What is mindful parenting?
Before I had my son Yuki, I hadn’t given much thought to the type of parent I wanted to be. I came from a fairly typical meat-and-three-veg style Aussie family and grew up in the country where “thinking outside the box” meant sometimes having Chinese takeaway on Friday night, instead of pizza. CRAZY. Needless to say, intentional parenting wasn’t really a “thing” in 1980s blue collar Aussie life.
But as my belly grew, so did my awareness. Whether it was the Instagram algorithm Gods, or my rapidly expanding group of Internet mamas-to-be, the parenting messaging came in thick, fast, and overwhelmingly. I had to take many steps back, often, and really needed to sit with myself and my feelings to work out what felt ‘right’... knowing full well that it could – and probably would – change when I had a real life human to look after.
But what I knew then as a fact - and remains so even now - is that everyone parents in a different way. There is no “right” way to do things, because ultimately each day will present you with a new set of challenges, a new perspective and constant introspection into why you do things the way you do. And that’s even before you bring your partner and their upbringing and parenting bias(es) into it. For me, as someone who loves a deep dive into my own psyche, I’m constantly reassessing what I do, and my innate responses to the things that come up: “Do I do this because that’s the way I was brought up or because I actually believe it/want it for my child now?”
In amongst all this, I started to read about conscious and respectful parenting. And something just clicked. It felt right and it felt natural, despite not being brought up with this kind of mindset at all. It came as no surprise to me that then, to find out that one of our original Wayward Folk, herbalist, nutritionist, yoga teacher and doula, Anna Maria Boelskov, practices mindful parenting with her own three daughters. Because, this is the woman that has saved my gut, coached me through my pregnancy freakouts of “what the hell should I be taking/ doing/ eating” and also put me onto She Births® so I could have some idea how to, you know, actually birth a baby. We sat down with Anna Maria to discuss mindful parenting and how she makes it work in her own (incredibly busy) life.
What exactly is mindful parenting?
“To me, it means that we pay careful attention to who we are, and who we become as parents, and who we are for our children as we guide them into life. I think conscious parenting means that we are not just caught in the task or the everyday race of ‘I just got to do this, got to manage them, got to tell them what to do’. Instead, it’s much more about connection and about guiding them rather than raising them. So it's a completely different vibe of parenting. When you're conscious parenting you're constantly thinking: ‘how can I grow so that I can grow with my child?’”
How do you actually practice mindful parenting in an everyday, practical sense?
Mum’s are busy. I know this for a fact. And with the never-ending scroll of things to remember, how can you be mindful when your mind is literally, FULL?
“Conscious parenting requires a lot of consciousness. You constantly have to tap into yourself and your self awareness. For example all children throw tantrums… and that’s because they can't express their feelings so what they're trying to say all boils up in their heads but they can't express themselves. This has often happened to me when I'm rushing out the door to pick up my eldest from school, and my three-year-old has a major meltdown because she doesn't want to go. Instead of just taking her by the arm and shoving her in the car, the idea is that we preempt it and explain to them what’s happening in a way they can understand. We're adults, we know that their brains are still evolving… they need to slowly digest the information they get. Knowing that, I would say maybe 20 minutes before, ‘Hey, we have to go soon’. Then again 10 minutes later, ‘We're going in about five minutes, honey, what would you like to bring?’ to kind of guide them along.”
How do you deal with tantrums?
Of course, this is nice in theory, but what do you do when it doesn’t work and you’re faced with a toddler cracking it in front of the Coco Pops in Coles during peak hour?
“You have to meet them at their level,” says Anna Maria, “standing there as an adult, dictating to them, saying, ‘stop that, get on with it, we have to get going’... they won’t understand that - they cannot control their feelings like we can. Instead, try bending down and helping them express their feelings by saying something like ‘Wow, you really wanted that ice cream, I can understand that. Ice cream is yummy, but I tell you what, when we get home I'll cut you up some watermelon and your favorite passion fruit, and maybe I'll carry you out of here instead.’ Giving them another solution helps, but you have to verbalize their feelings first because they have to feel heard and respected. If you just grab them and drag them, it’s very disrespectful. Conscious parenting requires you to take a breath and honestly, often you have to count to 10 because sometimes you just want to say ‘Argh, I have to hurry, you know, I want to get out of here!”
How do you stay conscious when you’re under pressure?
Whether or not conscious parenting is for you, one thing is for sure: it’s challenging to do. Most of us struggle to live mindfully in our day to day lives, let alone with sleep deprivation and a tiny human attached to your body. But, for Anna Maria, her experience of “tapping out” of that consciousness was worse than the effort of tapping in.
“When I don't tap into the consciousness of it, dragging my child out of a supermarket or in the car, whatever the situation is - it feels awful. I regret it every time. So instead I choose to take an extra couple of minutes and just get down on my knees, chat and hug her, or at least express her feelings with her. For me, offering them alternative solutions works best for me. That way they feel heard, and they feel respected, and I find they give you such positive feedback when you do that as you’ve allowed them to be part of the decision.”
“I think to not do conscious parenting is also hard because you end up constantly breaking your child's boundaries and breaking into their world by dragging them and telling them off, or yelling even, or whatever it might be.” And that’s the thing, no parent actually enjoys yelling at their child and I know we all feel guilty for doing so. So, although we might all feel too busy to take those moments, not taking them has its own downsides too.