Life before baby: Long breakfast in bed; 90 minute yoga session; drinks and lunch with friends in town.
Life after baby: 5am wake-up call from sick one-year-old; post-nappy-explosion cleaning intensive; temper tantrum mediation in Tesco carpark; microwaved leftover dinner; glass of wine times two.
Let’s face it, life with kids is challenging. Yet you see those mums who seem to breeze through it all, unflappable. They have an annoyingly effortless way of seeming cool, collected, kind, peaceful and in control — even when surrounded by chaos.
That composed way of mothering isn’t out of reach for you: mums are borrowing techniques from practices like yoga meditation to boost their calm-mum powers.
Try these five tips and make being a calm mum look like child’s play.
1. Focus on right now
Kids can smell a rat when we pretend we’re present. Turn off your mobile and the radio when you’re in the car and use that time to connect with your child, she says. Try hanging a tag in your car that reads “Here, now” or “Just this moment.”
Or use the “awareness continuum". Simply ask yourself over and over ‘what am I aware of right now?’
This question can help mothers tap into what’s happening in their bodies, like clenching jaws or holding breath, as well as what’s happening around them, like the sky looks incredibly blue today.
2. Give kids some space
Your kids are the fish, and you create their aquarium. They need to be able to swim around. Look at how you might be “re-parenting” yourself, perhaps because of some shortcoming you perceive in the way your own mother parented you.
The more self-awareness a mum possesses, the less she will project her own struggles onto her children. It’s unhealthy to judge a child for traits that a mother possesses and denies in herself.
Accept your children’s individuality and separateness from you. Healthy attachment is slightly detached. It’s good to miss your kids.
Over-parenting is another non-calm-mum pattern to watch out for. One example: Feeling compelled to come immediately to your child’s aid the moment he or she whimpers.
With my first child, I interpreted her crying as bad but with my second, I came to realise there are plenty of reasons kids cry. Now I wait. I know that generally, things will be ok.
Being aware that things are always changing — including my mood — and knowing that it’s temporary helps cultivate calmness. A tantrum is going to pass, and that makes the moment more tolerable.
Try creating physical space in your home, too. For example, clear off the kitchen table every night and make it a sacred place for mealtime.
Over-scheduling is a recipe for a short fuse. You don’t need to do it all every day.
Look at what you can “undo” in your day. Look at the week’s chores and decide: No hoovering this week! I don’t know anyone who’s died from a messy house or spending the day in their pajamas.
Or put aside your to-do list altogether (literally and mentally) on a Saturday for a while — even for just an hour. Choose one activity to do with your kids, and do it mindfully. Be childlike, really listen to your kids, and focus your attention on what you’re doing together.
Hold your plans lightly, too. It’s ok to acknowledge what you’re feeling about your plans going to hell, but allow things to slip away anyway.
4. Nurture your non-mum identity
Mums can be caught up in the idea that they are only mums and lose themselves.
Ignore the voice in your head about what constitutes a perfect mother, and just be you. Make time to reconnect with what you loved to do before children — and don’t feel guilty about it! Join a book club and actually go to the meetings. Take dance lessons. Plan a spa day with your girlfriends every so often.
Also cultivate candid friendships that don’t focus on competition, even if only via “phone therapy,” also known as leaving long voicemails for one another.
If “take a deep breath” is something you try to remember to do when stress starts mounting, you’re on the right track. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of proper breathing and employing specific breathing techniques. They range from lower blood pressure, increased lung capacity and a strengthened immune system to reduced stress and improved focus and concentration, to name a few. Babies should be our guide. At birth, children naturally breathe deeply from the belly rather than shallowly from the chest like most adults.
In addition to remembering to “take a deep breath,” filling the belly first followed by the chest with air, try a deep sigh, letting out a natural sound of relief as air exits the lungs. The calming “ocean breath” sounds like a gentle snore as it passes slowly through the back of the throat. Ground yourself first by placing your feet on the floor, notice the things around you to orient to the surroundings and then sigh deeply to help level out the shortness of breath created during a stressful situation. Or simply stop, close your eyes, and focus on your breath and nothing else for one minute.
You can also apply this wisdom in other ways. Feel the ground while walking, taste your food, even notice your body’s sensations while standing in line at the bank.