Time is a mysterious component of raising children. There always seems to be too much of it, or not enough, depending on where you are in the child-rearing journey. When I enrolled in a mindfulness-based stress reduction course after starting to experience some mild anxiety, I had no idea how I was going to try to commit to 40-60 minutes every day for practicing mindful awareness. With a 3, 5, and 7-year-old at home, there was little time for me to take that amount of quiet time for myself. For that 8-week time period, I made a commitment, with the help of my supportive husband (thank you!), and I was able to practice for 4-5 days each week.
I will tell you that the transformation I had was astounding and I realized how valuable a regular mindfulness practice could be. However, there was NO way I was going to be able to sustain 40-60 min/day going forward. With a husband who travels for work and my littles “needing” me for just about everything, I was going to have to find another way.
This is when my mindfulness daily routine started to form. It has morphed and changed over the years, but it started with just a small manageable piece. In the beginning I had very early risers, so being up before them was tricky. I would set an alarm before I thought they would arise and find a comfortable spot on the couch with my timer. I felt if I got 10-15 minutes in, that was success!
Inevitably, I would have a little one in my lap at the end, sitting and breathing with me. This became an extremely valuable time for my son and I before everyone else awoke. He began to understand the importance of this morning time for mom and would snuggle into my lap (and stay mostly quiet), and today he embraces this practice and is interested in using it for himself (winning!).
Today, my routine has been refined and I have kids who sleep longer and can handle being away from mom for more than 10 minutes (help me if the wifi goes down!). So, here are three components of my morning routine that helps set my day up for success. Do I get to it every day? Heck no- but I have the intention. When it doesn’t happen, I know that tomorrow is another day.
1. Formal Mindful Awareness
I can find between 10 and 30 minutes for a formal sitting practice, depending on how early I wake up, each morning. Luckily, I have a husband who enjoys getting up early and can waylay any mutinous children. Sometimes I set a timer and choose an anchor (sound, sensation, or breath) for my practice, other times I use a guided mindfulness app on my phone focused on anxiety, self compassion, stress, or other topics of interest at the moment. I sit in my bedroom so I have a better chance of not being interrupted as I technically haven’t “woken up” yet, as far as my family knows.
2. Gratitude Journal
I have a journal on my bedside table that I write in every morning I practice. I focus on three things that I am grateful for in that moment and why I am grateful for them. The “why” is an important component in gratitude practice, as it helps deepen the effects of focusing on our gratefulness. Underneath this list I set an intention for the day. My intention usually focuses on something I’m struggling with or want to cultivate in my life (ie patience with my children, my tendency to interrupt people, or being fully present in a conversation).
3. Morning Stretch
This part of my routine takes literally 3-5 minutes. I do 3 sun salutations, slowly, to help ground me in body awareness. I am not an avid yoga practitioner, but find the flowing movement helpful in starting my day.
The rest of my day runs something like…
Get kids up. Make four different breakfasts. Pack lunches. Get kids off to school. Throw a load of laundry in. Walk dog. Exercise. Go to work. Pick up kids. Start homework. Make dinner. Finish homework. Read books to kids. Brush teeth. Tuck into bed. Watch one show while folding laundry. Get in bed. Read. Sleep.
Now, in the wake of COVID-19 routine upsets, this looks a bit different. I am actually finding a bit more space in some ways- but confined in others. Management of work, helping kids with distance learning, cooking, cleaning etc., takes a new approach. In the first couple of weeks I was trying to “multi-task,” checking emails while helping with math homework, or sweeping the floor while on a conference call- but at the end of the day I felt awful.
In my mind I know that multi-tasking is a myth, and for me attempting it just makes me feel like I’m not doing anything well. So, during this time of staying at home the one thing I have made a choice to do is be present with one thing at a time, as much as possible. If I am helping with homework then I’m not trying to check emails also, and if I’m on a conference call- I’m committing to being present there, nothing else.
Some days I have to break this “rule” because of scheduling difficulties and in those moments I need to let go of my expectations a bit and make a conscious choice- letting go of any “mom guilt.” This business of mindfulness is all about noticing, making conscious choices, and being compassionate.
Start small, have loose expectations, and let it go when it doesn’t go as planned. Remember to put your oxygen mask on first.
My routine may not fit into your life circumstances. But perhaps it can provide a glimmer of an idea for how you can incorporate mindfulness into your life too. Try not to think of these steps as part of a list to check off when complete. My formal sitting and gratitude practices, when done consistently, transfer into my everyday awareness and sense of well-being. I find myself better able to handle life stresses as they come at me. These stresses are not going away, but my relationship with them changes- this is a game-changer.
May the force be with all the moms!