The One Tool I Recommend To Anyone Who Has Anxiety About Becoming A Parent

Photo: Saptak Ganguly

I signed up for a meditation course because I had insomnia and a friend told me how much meditating had helped her sleeping patterns. Meditation did help me sleep better, but to my surprise, it also helped me enormously in many other aspects of my life. A year after taking the course, I became pregnant with my first child. I didn’t realize it at the time, but learning mindfulness and meditation was one of the best things I could have done in preparation for becoming a parent. Here are some of the worthy lessons that got me ready for motherhood:

1. I learned to surrender to the moment.

From labor to breastfeeding to the toddler years and beyond, parenthood contains moments that are challenging, painful, and distressing. Resisting those moments can compound the pain, whereas surrendering to what is can be powerful. When my baby became sick at two weeks and needed an operation, rather than resisting or becoming depressed—before having kids I lived with long-term depression and worried it might return when I became a mother—I took his surgery and recovery moment by moment. It wasn’t the best time of my life, but I was able to not get caught in a negative thought spiral, and I could be fully there for my vulnerable son when he needed me the most.

2. I learned to focus on the present.

Because of my history with depression, I feared the postpartum days would be rough on me—but I was lucky. After his surgery, I brought my baby home and he started to recover. I let myself focus on being with him, caring for him, and nursing him back to health. I think many parents do this intuitively, but I’m not sure I would have had the tools to allow myself to be with him with no distractions had it not been for meditation. Feeding my baby in the quiet, with nothing to take my attention away from him, produced the most blissful feeling I’d ever experienced. It was beautiful.

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3. I learned to let go of comparisons.

As my son grew older and then a second baby came along, I found myself comparing my kids with other children. I had thoughts like, "Why can’t they behave like the other children? Why aren’t they more social? Why do other kids get their shoes on when they’re asked and mine don’t?" Making comparisons like these are always a losing proposition, however, and mindfulness helped me recognize the negative nature of those thoughts. My kids might not be speedy when it comes to shoes, but they’re awesome in so many other ways.

4. I learned to let go of distractions.

What my kids crave most is my attention. That doesn’t mean I have to constantly entertain them, but it does mean that when we’re together, I try to be present without the distractions of work, social media, and anything else that takes my focus away. I don’t always succeed, and I find this balance more challenging as they get older. But when I can make the commitment to just being with them, we’re all happier.

5. I learned to accept flaws in others.

When my children are feeling at their worst, they often behave in the most "unlovable" ways. They whine, they’re demanding, and they try to hurt my feelings. I’m not a perfect parent, and sometimes I react to their bad behavior. I have yelled, berated, and said things I regret. But other times I have the presence of mind to not react. Instead, I can recognize that these are times when they need my love and acceptance the most. This isn’t about letting kids get away with anything—because sometimes that love comes with patient discipline —but when I manage to not react to their bad behavior, I’m letting them know they are unconditionally loved and that they don’t have to be perfect to be deserving of love. This is a powerful message for my kids.

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6. I learned to accept my own flaws.

As I mentioned, I’m not a perfect mother. Sometimes I fail as a parent, occasionally I’m a supermom, and most of the time I’m somewhere in between. Accepting myself, my limitations, and my mistakes is also part of parenting. If I get stuck in a moment when I mess up, it doesn’t help me or my kids. I do the best I can. I acknowledge and apologize when I’m wrong, and I give us the space to move on.

7. I learned to practice gratitude.

Since I learned meditation and mindfulness, I’m grateful to say that I haven’t had another long-term depression. I do have sad days, however, and I don’t hide them from my kids. I tell them I’m feeling blue. I explain that one thing that can make me feel better is to focus on the blessings in my life. I sit with them and list those blessings one by one, and they join me and do the same, which always turns out to be fun.

My son is grateful for Real Madrid and Ronaldo. My daughter shouts "I love my guinea pig!" at the top of her lungs. I hope, in these moments, they are learning to accept that sadness happens, and when it comes you don’t have to hide it. I hope they will learn, as I finally did, that when you let sadness come, it also goes and passes like everything else.

Want more proof of the power of meditation? Here's how meditation changed one woman's life.

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