Meditation for Parents: an easy how-to
Meditation for parents is a bit of a paradox: we know it’s important and it can be difficult to accomplish.
When my son was born, I knew I’d be giving up a lot of my old rituals and routines. I was ready, yes, but I knew that it would be a big adjustment. Before I had a baby, I would meditate for at least 30 minutes a day. I’ve been practicing Buddhist meditation for nearly twenty years now, and I now teach meditation to students from all over the world. I’ve even attended multiple-night silent meditation retreats.
(My favorite retreat center is Spirit Rock.)
When I became a mom, I knew that meditation for parents was proven to create more joy and less stress in the parenting journey. It helps us stay connected to the moment and to our kids.
But when I had a new baby, unsurprisingly, I didn’t have much time to sit and be still. He seemingly always needed me for something, and almost four years later, that part hasn’t changed much. I now find pockets of time to do my meditation practice. But in the meantime, I’ve developed a practice that is just as effective.
Instead of letting my meditation practice languish on my (unused) meditation cushion, I’ve brought mindfulness into my daily life. I’m not going to pretend that we’re not all busy—especially those of us who are at home with our kids in the middle of the pandemic. But meditation for parents has huge benefits for our spiritual, mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Pick a time + a chore.
Choose one or two times that you’ll practice. The first step is consistency. The next step is to pick an everyday task to ground your practice. Meditaiton for parents isn’t always going to look like sitting serenely on a cushion with no kids running around.
Instead, anchor your practice time to something you do regularly, like a household chore or a mealtime. By connecting this practice to something you already do, you don’t need to create more time. You can simply incorporate it into what’s already happening.
My “meditation chore” is folding laundry. I also like to do the practice while I’m chopping vegetables for dinner. Your “meditation chore” might be washing dishes, vacuuming, or walking to get the mail. It might be smaller, like locking the front door. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s something you do semi-consistently.
Focus on the little things.
I focus on what I see while I fold the laundry. I notice the texture and weight of the clothing in my hands. When I’m chopping vegetables, I am mindful of the sound of the knife hitting the cutting board. I notice the soles of my feet, and how they connect to the floor.
By being mindful of the little things, we’re bringing our attention deeply into the moment, and capturing nuance and detail that we might otherwise miss.
Bring your attention to the tiny details and allow yourself to notice as much as you can. Use all of your senses to bring awareness to the task in front of you. Notice what is right in front of you with as much specificity as possible. Take in the sounds, smells, colors, texture, temperature—whatever you are experiencing.
Once you’ve established a practice of noticing what’s around you, bring your awareness to your breath. Observe the natural pattern of your breath without trying to change it. Simply watch it as it comes and goes. You might connect the inhale and exhale with your movements (if you’re folding or chopping like I am).
You can bring the same level of detail to watching your breath that you did to your surroundings. The sound of the inhale and exhale. The sensation of the breath in the nostrils. The smells you experience and the temperature of the air. If your mind wanders, simply and gently bring your attention back to the breath. Let the breath relax your body without forcing anything.
Let thoughts flow across your awareness.
Your mind may start to race or think about things other than your breath (and the task at hand, of course!). The point of meditation is not to stop your thoughts completely. The aim, instead, is to keep bringing your attention back to the present moment, with compassion (and without judgment).
If you start having thoughts, simply remind yourself: back to the breath. And repeat this as many times as you need to while you’re practicing. Like taking a child’s hand and guiding them gently back to the task at hand, you are guiding yourself back to the present moment. Let your thoughts pass through your awareness like clouds, not trying to grab onto any, but rather letting them float away.
Design a beginning and ending.
Part of the beauty of this practice is that you can do it at any time and anywhere, for as much or as little time as you have. It’s designed to be flexible, so that even if you feel like you don’t have the time to sit, you can still practice meditation.
That being said, one of the things that creates a sense of ritual and formality to a meditation practice is having a designated beginning and ending. So consider how you might incorporate that. It might be closing your eyes and taking one deep, full breath. You might choose to set an intention for your practice time—or dedicate any benefits of your practice to someone you love.
The point of all of this is to make it your own. You can practice meditation anywhere, even if you can’t tear yourself away from your life and your kids to make it happen (right now). Those days will come again, but in the meantime, mindfulness and meditation for parents is possible.