After watching my 1-year-old daughter navigate emotional highs and lows these last few months, I had an epiphany.
"There's a guru living in our house!" I told my husband.
"Yeah, one whose diapers we have to change," he grumbled.
To be fair, there’s a lot about parenting that does not inspire mindfulness — take any typical morning, rushing around leaving a lunch, a cellphone or a wallet on the kitchen table as we scramble out the door.
But when we're paying attention, we can see that our babies have a lot to teach us about mindfulness. Here are a few techniques I plan to steal from the drool monster in my house.
Pay attention to sensory experience
I’m lucky to have a baby who loves baths. She loves the whole thing: watching the water fill her little tub, splashing around, even trying to drink it. Watching her notice the sensations of the world around her gives me a new appreciation for my own world, including sensory experiences I might otherwise take for granted. As we teach our babies about the world and bring them to new places — the zoo, the ocean, even the grocery store — we gain the opportunity to reconnect with our senses and be more present in our lives. They can put us back in touch with the kind of wonder that comes from living playfully in the present.
Live in the present
That’s not to say living in the present is easy, but watching our babies’ intense focus on what is happening right now, in the present moment, is a mindfulness practice that’s especially crucial for parents. Take a moment to notice the way your baby looks at your face or watches you move throughout the house. She’s not projecting your past failures onto you, nor is she wondering whether you’re going to get that promotion at work. She’s intently focused on what you are doing now. At home, I try to reflect this back to my baby, not to think ahead to the next thing I’m doing once she goes down for her nap, but to really attend to what’s happening in this moment. And because babies are ever-changing, they offer a good reminder for the importance of mindfulness, embodying as they do the adage, “The days are long, but the years are short.”
Attend to but don't hang onto extreme emotions
And sometimes the moments of a particular day aren’t great. What my baby taught me recently, though, is that it’s fine to acknowledge that things can be kind of crap once in awhile, to feel the emotions that come up. We had an amazing example of this recently when traveling for the holidays. We’d already taken one flight that had been delayed, boarded the next plane, deplaned due to weather, waited for announcements and then learned that our flight had been canceled, stranding us halfway across the country. I’d been trying to put on a brave and patient face; the babe, not yet versed in the vicissitudes of holiday travel, was not. It was 10 p.m., and she fully melted down, going red-faced with the full-body howl only infants can perform. "Girl," I thought, looking at her, "Me too, me too." But then, after she’d moved from full-on scream to rhythmic sobbing, something magical happened. The creature known in our house as a "dog-dog" walked by the baggage claim. At the sight of our fellow traveler’s comfort animal, the baby shrieked in delight — the world was great again! In her extremes of joy and sorrow, the baby reminds me that it’s OK to have strong feelings, but that it’s equally OK to let them go once the moment passes.
Celebrate what is
Being mindful includes attending to the small wins that happen every day. Recently, my little one learned to clap. She now claps for herself all the dang time. Did she share a half-masticated piece of a waffle with her dad? Applause! Pull a ring off her stacking toy? Applause! Yank off her socks? Applause! Grown-ups could learn a lot from this. We should acknowledge what’s going well and stop diminishing ourselves. And for moms, who are prone to feeling guilty or not quite good enough, this is an especially important lesson. Let’s not blow right by a job well done or turn down a compliment. Parenting is hard enough. Let's take the time to give ourselves a little light applause when we do something right. You got this, Baby.