Mindfulness for Parents – Put on your own Oxygen Mask first!

The Importance of Self-Care in Parenting

From “Roots and Wings – Childhood Needs a Revolution” by Alex Koster:

“Being a parent is one of the most important and diverse “professions” in the world. We are carers, educators, nurses, chefs, taxi drivers, entertainers, counsellors, storytellers, tear-dryers, goodnight-kissers and much more. We’re supposed to know what to do in every situation life throws at us because we’re the “grown-ups” after all! That sounds pretty exciting but also very challenging and even frightening at times, don’t you think?

Nobody handed us certificates of qualification when we first became parents. There were no diplomas, no degrees and no job interviews; we were just thrown into the cold deep water, some waters colder than others. When you add difficult contemporary conditions and phenomena to this sense of being unprepared, it is no wonder we can feel overwhelmed, scared and helpless sometimes, both for ourselves and for our children.

Children in today’s society are growing up in very different circumstances than we or our parents did. The many challenges experienced by parents, educators and by our children can push us all to our very limits. That is why I passionately believe a mindful lifestyle, with all that entails, could be an invaluable support for any family to bring more presence, peace, stability, joy and “togetherness” to our interactions, our homes and beyond.” 

Parenting is hard! Especially when we become parents first it often happens that we don’t recognise our lives and ourselves anymore. It can be very confusing and conflicting. Isn’t this what we wanted, what we dreamed of? It’s so important that we don’t sugarcoat parenting. Yes, it is also a most wonderful and rewarding experience, but being open about the real struggles and asking for help and support needs to be part of the journey.

When I teach a Mindfulness Course to parents there are two things I emphasize:
  1. Mindfulness is a life skill.
  2. Mindfulness is necessary self-care.

As described in the passage above, becoming a parent does not include any training or preparation. The lucky ones among us grew up in a stable and loving family and can pass these experiences on to their children. More often than not though, we bring our own challenges and baggage into our parenting journey and if we are honest, that’s probably most if not all of us. When we add additional stressors like a busy work life, financial pressure, lack of family support, health issues, living in uncertain times globally etc. it’s obvious that reaching a breaking point is not uncommon. 

As parents, we often feel that we have to sacrifice our own well-being in order to give our all to others, especially our children. This is a mindset that needs to change and here is why:

You have probably heard of the announcement before a flight takes off: 

“In case of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask is lowered from the panel above your head. Please put on your own mask before you attend to others.” 

It’s the perfect analogy: If we don’t take care of ourselves first, it’s impossible to be available for those who need our presence and love.

As the wonderful Eleanor Brownn put it: 

“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel!”

Mindfulness for parents is an essential form of self-care. If we want to be fully present for our children, we need to put ourselves first and take good care of our physical and mental health. Mindfulness also helps us to become aware of our own needs, emotions and deeper issues which might need to be addressed and healed. 

I learned most about mindfulness in the toughest times when I didn’t even have a minute for formal practice. When our girls were little we were in an incredibly difficult life situation without any family support. 

Before we had children I had been practising formal mindfulness regularly, and not being able to rely on this support was really hard. 

I was frustrated, angry and scared. I was impatient with myself for not being able to fit the practice into my day. 

But at some point, something clicked. I remembered the mindfulness concepts of acceptance, patience, non-judgement, self-compassion and gratitude. I started to fit in short practices while I was breastfeeding or a mindful breathing break whenever things started to get overwhelming. 

Sometimes these practices were as short as 30 seconds or a couple of minutes. The biggest change though was the ability to accept things as they were. This was not always easy but more and more I realised that mindfulness is a life skill that can support us in any situation, especially the difficult ones.

As it says in the quote above, mindfulness for parents (and anyone else for that matter) is essential self-care which will help us to fill our cups and weather the everyday storms with a little more ease. This is why I am so passionate about sharing this practice with others, especially parents. 

If you would like to stay informed about any upcoming courses or receive my occasional newsletter with helpful tips around mindfulness, nature education and ecotherapy, sign up here to join my mailing list. I promise I won’t spam you!! 😉

You can also follow me on Facebook or Instagram or read some more about mindful parenting in my multi-award-winning book “Roots and Wings – Childhood Needs a Revolution.”

Xxx Alex

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