I was a bad mom before I started meditation.
Or at least, I felt like I was. My kids were healthy and happy. They ate balanced meals, had early bedtimes, and lived in a stable home with parents who adored them. But, as a mother, I felt like a mess. I was overwhelmed, impatient, and often felt like a failure. I could envision the calm and patient mom I wanted to be, the mom who reacted calmly to tantrums and lovingly redirected power struggles. I read advice like “don’t sweat the small stuff,” and “respond instead of react,” but I had no idea how to actually do that. I sweated over everything big, small, and imagined. I reacted to everything, usually by yelling.
One day I heard an interview with Dan Harris, author of the meditation and mindfulness book 10% Happier. Dan described how a daily meditation practice gave him control over his emotions so that he no longer flying into road rage in traffic. I wondered if meditation could keep me from flying into ‘morning rage’ while trying to get out the door on time with two kids.
I started with a free, ten minute guided meditation every morning for ten days on the Headspace app. I set my alarm a few minutes early and got up before my family woke to sit in the quiet of the living room. A soothing voice gave me instructions to close my eyes, feel the chair under me, pay attention to how my body felt, listen to the sounds around me, and then count my breaths. Within seconds I got distracted thinking about my to-do list and wondering if I was meditating the right way. But I kept coming back to the voice giving me instructions, and I kept it up the whole ten minutes. When it was over, I felt okay. I wasn’t enlightened, and didn’t really feel changed in any way, so I went on with my day.
After ten days of sitting in the quiet, checking in with my body, and counting my breaths, I started to notice changes. My breathing was usually fast and high in my chest as if I was in a hurry all the time. But when I breath deeply and slowly into my belly, I feel calmer and more in control. My shoulders and jaw used to always be tense. But after I take a few seconds to relax, I unclench. When I made a mistake, the voice in my head used to berate me, but now I talk to myself with more patience.
A pattern emerged after a few weeks of semi-regular meditation. On days I meditate I am calmer, more in control, and don’t yell. I still get frustrated, overwhelmed, and angry, but I handle those emotions better and they don’t define an entire day. When a full cup of milk spills across the kitchen, I take a breath to collect myself and reach for a towel to clean it up, rather than immediately panicking and flying into a rage. Huh, maybe this is what it means to respond instead of react.
It’s been two years since I started meditation and I still regularly meditate. Have I reached enlightenment and found peace? No. Do I still yell and get frustrated? Oh yes, but on those bad days where I am easily frustrated and quick to yell, I probably haven’t meditated. If I catch myself ranting, it usually means I didn’t take ten minutes at the beginning of the day to breathe in silence. Fortunately, meditation can be done anywhere at any time, and I often slip away to sit in silence and focus on my breath. I always come back from meditating calmer and happier.
I’m not an expert in either parenting or meditation, but I have discovered my secret to being a good mother. The secret for me is meditation. I had patience and kindness in me all along, I just needed some time, space, and meditation to find it.