Mindfulness & Reconditioning Learned Behaviors

Emily DaFoe

Mindfulness is definitely the buzz word of 2019. But among being one of the more used words in pop culture, the act or cultivation of mindfulness gives us the ability to see learned behaviors that may no longer serve us.

For the majority of us, the role model we have for parenting is our parents. And I often laugh amongst close friends it's not so much if your parents screwed you up but to the level that they screwed you up; even if they are the most wonderful of parents. 

We are by design human, and therefore imperfect, and it is only as a mother I realized the level of my own parents' humanness and thus, mine.  As a mom, we are continually learning on the job, thrown straight into the wild journey of being a mother. No mother I know, attended a school or university specializing in parenting when they held their bundle of joy for the first time. And while many things are instinctual, there are just as many that are not. 

My biggest challenge as a mother has been recognizing and admitting that I inherited my fathers' temper. My father was and is, like a Buddha both in body build and temperament. He is loving, kind, generous, and open. My greatest supporter and biggest fan. However, he also harnesses the temper of a tsunami; quick, ferocious, and almost always unexpected. Sadly, I inherited this trait. My anger rarely comes out, but since becoming a parent, I have seen her. She comes uninvited, unannounced, and brings nothing but fear. And, as hard as this is to admit, I've seen the look of fear in my daughters' eyes, that I once experience in my childhood.

Since becoming a parent, my little one and I have learned to deal (with this mostly doormat) rage - through mindfulness. The triggers are often when my eldest girl tests me, doesn't do what I want, and our egos clash against each other, neither one wanting to lose control. Unfortunately, that is exactly what starts to happen.  

If I slow down my emotions and really tap into them, I can see myself from above, or as the thinker 'Why won't she listen?  Why won't she do as I ask? Why is she testing me? Why?'.  I place all these additional meanings on the situation. Mind made stories that don't actually exist. My face and skin start to burn, to turn red, my breath disconnects from my belly and becomes shallow and quick. I'm angry and mad, and then I snap.  I realized I needed to work on my anger when my daughter started crying and said, 'I want my mummy.' I realized the tigress she had just met wasn't her mummy but an uninvited guest neither of us wanted in our house. It was heartbreaking.

The journey of change is not often comfortable and takes courage. I sat with my daughter and explained to her how her grandfather, my father disciplined me when I was a little girl. I asked her for forgiveness for my behavior, and for her help. I explained, "When mummy gets mad, she needs your help to stay present. Can you help me?"

We've been working on it. When I get angry, my daughter says, "mummy don't get angry, you promised". It is all I need to bring me back to the present moment, away from the mind made constructs. It helps me center myself. I simply focus on my breath and count to 10. Of course, I now understand my daughter isn't trying to make me angry, she's 4. This isn't about disrespect (which my father always used to tell me), this isn't about me needing to be in control or her being out of control and other runaway train emotions such as guilt, failure, and fear. But merely a tiny person, who has been on this earth for 4 years trying to find her way. 

My father has given and taught me so much, loved me, guided me and for that I am truly blessed. There are many things I take from him, many I embrace in my parenting and harness, but there are things I can cut loose, let go of, as they no longer serve me. I can leave them behind in the past and hopefully teach my little ones to walk a new path, on which when confronted with conflicts, you work together as a team, communicating continually and playing on the same side. In the end, I feel we both win.

As a self-control method, mindfulness allows a greater tolerance, understanding and control of my emotional states. And for that I am truly thankful.