March is a time of transition, coming “in like a lion and out like a lamb.” It is tumultuous, with dramatic changes in temperature highs and lows. It is unpredictable, especially in the current climate—environmental, political, and otherwise. It is, in essence, an apt metaphor for becoming a mother.
Drawing on March as inspiration, this month’s Mother Matters centers on being centered; on having practical ways to come back to your mother-self when your surroundings feel out-of-control, as they often do in the early days of motherhood.
While it may not always feel like it, you are your own best resource for maternal wisdom. Books and blogs (even this one) may offer information, education, but they are limited. Ultimately, mining your self-knowledge is likely to be the most valuable of resource a mother has at her disposal. Here, then, are three researched-based exercises intended to help you get better in touch with your best source of support—yourself.
The “Planted Seed.” Chances are you’ve heard (and heard and heard) about “mindfulness.” The term itself has become over-used, but the practice remains as remarkable and powerful as ever—especially when harnessed during this time a woman’s life. A new study[i] in the journal BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth looked at a group of new mothers who participated in a multiple-week long mindfulness-based parenting program. While it may come as no surprise that the participants reported enhanced psychological wellbeing as a result of their participation, there was one particularly interesting finding; The perception of mindfulness as a “shelter.” When asked about her experience practicing mindfulness, one mom offered “Mindfulness is like a seed: once it has been planted, it’s for life, nobody can take it out of yourself (p.7)” This is the first report of mindfulness as source of “sustained support”(p.7) and as being a “trustworthy ally,”(p. 7) among new mothers. Imagine the sense of empowerment in knowing that you have an inner resource at your disposal that can provide shelter in moments of fear or anxiety. It also happens to be free.
Short on time like most mamas? You can “plant a seed” 1 minute or less, courtesy of Psychotherapist Leonie Stewart-Weeks who offers 9 mindfulness exercises in 60 seconds or less. Give one a try here.
“Come to Your Senses!” We use the phrase as a directive to help someone “snap out of it,” perhaps even ourselves. Have you ever stopped to consider the implications of the literal meaning? The act of coming to one’s senses has a very practical, useful result; it brings us into the present moment. Purposefully taking time to tune in to your senses can redirect your attention to the here and now, which in turn can help you connect with your maternal instinct. The next time you find yourself in a moment of frustration with your child (as we all do,) see if you can catch yourself. Stop. Make sure your child is in a safe place. Then step into another room and close your eyes. Pick a sense of your choosing and try to focus exclusively on that sense for a moment or too. Listen to the sounds around you, without preference or aversion. Or, take a few deep breaths through your nose and notice any smells. Or, simply feel the flow of air on your face. Prefer to have your eyes open? Observe light, color, shape and shadow. Give yourself a moment to rest in the awareness of being in the moment you are in, without judgment. Just being present is enough.[ii]
“A Dose of ‘Real’…” Pour a cup of tea and take ten minutes (okay, maybe twenty) with Jennifer Senior. In her Ted talk, the author and researcher of the 2015 book All Joy and No Fun, offers researched-based insight into why mothering (and fathering, too) feels so overwhelming in our current climate. Though her focus is on parenting slightly older children, there are important lessons to be learned here as you move into motherhood; namely, if you are feeling anxious, you are in good company. Senior’s description of the parenting section in the bookstore, "a giant, candy-colored monument to our collective panic," reflects the bombardment of well-meaning advice heaped on parents today. It also serves as a reminder that sometimes the better choice is to close the book, the website, or the blog post (yep, even this one) and tune in to your own maternal instinct.
[i] Malis, F. R., Meyer, T., Gross, M. M., & Roy Malis, F. (2017). Effects of an antenatal mindfulness-based childbirth and parenting programme on the postpartum experiences of mothers: a qualitative interview study. BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth, 171-11. doi:10.1186/s12884-017-1240-9
[ii] Adapted from The Wisdom Within. (2017, January 9). Lecture presented at Philosophy Works: Introductory Course in The School of Practical Philosophy, New York, NY.