by guest writer Alison Qualter-Berna
The mother of a 6-month-old baby rushes to the kitchen as soon as her daughter falls asleep so she can mash organic avocado into the BPA free glass bowl she just bought. You know the kind; the one promising to seal in nutrients. As her breastmilk seems to be dwindling with each passing day, making her feel insecure and insufficient, she feels she has to provide supplemental nutrition where she can. She stops briefly to read 4 lines of an article about what she’s “supposed” to do when, alas, naptime is over and it’s back to parenthood. As she picks up her bundle of magic, she realizes she’s yet to brush her teeth.
The father of a 6-year-old child rushes home from the office to do “homework” with his first grader wondering if all little boys swing from the headboard while they are reading. The human brain can absorb vocabulary while upside down, can’t it? Is he the only one who doesn’t read chapter books yet? Is the dad the only father trying to squeeze the love of an entire afternoon into a few precious, tired hours before bed?
The mother of a 16-year-old teenager watches her daughter walk out of the house to go to a birthday party wearing a half shirt. Is it okay or if she suggests something with more coverage or does it means she’s sexualizing what is simply a fashion trend? She swallows her inner disapproval with a smile that says ‘I love you no matter what,’ only to receive a comment about how much homework is on deck for the next day…that of course after the ride to soccer and then the drive to lacrosse in another state. Her overscheduled brain will still figure out how her daughter will fit piano and cello practice in before the big recital. “Oh, and I forgot…Mom, can you set your alarm for 6am? I need you to quiz me in science”
Every phase of parenthood is both blissfully fulfilling and (if you’re all in) utterly exhausting. You love and you love, and you give and you give, but some days you wonder where did I go? Is there a pause button I can press in the struggle to find myself?
Meditation carries the answers to so many issues facing parents and yet many of us are too busy to slow down, let alone sit in silence for 10 or 15 minutes. There are lots of ways to get started and workshops to explore but the simplest way is right in your back pocket on your smartphone. My absolutely favorite app is called Headspace. Headspace is ideal for new meditators or for busy parents because it’s an app that makes it all accessible. You don’t have to sit cross-legged. You don’t have to practice yoga. You don’t have to be versed in Buddhist philosophy. You just have to commit to taking 10 minutes for yourself, every single day.
Headspace’s incredibly varied theme packs range from managing anxiety or stress, to finding productivity or happiness. Whether you are looking to be more productive in your days or heal childhood wounds, meditation has a (different) answer for each one of us. I have many friends who seem to crave meditation but ask me how I can possibly fit it into my hour-to-hour, frenetic work days. I invite them to simply try Andy’s soothing and knowledgeable voice on Headspace for just 10 minutes a day for 10 days and then check back with me. Every single time I hear about the positive change it makes…and in such a short window of time.
Meditation offers a safe space for each of us to start a conversation with ourselves, however afraid we might be to have it. What parent doesn’t long for the time to explore the musings in the mind and simply observe them, without judgement? Meditation can be exactly that “pause button” we crave as busy parents.
In that pause, we can learn many lessons that support not only our parenting journey but all of our relationships.
- Meditation teaches us about letting go. Meditation helps us internalize letting go which may be the most difficult task of a loving parent: letting your infant sleep on their own, letting your toddler explore their boundaries, letting your young child lose or fail, letting your teenager individuate, letting your young adult enter the great big world. Meditation is a practice that supports our efforts to relinquish control and simply celebrate the various roads our children will travel.
- Meditation teaches us to be comfortable in uncertainty. After 12 years of working with families I have not met a parent who isn’t racked with uncertainty. How do I potty train my strong-willed child? How come my kid won’t eat anything that’s green? Can I get my child into the best preschool? What should I do if my child doesn’t make the soccer team? What should I say when my teenager admits she’s been drinking? What do I do if my child is moving in a direction I didn’t expect? We long for answers but the truth is that life simply unfolds. Meditation teaches us to sit with the uncertainty until we get to the moment when we need to act. And when we do, we respond in a calmer and more centered way.
- Meditation teaches us to be fully present. In these incredible tech-heavy times, I see too many parents on their phones while their child is talking to them, and too many kids with their face in their devices when they should be having face to face conversations. Meditation encourages us to step out of what we are doing and get into the present moment. There is no guilt in being swallowed by your inbox (I am) or working all day only to miss your child’s dinner and bath. But in those 30 rushed minutes before bed, meditation teaches us how to make those fleeting minutes the most present time you can spend with your child. I always tell parents it’s the quality of time you spend with your child, not the quantity. Meditation supports that line of thinking and the benefits are endless.
- Meditation teaches us to be more empathetic and really see through the lens of our child. My babies are now teenagers and I have a deep well of empathy for their experiences. But when I’m stretched thin or overly exhausted, I can easily forget that my way isn’t the only way. Meditation teaches us to be more sensitive to their needs, even if they aren’t meeting ours. The best part of this gift is its translation into every other relationship in life.
- Meditation actually makes us less tired and more patient. If I could capture the number one thing parents have told me over the last decade at apple seeds, it very often comes back to, “I need more sleep.” Babies keep us up all night because they need us and teenagers keep us up all night because they don’t need us. It seems counterintuitive but taking just 10 or 20 minutes out of your day to meditate actually adds to how much you get done in that day. Your level of patience goes up and you complete more tasks in a less frenetic way. Meditation can improve your sleep which makes us less agitated. I used to pop a pill to fall back to sleep and now I just reach for Headspace. Headspace is the healthiest (and cheapest) cure for insomnia on the market.
- Meditation is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children. We spend so much time and money on our kids and I often wonder if they greatest gift we could ever give to them is actually free. In this crazy world, as more and more screens dominate our children’s minds, teaching them to meditate and be present or mindful is a gift they will carry throughout their lives. Not many other things we give our kids can compare. Meditation can teach a child to step out of their mind and observe their thoughts, helping them manage natural anxieties, increase their level of empathy, and help them navigate the throes of life.
Someone once told me that I should take note of how I feel immediately after doing something. If it doesn’t feel positive, then I should stop. If it does, then I should seek more. I keep seeking meditation because it always shows up. It’s like a daily morning date with my mind, and a safe space to explore questions where I’m still longing for answers. It’s a way for me to find separation from issues that can overtake me and allow new ideas to flow in. It’s a way to for me to start my day more centered and grounded, ready to parent with calmer energy, and ready to walk into my office and face anything that comes.
Perhaps most importantly, meditation is way for me to let go of things I hold on to and internalize the deep appreciation for every single ounce of what I’ve got. What busy parent doesn’t need that reminder?
Editor’s note: We also love Insight Timer (especially Yoga Nidra for Sleep with Jennifer Piercy) and Buddhify, created by our friend Rohan Gunatillake.
About Alison Qualter-Berna: Alison lives in NYC with her husband and three children. She spent five years in production at NBC News and six years at UNICEF where she created and managed a global program in Sports for Development. After her twin girls were born, she created apple seeds, an all-in-one play space for children 0-5 years, with three NYC locations and 20 songs for seeds music franchises. Alison is obsessed with yoga and endurance challenges. With her friends, she formed the nonprofit Team See Possibilities, making history three times.
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Read more about finding headspace and heartspace in ‘Freedom Seeker: Live more. Worry less. Do what you love.” by DWYL Founder Beth Kempton: