By Megan Sloan
(Estimated reading time: 8 min)
When I became a new parent, I had almost 20 years of yoga under my belt and about 5 years of a regular mindfulness practice of sitting almost every day. After sleepless nights and early wake-ups, I found my daily meditation practice of sitting quietly first thing in the morning needed to go into retirement for the first few years of my daughter’s life. It felt hard to let this go, but I also started to realize how my mindfulness practice had helped prepare me for parenting in many other ways.
Through the first few years of my daughter’s life, routines became a regular thing for us. She, like so many kids, is someone who thrives on regularity in many ways. Together, my wife and I would create certain routines for bedtime, bath time and mealtimes, and my daughter and I would often co-create routines as part of our days together. What I started to notice is that there were many parallels between building routines with my 2-year-old and the start of mindfulness practice so many years before.
After some trial and error in our routine building, here are 5 take-aways from my mindfulness practice that helped me set routines with my child, and may help you too:
Listen to Your Intuition
One of the things that can happen when you begin a mindfulness practice is the overwhelm of trying to find a practice that works well for you. Finding a routine can be the exact same way. If you do a quick search online for a particular routine, for a particular age, you’ll still find countless different people providing wildly conflicting advice as to what works the best.
Here’s the secret though, there’s not just one right answer, it’s not one-size-fits-all.
When I began a meditation practice, I would start with sitting quietly, allotting myself a certain amount of time, waiting for my mind to empty. After several weeks, I was beyond frustrated. I thought I was doing it “the right way” and therefore it should work. What I was doing was not listening to my intuition. After several weeks of this discomfort, I explored other options and found sitting and repeating a phrase to myself (doing mantra) to be hugely beneficial to my mindfulness practice. After a year with this method, I found it hard to focus and stay present in my practice. I listened to my intuition this time and started to seek out other techniques that would help me stay present and connected to my meditation practice.
Finding a routine for your child will be similar, you may need to try several different things in order to find a routine that works well with who your kid is. It’s important to be flexible about changing up the routine you’ve developed, if you receive feedback it’s not working. Take the time to pause and ask yourself “Is this working for my child or am I trying to make something work that doesn’t work for them?”. You may find that intuition will guide you with answers and keep listening because your child’s intuition can guide you too.
And keep in mind, children will share their intuition with you in many non-verbal ways too. Before my daughter was talking, I would look for feedback of her appearing calm, happy, rested or at ease with whatever new routine we had brought in. If I noticed over the course of about a week that she fought it, fussed, or was having trouble adjusting to the routine, we would tweak it to make it work better for her.
Make Yourself Comfortable
I found very early on that one of the keys to a sustainable meditation practice was to find a comfortable seat. For some people that means sitting cross-legged, for others it might be sitting in a chair. For me, I found it was a combination of kneeling with the support of blocks and blankets. The thing is, if you’re meditating but your legs are falling asleep, or your hip hurts, or your knees ache, you’re not doing the practice, you’ll be focusing on what’s happening in your body. So, getting comfortable is number one before you’re going to get anywhere lasting with your practice.
The same is true for a routine. If you’ve chosen a routine that is super complicated, or very rigid and it works for your child, but you’re suffering, then it’s not working. It’s important to have a balance, to create a routine that also works for you and feels comfortable to you. This doesn’t mean you give up at the first sign of difficulty, and it does means you work the routine so that it also works for you. The whole point of a routine is to simplify things. Find ways within a routine to bring some more ease or let go of a little rigidity and see what happens. The idea of one-size-fits-all doesn’t just apply to your little one, but also to you and since you’re the one enforcing the routine, it has to be something that you’re willing to commit to, so make it easy!
One of the ways we can better navigate when things are difficult — and they will be at some point — is to breathe. Plain and simple, the breath can help us negotiate all manner of things from keeping our mind quiet in meditation to navigating the meltdown of a three-year-old when we set boundaries.
Breath is a tool because it can help relax our nervous system and give us somewhere to focus our busy mind, and breath is also a tool that guides us to pause in the moment and assess if what we’re doing is the right thing. As you start to hone your intuition and honor what is working for you and your child, take deep breaths while you negotiate the newness of setting and holding routines together. Remember to breathe and invite your children to do it with you. It can help you navigate the changes of the new routine, and give you a moment to reflect and reset, together.
Non-attachment is one of those words that is part of mindfulness practice that gets flung around by nearly everyone. It’s a confusing term and took me a while to understand its meaning. After years of practice and study with different teachers, what I came to understand is that non-attachment isn’t about “not caring,” but rather caring very deeply without getting bogged down in all the B.S. It’s about not getting stuck on something looking a certain way or things needing to be a certain way. Instead, it is about finding peace in all the nuttiness — and wow, if that isn’t a personal goal for me as a parent, I don’t know what is!
As we approach setting routines with our kids, the practice of non-attachment is our ally. We might have a vision of what a particular routine looks like and how perfect it will be, and some days we might hit that as a family, and on many days, we won’t. Let go of the idea of perfection and be okay when things don’t go exactly as they were planned or intended. Sometimes, things being imperfect might be perfect for that moment.
Practice Makes Perfect
If there is one thing you will find across the board in all approaches to mindfulness practice, it is the idea of practice. Teachers will tell you over and over that it is better to commit to doing something for 5 minutes every day than to do it only 2 hours once a week. It’s the repetition that is important in building our skill, strength, and resolve in mindfulness practice. We keep the practice going on the hard days, as well as the easy days, and over time we will find that the practice helps us navigate the hard days and appreciate the easy days.
The thing about routines is they’re exactly the same; we have to build our children’s muscle memory of what the routine looks and feels like, over and over, day in and day out. The more we can offer them the routine over and over, the more they settle into the comfort and safety that routines can provide. We continue to do it on the hard days and on the easy days and through our practice of doing it over and over again we can start to find some ease.
We may realize over time that something about the routine needs to shift or change, and ultimately, we will realize that whatever routine we choose, if we take the time to ensure it works for our family, it will bear the fruit of bringing us ease from time to time. And just like a mindfulness practice, that’s all we can really ask for.
Megan Sloan is a yoga teacher and mama living in the Seattle area. She has been teaching prenatal and postnatal yoga for more than 10 years and is a leading faculty member at the 8 Limbs Yoga Centers’ Pre/Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training in Seattle, Washington. She is also the creator and founder of the website Be Strong Mama, and author of the book Yoga for the Pregnant & Postpartum Core. Her goal is to provide education and resources to help create space that is safe and welcoming for new parents and parents-to-be, to explore their ever-changing bodies and find support for the unique experiences that are part of all the stages of becoming a mother. Be Strong Mama also features online prenatal and postnatal yoga video subscriptions to provide support and strength to the changing body.