It is sometimes difficult to remain calm, cool and collected when you are sleep deprived and consistently multi-tasking. Want to feel more connected to your family? Want to have a clear mind as you tackle your day? We hear a lot about mindfulness and meditation practices these days, can they really help busy mums and dads reach this calm state of mind we all aim to reach?

I caught up with Shirley Pastiroff, counsellor and Mindful Parenting Coach from Renew Your Mind to find out more about the techniques to become a more mindful and calmer parent. Shirley is not only a Mindful Parenting coach but an amazing mother to five beautiful children. Trust me when I say she is filled with wonderful musings on motherhood!

What has motherhood taught you?

I used to think motherhood had taught me how to be more stressed than I ever thought possible. Now I’m discovering slowly that I had overestimated and overcomplicated the role of being a mum. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is how to stand back and support another human being while they grow into who they were made to be.

Tell us about your mindfulness journey.

I had a rocky start with mindfulness. I was introduced to it in my counselling training through mindful eating, and I couldn’t see how eating a raisin slowly and methodically could be life-changing for anyone. Fortunately I was reintroduced to mindfulness through my now colleague, Dr Chantal Hofstee, at Renew Your Mind. She taught me the links between brain activity, reducing stress and the art of paying kind and gentle attention to the present moment. I slowly got hooked, as I felt shifts in patterns of stress and reactivity that had been part of my life since I was quite young, shifts that nothing else – exercise, diet, therapy, personal development work – had had any lasting effect on. It’s still a work-in-progress, but I’m loving the ride.

Practicing mindfulness is all about…

….”paying attention with kindness to the present moment”. That’s my favourite definition. With a little practise we can learn to live our lives less focused on what’s happened in the past or what we need to be planning for in the future, and more open to the present moment, which is of course all we ever actually have. It could be to our breath, to our surroundings, to our internal critic, to our children. In my experience, changing my perspective of myself and the world around me has changed far more than trying to make actual changes in myself or others ever has.

How can mindfulness change our children’s behaviour and our family dynamics?

I get asked this question a lot and the answer may not what you want to hear. Mindfulness changes less about our children than it does about ourselves. The key to Mindful Parenting is that it is all about growing deeper and stronger connections with our kids, rather than changing their behaviour. Mindfulness has allowed me to step back, reduce my own stress levels, understand why and how my kids trigger me, and put cushioning around those areas, instead of trying to fix them. Then I can become my children’s greatest supporter, while they learn to solve their own problems, and handle themselves in the world, rather than getting into dynamics of conflict, frustration and control as I used to. There is inevitable change in all of us when we approach parenting this way. Our home has more fun and freedom in it now than it ever had before.

It’s not too late to start practising mindfulness with our family….

The great thing about children is that their brains are dynamic and changing rapidly moment by moment, compared to adult brains, which are more static. Any changes in our relationships that we sustain, will become the new norm for our children pretty quickly. The hardest part of the change is shifting patterns in our adult brain, which is why the Mindful Parenting course is more focused on how we as parents do life, and how we can change our responses to our children, rather than the other way round.

The importance of connection…

Once shelter, food and water is taken care of, connection is the most important thing we can offer our children. The question children are asking of their parents is “am I ok to you?” Even when a child’s behaviour suggests they couldn’t care less about what we think of them, we know from research that the opposite is true. When we break our connection with them by showing them our disapproval, our disappointment or our anger when they’re challenging, or we’re too busy to be present, they get the message they’re not quite ok to us. And the behaviour then ramps up. Its the age-old problem of parenting. How do we get the right behaviour without getting cross or controlling? Probably the most significant thing I’ve learnt from mindful parenting is how to do that. If you’re curious come along and find out!

Your thoughts on balancing motherhood and marriage…

Personally I think our partnership is more important than our parenting. Not a researched answer just gut instinct, plus many hours of sitting listening to parents who with the best of intentions have prioritised their children, and are struggling to feel much more than a maid or a chauffeur. One of the things we do know from research is that children learn by copying. That’s the best excuse in the world to lead a life you would want them to imitate as they grow up. They need to see you having fun and doing things you love, as much if not more than doing things with them they love, so they know that’s what their adult lives can be like. If you’re lucky enough to be in a good relationship, let your kids see you enjoying it.

On balancing motherhood and career…

I made the choice to stay home with my kids until the youngest (twins) were 5. That was my choice, although at the time I did sometimes think it was the ‘right’ one. I have long since dropped any ideas of the right or the best arrangement for kids. I had more time and less money. I was lonely at times. I loved it at times. Wins and losses. What children need most is thriving parents who are as well connected to them as possible. So we need to do whatever creates that best, which will be different for everyone.