It was at the end of a trip to a play centre with a friend and her daughter, when both my own children chose to play up about leaving that my stress levels reached their peak one day. I could feel my chest tighten and my muscles tense up in frustration and anger as they refused to co-operate. It's an emotion I'm sure any mother has felt and no doubt all will agree that it is not a pleasant one. Ten minutes later, children under control and happily chatting away in the back of the car all forgotten, I was left still feeling keyed up and stressed. Oh how I wished I had the mindset of a child at times. It was after this said trip that my friend recommended me a book 'Buddhism for Mothers', which I immediately ran out and bought.
What the book is about
'Buddhism for Mothers' focusses on taking a calm approach to caring for yourself and your children. As it mentions in the preface, parenting literature invariably focusses on nurturing children rather than the mothers who struggle to raise them.
As mothers we are thrown into experiencing a range of emotions with our children most importantly unconditional love, joy, contentment and happiness but also fear, anger, despair, and at times loneliness.
The book itself explores the potential to be with your children in the all-important present moment, to gain the most joy out of being with them - calmly and with a minimum of anger, worry or negative thinking. The author, Sarah Napthali, offers ways of coping with the day-to-day challenges of motherhood using Buddhist practices. Ways that also allow space for deeper reflections about who we are, what makes us happy and all of the sorrows and joys of motherhood.
Parenting Mindfully and Learning Calm
The first chapter in the book covers 'parenting mindfully' and this definitely hit a chord with me. I spoke previously in my 'Turning 40' post about how as a young child time seemed to be slow and growing up felt like it took an eternity but as I got older the faster time went. I have realised that for children time feels slower because they spend much of their time living in the present moment and responding to the immediate world around them.
As adults, we spend much of our time 'living' in our own heads, flitting between our past and our plans, concerning ourselves with the tasks we have to complete, or stressing about problems we have to solve. Often, little of our daily lives is spent with an awareness of all the present moment contains. When in this mode there maybe times when our child has asked us the same question two or three times before we snap to attention leaving the potential for the child to feel unimportant or ignored.
Realistically, I am personally not sure it is possible to spend every moment of the day living in the present. We do have to drift into thinking about things we have to do and plans we have to make or even things we need to resolve. That said, it is also easy to spend a good deal of our day on auto pilot, too buried in our thoughts to be in the now. This at the very least can make us forgetful of where we placed our keys or purse, or at worse, poor listeners, whether it be with our children, family or friends and too preoccupied to appreciate what the moment we're in requires.
As quoted in the book:
'Our children bring to our lives an abundance of special moments: their birth, their first smile, their first word, starting school. But caught up in a fast-flowing stream of thoughts we miss so many of the more everyday moments and, indeed, the potential for every moment we spend with our children to be special. Awake to the depth and texture of the present, we open ourselves to appreciate and enjoy them more.'
Parenting mindfully gives us a greater awareness of our present, the sensations in our bodies and the emotions we are experiencing. There maybe times of course when we feel we want to be anything but in the present moment when dealing with a stressful situation. But by mindfully observing our growing impatience with a grizzling child for example, we have found a way to avoid identifying with the emotion too closely. We pause to collect ourselves so that we can respond in a manner that feels wise and thoughtful.
The book also discusses acknowledging your emotions as transient visitors. For me this felt useful knowing that when at my lowest ebb, with practice, I could mindfully accept that an unpleasant emotion I may be experiencing was exactly that, a visitor that would leave and that an hour, day or even week from now I would feel differently. The book highlights that you have the power to choose your emotional responses - stressed and irritated or spacious and accepting.
It does not suggest you become emotionally detached, more emotionally aware. It also focusses on being compassionate with yourself, working on how you can learn from your emotional responses particularly when dealing with a child that has pushed you to a point that your emotions have gotten the better of you. Remind yourself that no matter how intense your current emotional state, it will pass.
Each chapter of the book is engaging and easy to read from the beginning. As well as the two chapters mentioned above it also covers; dealing with anger, worrying about our children, creating loving relationships, living with partners, finding happiness and losing our self-image, meditating and finally putting it all into practice.
With the imminent birth of my baby approaching, I am well aware of the impact this will likely have on my emotional being. I look forward to embracing once more the unconditional love that I will feel for this child but also want to be prepared for how the sleep deprivation, change in routine and learning to cope with three children will affect me emotionally.
For me this book feels like a step in the right direction. It is not a recipe for how to become a perfect mother, far from it, but instead a guide to becoming a calmer and happier mother. You do not have to become a Buddhist to appreciate this book. Instead, it takes all the most practical aspects of Buddhism and applies them to daily life. Although it is targeted at mothers, I feel it can be applied to parenthood as a whole and even if you aren't a parent, or a parent to much older children, these practices can surely be applied to dealing with all situations in life.
I will leave you with an extract from the book on 'Karma' that I connected with ultimately:
'Once your children are grown, what kind of mother will you have been? How will your children describe you? A martyr? Patient? Crabby? Demanding? Easy-going? What effect will our words and actions have had on our children? And what kind of model will we have provided? In Buddhism, it's often said that if you want an explanation for your present look at your past; if you want to know your future look at your present. We can't change our past nor dictate our future; all we can influence is the present moment, so that's where we need to invest our awareness. This is why mindfulness is so important: it affects our future and, of course, our children's.'
You can buy 'Buddhism for Mothers' at Waterstones or online through Amazon at www.amazon.co.uk.