by Jessica Evsen
Becoming a parent is a transformational period in life for most people, and unfortunately, there still is a big taboo around openly discussing the huge challenges that come along with it.
This is certainly true for young mothers, a group that is very close to my heart as I know their suffering inside out, but also for fathers.
“We are often conditioned to believe that we can only get better by beating ourselves up.”
The way a relationship or marriage evolves after the birth of a child and the resulting identity shift can also put a huge strain on young fathers, and they typically have even few support networks to turn to.
Living in a different country and not having close family around can make building a family even more challenging.
How can mindfulness help?
Mindfulness can first of all help us recognise the difficulties we are facing without judging ourselves for experiencing them. This non-judgmental attitude is one of the core values of mindfulness practice. For many of us, this seems very counterintuitive at the beginning, because we are often conditioned to believe that we can only get better by beating ourselves up.
As soon as we can move out of this vicious circle of beating ourselves up for the emotions we feel, we can also start recognising habitual patterns of behaviour that are connected to these judgments.
“Being compassionate towards ourselves … can radically change the dynamics in our family life by breaking cycles of blaming, shame and guilt.”
Mindfulness turns this around and allows us to see that this feeling of unworthiness, of not being good enough – as a parent, spouse, colleague or whatever it might be – is something that every human being experiences to some extent, but that we don’t have to believe these judgments and be controlled by them.
These are often ‘automatic’ coping strategies that are actually making the situation worse instead of helping us (overeating, substance abuse, compulsive behaviours, distractions like social media or TV…).
“Even if just one person in a family starts practicing mindfulness, it can bring a whole new momentum to situations that seemed stuck.”
After becoming aware of these unhelpful coping strategies (and again not judging ourselves for having relied on them), a freedom to make different choices can arise.
And as parents, we might become aware that some of our ‘shoulds’ – e.g. I should cook a warm dinner every evening, although I am exhausted – are not actually our own choices, but are conditioned behaviours that come from our own parents or from society.
Insight and compassion
Seeing these patterns clearly represents the so-called first wing of mindfulness, often referred to as insight. The second wing is compassion, meaning that we can learn to bring a kindness to our experience of the present moment, no matter what it is.
Being compassionate towards ourselves after, for example, yelling at our kids in a stressful situation, is not an easy thing to do. But it can radically change the dynamics in our family life by breaking cycles of blaming, shame and guilt.
Even if just one person in a family starts practicing mindfulness, it can bring a whole new momentum to situations that seemed stuck.
And of course, children are merciless mirrors of ourselves and our behaviours, so when we are more compassionate with ourselves, it will inevitably have an effect on them too.
So how can you become more mindful?
There are many resources available on the internet that can help us learn to be more mindful, e.g. in the form of apps or online training. If mindfulness is new to you, a guided meditation like this one for parents and carers can be useful after a difficult situation – and with more practice you can start to apply these techniques during difficult moments: