Okay. I admit it. Oprah really has very little to do with how or why I parent with greater intention and use mindfulness practices to reduce the stress in my life and hopefully, with time, in my children’s lives. But, the inspiring speech Oprah gave to the Agnes Scott College Class of 2017 on Saturday, May 13, highlighted many aspects of mindful living that have helped me to be a more relaxed, happier mama.
Growing up in a chaotic household with a mother whose guiding philosophy was one of flying by the seat of her pants, taught me to do the same. And it all worked out okay until I had kids. That’s when allowing myself to be guided by emotion and a lack of forethought started to get the better of me, leaving me a stressed-out, overwhelmed mess of anger, frustration, and ultimately sadness because I knew I could do better and be better.
So, where do you start when your mind is a jumbled mess of tasks you need to do?
1. Start with you.
As Oprah told the young women graduating this past Saturday, you need to be “so full of yourself that your cup runs over so that you will have enough to offer others.” While she described finding a “spiritual practice,” she wasn’t limiting this practice to religion. What she means, and what I experienced in my own life, is finding something that nurtures your spirit like nothing else can. What do you love that you haven’t done since having kids? Is it dance, running, yoga, meditation, bubble baths, painting, singing, riding your unicycle, or just laughing with your girlfriends? What activity brings out an aspect of your being that you’ve lost touch with since you became a mom? Whatever it is for you, that’s what you need to do first. Reclaim that part of yourself and let it shine because it will create a joy and stability in your presence that overflows into every interaction you have with others. (And don’t say you don’t have time for yourself. I learned the hard way that you cannot sacrifice yourself and have enough left to give others.)
2. Act with intention. Always.
From the moment your feet hit the floor, you’re moving from one chore to the next. Wake the kids. Feed the kids. Pour coffee. Forget coffee. Clean up child’s mess. Catch every other word of NPR in the background. Listen to spouse out of one ear and rambling child out of the other one. Feed the pets who are whining while you try to listen to everyone else. Command child to get dressed. Remember coffee which is now cold. Nuke coffee. Pack lunches. Yell at child who is spinning in a circle while making random beatbox noises instead of getting dressed. Feel guilty for yelling. Ad nauseum.
You can do better. We all can. It just requires getting off of autopilot. Oprah says, “Decide what your intention is for every action. Why are you doing this and what outcome do you want to achieve?”
When you wake up in the morning, hit the pause button and think about how you want the morning to go. See yourself and your kids interacting calmly and with purpose. Choose your actions purposefully and with care rather than just going through the motions. If you know that all hell breaks loose when everyone comes in and starts talking at once and you get overwhelmed by the noise, remind yourself of the intention you set for calmness and try to anticipate the challenges. Feed the dog and cat or let them out before the kids come in the kitchen. Don’t turn on the radio if it is one more distraction. Give yourself five minutes for that first cup of coffee and a time of centering before you wake the kids.
When you act with intent and give thought to your desired outcome, it imbues everything you do with a sense of calm and reduces your stress. It even makes it a little better when things don’t turn out as planned because at least you know you gave it your best effort.
3. Be still and listen.
A favorite life lesson picked up from Glennon Doyle of Momastery is “Do the next right thing.” Unfortunately, we don’t always know what the next right thing is, especially when you’re dealing with something big. And with kids, it all seems big. Our first instinct is to start talking to our friends or mothers or message board acquaintances about whatever challenge we’re facing. Oprah advises against that.
Instead, she says, “When you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Be still and wait for the answer to come to you.” Now, this is a key principle for some forms of mindfulness and one of the many benefits I’ve found in meditating. But, hearing that one of the most together, most successful human beings ever uses this technique to make decisions, just reaffirmed what I have experienced already and reminded me that I need to redouble my efforts.
So, the next time you feel unsure about the best course of action, just be still, pose your question to the universe, and quietly wait for your answer. It will come and you will feel its rightness.