06/05/2014 05:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Taking Care of Mothers

Jamie Grill via Getty Images

Be still and heal.


How that insight could have helped me as a new mom... if I'd had even an inkling of the value of being still.

No one prepared me for the unrelenting demands of motherhood. The realities of a 24/7 responsibility that left no time for myself. That lonely time after the front door closed behind my husband each morning and I felt like I had to cope and should be happy about it.

I had wildly unrealistic expectations of myself as a perfect mother and was hard on myself if I didn't live up to that.

The level of exhaustion seemed to go on forever. Even though I was living a dream come true, and the overwhelming love for my daughter blew my mind, the sense that my life was somehow out of my control was quite a shock. It was a whole new world full of emotional highs and lows.

Thank goodness for mothers group (and coffee). It was a lovely safe place to find out if other people were in a similarly bewildering fog. But I needed more.

If only I had remembered it, what a help mindfulness meditation could have been! The benefits are almost too good to be true, and if I hadn't experienced them already, I might not have been so convinced by the overwhelming research on the benefits.

That's saying something because, as a psychologist, I know the persuasiveness of research evidence. It's being the mother of two delightful, exhausting children that has really convinced me of the value of mindfulness meditation in helping me to be a happier and more settled mother, and a calmer and more grounded person.

Mindfulness and "loving kindness" meditation has changed me and how I parent. I've come back to what I now know to be a rock solid way to care for myself and my family.

People often say that, like tasting an orange, you can only truly understand mindfulness through experiencing it. But here is a description I like:

Being present in mind and body, in the here and now, so you are tuned in and aware of your moment by moment experience rather than distracted or multitasking.

It also means meeting that experience with kind and gentle curiosity rather than self-criticism or judgment as either good or bad, without trying to push it away or change it - taking it 'as it is'. It can be something you sit still and focus on for a few minutes at a time or a way to approach your everyday tasks. Preferably both.

Be still and heal. It's like I have rediscovered my own calm, strong, best self again. Not every moment of every day, but often enough that I know I can find my way back again and again.

So can you imagine how thrilled I was to read in The Huffington Post about an exhibition of Thich Nhat Hahn's calligraphy. I'm a long way from New York, but when I read that post, I wanted to be there. So I did the next best thing. I followed the link to the gallery website and quickly found a calligraphy that spoke to me. "Be still and heal" is now on my office wall in Melbourne, Australia.

As women, and mothers, many of us have a tendency to help others, but we're not always as good at caring for ourselves. Living mindfully is the best thing we can do to take care of our health and happiness, and, as sociologist and author Christine Carter says, one of the biggest predictors of our children's wellbeing is how happy we are as mothers. Investing in our own wellbeing is the best gift we can give our children.

Mindfulness is not another set of instructions on how to be a perfect mother. Far from it. It's a profoundly reassuring and soothing investment in your own health and wellbeing which opens the possibility of:

  • Greater fulfillment in mothering.
  • Inner strength and comfort in difficult times.
  • Greater connection to your child and yourself in good times and bad.
  • An ability to stay balanced and have greater flexibility in how you respond and how quickly you recover from the frustration and unpredictability of mothering.
  • Better sleep and lower stress.
  • Less worry, and freedom from anxiety about imperfection.
  • Confidence in your ability to set nurturing limits.

Wherever you are in your motherhood journey, the simple and research based practices of mindfulness and self kindness can help you recharge, find greater calm, strength and joy - and get better sleep.

More than any other skill, mindfulness gave me more confidence in my own ability to care for my children. No-one knows them better than I do, and instead of following a list of prescribed steps, I do my best to tune in to what's actually going on in the situation for me and my child. I stay in the present, instead of worrying about what it means for their future. Because right here and now is where and when they need me.