I was aimlessly and joylessly wandering around a Target by myself one late summer night.
The kids and my wife were out of town, which, if you’re a new parent, is a rare opportunity to do whatever you want! The world is your oyster! Maybe you could even take a nap or watch an entire show without interruption!
But I wouldn’t be enjoying anything that night. Earlier that day, another knockout round of bad news came in - a professional setback this time - that seemed like one more final blow after month after month of things just not breaking my way. Each set back made it harder to parent, let alone take care of myself.
I was pushing a cart like I was lost in a corn maze. The wafting siren song of Starbucks and the bright red markings on the floors all seemed faded.
You know how you at least fake smile when you’re in public so you don’t see psychotic? I wasn’t even doing that.
And I didn’t know what to do to snap out of it… and that’s how I ended up drifting around a Target trying waiting for a solution to months of frustration.
I remember trying on a jacket and thinking “I do love this jacket…” and not being able to muster the enthusiasm to buy it. As if I already knew I wouldn’t be able to fix things with some red-basket therapy.
I somehow walked out of there without a traditional Target slashing of my bank account. What happened next was a revelation. The next day I almost felt like a switch had flipped and I needed to put in the work to make sure I didn’t go back to that hollow feeling again. Because even when you’re a parent, there’s so much more to your mental health than how your kids are acting that day. You’re still you. It’s important to remember that it’s OK to put in the time to improve yourself. You’re not just a mom or a dad.
And that’s why I need you to know the specific routine and practices that have made a huge difference for me over the course of a month. I’ve found more joy. I’ve found a better sense of calm and a greater ability to handle the frustrations of parenting. And I have felt more like myself. Dads need to take the approach that self-care is not optional or somehow not “for guys".” Moms, of course, can benefit, too!
Self-care is manly. Feeling better about yourself is manly.
Mindfulness and self-care have been the perfect route for me.
It directly addresses what I needed to work on
I could adapt it to my life without a ton of money or time
I’d get so many side benefits, like being a better husband and friend. (I detailed in Part 1 why I needed to find more time for mindfulness and self-care in my routine; I didn’t want to go down a bad road again.)
Mindfulness, if you weren’t sure, basically comes down to being present. You’re not worried about what you have to do or what’s to come, and you’re not rehashing yesterday or last year’s events.
You need to know that when I decide I’m going to change something, I do it. I decided to become vegetarian while on a flight to Florida. That was about 8 years ago. I haven’t had meat since. So believe me when I tell you, when I did this routine for the past month, I did this routine.
You can do this, too. Don’t take any of this as an all-or-nothing. Maybe some of these routines would be perfect for you! Maybe none of it fits your life. What I’d love for you to take away from this is knowing there’s someone else out there who is trying to find more peace and calm, too, and that there’s a way to get it in a relatively simple way. I would love to hear what you’re struggling with, what’s going great, and what simple routines you put in your day to get your own piece of calm!
Mindfulness morning routine:
Wake up between 5:15-5:45 a.m. This requires me to be in bed by 10:30 if I want to be up on the early side and by 11 at the absolute latest. Otherwise, I’m setting myself up for failure. That has meant stopping a TV show midway through, but you know what? The show is still there later because it’s 2018. And I need to do my thing by 5:45 because my daughter consistently is up by 6-6:10 a.m. She’ll stay quiet for a little longer if I bring her downstairs, but the point is for me to have a head start. What time does your kid usually get up? Can you get up 15-30 minutes before that? Imagine you waking up on your terms, not theirs. That’s a lot of motivation.
I give myself about 10 minutes to “wake up.” I’ll read an article or two, check Instagram, and remind myself of the schedule for the day. If I need an extra wake up? I do something kind silly but it helps - I do a quick face spritz of Saje Rainstorm, which has cedarwood, orange, and myrtle. 21-year-old me cannot believe I just typed that sentence, but 21-year-old me was also an idiot. Kasia from Ampersand recommended it and she was right - it’s refreshing! I’ve got no problem admitting this.
I do not turn the lights on! That may make you sleepy still, but for me, it keeps things relaxed. I want the sun rising outside our bay windows to be what really wakes me up. Think how cool that is to experience rather than slapping at the snooze on your phone alarm. Do you have a spot in the house that’s your reading nook or that catches the sunrise? Perfect! Even a seldom-used chair can feel like its own little meditation spot.
I turn on my Calm session. They have a variety of 7 or 21-day series; those are cool because you get a theme to focus on (such as, uh, Focus) and you get a sense of accomplishment when you’re done. But The Daily Calm is their most popular, and it can be done in 10 minutes. C’mon. You have 10 minutes. And I have to say, the guidance offered by Tamara Levitt is so, so, so good. She has the most soothing voice I’ve ever heard. My son likes to say he “wants to hear Tamara read a story.”
Give it a try! See the video for one sample of a 10-minute meditation. You know what’s great? There are constant reminders that you can’t mess this up. If your mind is racing, OK! Acknowledge that and eventually, you’ll start slowing it down. If you can’t quite focus on what to do, no problem! You are making progress by simply making the time to do this. Parents get enough pressure. This is the opposite. This is parents practicing self-care.
When my session is done, I absolutely feel more at peace and relaxed. And second, I’ve had 10-15 minutes to clear my mind. Now I’m ready to jump into the day. No matter what, I’m already off to a good start.
I start getting breakfast for whomever is up (as they start lumbering into the upstairs hallway, I run up and grab them). Meanwhile, I’ll finish dishes/sweep/get lunches packed. My goal is to have as much done as I can so when my wife comes down, she can focus on getting the girls’ hair done (which I am bad at!), getting them dressed (which they prefer her to do because they are in Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! mode), and getting herself ready. This balance seems to work better, at least for the past month! This is all great for dads as a way to get more involved if you’re the one who works full-time, or for either parent as a way to get a jump start on a busy day without feeling rushed.
Usually, this means I can get ready for work on my own in a more leisurely pace because we’re not all running around on compressed time. See? One more victory, and I haven’t even left for work. If I can remember to bring my laptop charger with me, that’ll be two victories.
Mindfulness during the day:
I don’t even know why I started doing this, but I dab a little lavender essential oil on my wrists and neck throughout the day. It’s like a Pavlovian thing - it reminds me to take a breath, it has a calming scent, and it gives me a multi-sensory sensation. That’s what mindfulness is about - being present. Easy to do. I like this doTerra version because there’s a roller ball for easy application, but whatever brand works for you. Try keeping one in your car. Dap a little before you do your commute. See how you feel after taking a deep breath, rather than instantly backing out of your space and driving.
I may bust out the Calm app if the kids are being a little extra. I’ll use it in two ways:
For them: I’ll ask my oldest if he wants to do a breathing exercise. He’s usually game, especially “Belly Breaths.” If I can get him to wind down, the others usually follow. At the least, it makes us all take a moment to pause, even if they won’t necessarily stay focused the entire 4-6 minutes. I am not claiming this is an every day thing; I have my doubts that every family blogger that claims they are having their toddlers meditate all the time are really doing that. But as a change of pace? Yes! They even have free Calm for classrooms, if you think your teacher may be interested.
For me: If I need it, I’ll do a Take 90. It’s really great if you’re having issues letting frustration get the best of you - it’s a 90-second reset that I can easily do by going to another room for a minute. I get to do some guided slow breathing and return. Sure, you can do it without an app to help, but you weren’t already doing that, were you? Sometimes, it helps to have a thing. Here’s what you can do for 90 seconds of sanity:
Set a timer on your phone and close your eyes
Take a deep breathe. Do not think of anything. Just focus on the breathe. How it feels. How the air moves inside you. How your chest rises.
Count to 4 while you are breathing in. Hold it for four seconds. And release for four seconds.
Repeat this pattern. It’s OK if a thought comes into your mind. Don’t get frustrated. You didn’t do anything wrong. Just return to thinking about your breathe.
Near the end, breathe in thinking “I am calm.” Breathe out thinking “I am at peace.”
The timer will end. You will have had 90 seconds of focusing on you. You can go back to the craziness, but you’ll be better equipped to realize it’ll pass. Nice work!
Mindfulness at night:
For my kids: First off, you should know all my kids sleep in the same room (my son has his own room but loves sleeping on the floor by his sisters. Who knows.) My son regularly asks for either a breathing exercise or a Sleep Story. With the lights off, we listen to one or the other. The Sleep Stories are great because they truly are relaxing, with slowed pace as the story goes along to induce drowsiness, and they are kid-focused so my 3-year olds and 5-year-old can follow along. Several times I’ve started the story and left the room instead of doing my usual waiting around until everyone is asleep. Try using a bluetooth speaker so you can leave the room after the story has started
For me: I haven’t had to use it, but I’d imagine if you are the type of person who has trouble sleeping because you have a million thoughts going through your head, Sleep Stories should be your jam. I recommend “Blue Gold.” Mindfulness is perfect for people who have racing minds because the entire idea is to get you to stop planning or rehashing. And parents, naturally, are going to have racing minds because we’re worried about so many things!
You may be asking, “Why Calm? Why not another app/book/service?” From what I can tell, it’s the best at what it does. So rather than give you general advice on trying to find mindfulness with a bunch of suggestions that I haven’t used, I thought it would be better for me to just get right to it and tell you how I use Calm, which, from what I can tell, so many of you already do!
I’m not getting any promotional angle from them; I just dig what they do. You can use it for free and get a lot out of it; the paid version is worth it to me for all the extra stuff you get, like additional kid content. They have stats if you like to track your usage, and their Instagram account is great about adding reminders to be mindful.
Hear directly from the Calm team with the free download below! They talk about why parents need to fit in time for mindfulness, why mindfulness & meditation has grown in popularity, and what new parents would find the most useful on the app.
What’s worked for you as a parent in releasing stress? How do you see yourself applying any of these strategies into your routine?