maintain the practice. I’d love to hear from anyone that has been in my shoes.

Andy’s answer:

Thanks for writing in. This is a great question and one which I’m sure every parent will relate to. There are a couple of aspects which immediately spring to mind. The first is how we define mindfulness. Because although during meditation our attention is focused on just one thing, that is purely in the best interests of training the mind. When we apply mindfulness in everyday life, it is about moment-to-moment awareness. It’s about moving from one thing to the next, at whatever speed is required of us at the time. This means we can apply this approach to every situation.

At first this is not easy, especially if there are multiple things to focus on. It’s a bit like how learning to ride a bike on a flat surface with no traffic is quite easy. But then we add cars, bumps on the road, traffic signals, billboards and all these other things. It can almost sound like too much. But if we just get on the bike each day, over time we become more proficient at processing all this information and staying with the task at hand while still being aware of everything else that is going on. More than that, we remain ready to engage or respond to any of those things when appropriate.

If I apply that to life at home, one moment I’m eating my toast and aware of the taste of honey, maybe the texture of the bread. The next, I’m aware of the pain of my shins being bashed by the baby car our son runs around in. Next, my awareness moves to the clock to see if I am late for work, and then back to the honey…and on it goes. If we can learn to move, consciously, from one moment to the next in this way, then it’s quite possible to feel at ease, even in the midst of all the madness.

But the most important aspect of all is compassion. Mindfulness is about more than awareness, it is also about willingness and desire to see others be happy. Along the way, we sometimes find ourselves leaning more towards compassion and sometimes more towards awareness, but both are vital supports for our practice. So, bottom line, when it all feels like too much and as though you simply can’t get your head around the idea of awareness, lean on the support of compassion. Simply focus on the love you feel for your children, the feeling you experience when you are not caught up in lots of thought. Sometimes this is enough to bring us right back to where we want to be…here and now with those that we love.

Warm wishes,

Andy