The importance of mindfulness for parents: let’s learn to "recalculate route" when triggered

Carlotta Cerri

A few weeks ago while attending the beautiful online Happily Family conference about parenting, I was reminded about mindfulness, about how important it is to be aware of our emotions and live in the moment–and it motivated me to take a step back, and set my priorities straight.

It wasn’t easy, but as soon as I put my mind to it, I started feeling happier, and that’s why today I want to share with you my progress in these few weeks of mindfulness–because I feel like too many parents rush through their days trying to fit in as much as possible for their little ones and themselves. If you think you’re one of those, please keep reading.

The power of being mindful

The first time I heard about mindfulness (some 3 years ago when I was pregnant with Oliver) I didn’t quite understand it, but it’s actually easier than it sounds (the theory, not the practice): it simply means to pay attention on purpose. To be aware of our surroundings, smells and sounds around us, and, on a deeper level, of our emotions and our response to them–all of it with intention.

On a practical level, it could mean to take in your son’s goodnight kiss, to sink in your husband’s hug in the kitchen, to notice small things that we usually take for granted, like the warmth of the sun on our skin, the freshness of cold water on a hot day, the feel of sand under our feet, the beauty of a blooming tree. And, of course, it also means to notice the negative emotions: the frustration when you child doesn’t do what you ask him, the anxiety when things don’t go your way, the anger when somebody does something wrong to you, the sadness when somebody disappoints you.

After the conference, I made an effort to practice mindfulness on a daily basis: I started taking minutes throughout the day to sit and breathe (even just one minute at the time); I reorganised my priorities in order to be able to be more present when I’m with my kids; I tried to not let the worries and stress of every day affect my mood (easier said than done!); I consciously started noticing things around me, even silly ones like the sound of the bartender making coffee (I can now tell with 100% precision who’s making the coffee at Mama’s Bakery, my favorite coffee shop).

And I noticed that what being more mindful offered me is mainly a pause button: by being in touch with my emotions and my surroundings, I can better understand when I am triggered, anticipate it, hit the pause button and choose my reaction.

Michelle Gale explained it beautifully: practicing mindfulness stretches the gap between a stimulus (what happens) and our reaction, and this makes a huge difference for parents. Because let’s admit it, what we all parents want is to feel in control of our reactions, and to choose our responses. When we’re triggered, that’s exactly when we have to pause, explain to the child that “Right now I need to calm down so I can be with you in a better way”, and step away for a while. I especially noticed that what helps me the most is to imagine myself in a stressful situation with my kids before it actually happens, and think of what kind of reaction I’d feel proud of, to then replicate it when the situation presents itself: I don’t have a very high success rate yet, but I’m improving a little bit every day.

Be like a GPS ;-)

This also applies to a similar concept I heard a few weeks later (the universe was clearly telling me something!) in another positive discipline workshop by Macarena Soto Rueda (Un Mundo Educado). We were talking about how easy it is to get upset when our child makes a mistake–put his shoes wrong when we’re in a hurry, breaks something, spills a glass of water, paints the sofa, you name it!–and Macarena asked us what would a GPS do. I was confused too, but stick with me. Imagine you’re driving, you approach a roundabout and your GPS tells you to take the third exit. You are distracted, and miss it: what does the GPS tell you? “Recalculating route”. Does the GPS get upset at you? Of course not. No matter how many times you take the wrong exit, your GPS will always tell you “recalculating route” in a calm and kind voice.

It’s a powerful metaphor–especially when I think how I’d feel if my GPS called me names or made me feel bad for being distracted and going the wrong direction–and since then, when I am triggered, I make an effort to hit the pause button, take a deep breath and tell myself, “Recalculate route, Carlotta”. I don’t succeed every time, but I’m getting better at it every day.

So today I’d like to invite you to try and do the same for two weeks, and see the difference for yourself. Take a step at the time, start practicing a little bit of mindfulness every day, slowly learn to be more in touch with your emotions, to recognise when you’re triggered, and anticipate it, and when you feel you’re about to explode, try to hit your pause button, breathe in deeply and choose your response. That’s how we can become better parents, better role models, better educators, and better people. Let’s recalculate route!

Let's help each other, mums and dads!

The other day I was exhausted after a couple of sleepless nights. We were at a morning playdate and it was lunchtime: Oliver didn’t want any of the food I had lovingly prepared and packed for him, and he dropped on the floor the only thing he actually wanted (peas). My first reaction as I bent down to collect the peas was to tell Oliver off, but then I heard my friend’s voice: “breathe”. Thanks Sarah, it made such a big difference! Mums and dads, let’s help each other, we’re all in the same boat!

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