Becoming a new parent can be beautiful and overwhelming all at the same time, and as parents are figuring out all that comes along with caring for a new life, it’s easy for them to lose sight of their own needs. Learning how to nurture your own mental health and wellbeing is as essential as learning how to nurture your baby, and by building a practice of mindfulness into your parenting, you can begin to nurture yourself too.
A common misconception about mindfulness is that it requires extensive time for meditation or Zen-like focus and concentration, which to a new parent who struggling to sleep or find the time for a full meal and a shower, can seem like a daunting and unrealistic endeavor. Fortunately, practicing mindfulness doesn’t require anything more than what you’re already doing: all it calls for are intentional thoughts and actions.
Think of mindfulness as an invitation to slow down and to be more aware of what’s happening in the present moment. As a new parent, it’s common to have a mind full of hopes, fears, uncertainty about what’s to come; and it can be easy to get swept away by these thoughts. Something to keep in mind is that these are just thoughts, not anything that is real or actually happening; all that is real and known is the present. When we can ground ourselves in the present, we can decrease our levels of stress and anxiety, and experience more joy.
Mindfulness is a non-judgmental practice, so be gentle with yourself and try to release yourself from the burden of having to “get it right.” If you’re making an intentional choice to bring your attention to the present moment, you’re practicing mindfulness. If the things on your mind are what’s happening in front of you, you’re practicing mindfulness. If you have to bring your attention back to the present moment over and over and over again because your mind continues to wander to the past or the future, you’re practicing mindfulness.
Bringing awareness to our breath and available senses can be grounding, and an effective way of staying present.
Try to practice mindful breathing by taking slow and deliberate breaths, or tune in to the rhythm of your baby’s breathing. Try to take a mindful walk with your baby and be consciously aware of the things that you see, the sounds that you hear, or what you smell. How does the breeze, or cold, or heat feel on your skin? How does the grass or concrete feel under your feet? Look at your baby and notice all that makes them the unique being that they are; smell their head or their breath, touch their skin or hair, listen to the sounds that they make, or experience what it feels like in your mouth when you lovingly nibble on their fingers and toes.
You can weave mindfulness into any part of the day. During feedings, pay attention to your breathing and your baby’s breathing. Listen to the sounds that they make as they swallow, or look into their eyes; hold their hand and feel their skin on your own. Use bath time as an opportunity to do more than just get your baby clean—create an experience where you and baby get to tap into your senses together; what are you each able to see, hear, feel, smell, or taste? Tune in to the things that catch your baby’s attention— what are they curious about? What are they drawn to? What delights them? Mindfulness can allow parents to turn ordinary moments into rich and connective experiences.
The benefits of practicing mindfulness shine in some of the toughest moments, too. When we’re overwhelmed or faced with a challenging situation, we can pause, take a few deep breaths, get grounded in our senses, and say something compassionate to ourselves before we act. Being mindful can help us to respond intentionally—instead of react—to tough moments.
Parenting is a journey, and practicing mindfulness is one way that you can care for your overall wellbeing and help yourself to be more prepared for all of the twists and turns that come along the way.
Michelle Harris, LCSW, MA is the Founder and CEO of Parenting Pathfinders, a mama of two, and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 15 years of experience working with children and families. Michelle is also the Director of Elementary School Social Work at an intentionally diverse K-8th grade school in Brooklyn, NY. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Cognitive Science from Georgetown University, Michelle moved to Brooklyn, NY where she joined a team facilitating therapeutic playgroups for children; these groups focused on fostering children’s social and emotional development as well as parental attachment. Michelle subsequently received her Masters in Social Work from New York University and a Masters in Child Development from Sarah Lawrence College. Since beginning her social work career, Michelle has worked with parents, caregivers, and children in a variety of settings, including schools, homes, and outpatient mental health clinics. Whether she’s offering support to individuals or families, an appreciation of each person’s unique qualities and strengths is the bedrock of her work. Michelle offers online counseling, coaching, and workshops for parents and caregivers—you can contact Michelle and learn more about her services at ParentingPathfinders.com