If you haven’t already signed up for a prenatal yoga class, do it now. Sure, you’ll benefit from the exercise as you strengthen your arms in downward dog and your legs in warrior pose. You’ll absolutely use your yoga-based relaxation skills during labor (even if you’re getting an epidural), but the most valuable thing you’ll learn from yoga is to fully appreciate something you do 23,000 times per day –breathing. Taking a deep breath is among the most important parenting tools you’ll use. It’s always available, entirely free, and works instantly. Learn to use it correctly and it’ll be the one tool you’ll use day in and day out for the rest of your parenting years.
The value in taking a deliberate breath is the pause it gives you to take a mini-timeout to evaluate your situation and relax. If you add a mantra or two while taking that breath, you’ll benefit even more. Try these mantras on for size: for the count of one good deep breathe, say to yourself, Kindness, Respect, Patience. Or say, I am a wonderful mother/father and I love my child. Practice those mantras frequently and keep them handy for stressful situations.
I’ve seen countless examples lately of adults behaving badly who seriously need to chant those mantras, take a deep breathe and chill the heck out - like the adults in Dance Moms, parents of colicky babies, that lady in the grocery store hollering expletives and that dad whose son pitched a major hissy fit on the playground. How I wish these folks had studied prenatal yoga and taken the lessons beyond the mat and into their life.
Take for example, Dance Moms. Before last week when my family finally got cable TV, this show was not on my radar. I’d seen a couple clips of Toddlers and Tiaras (and was horrified), but I didn’t know there was a whole genre of reality TV shows about overbearing parents, anxious children-on-display and an entire cadre of adults who think yelling and screaming is the best way to raise children.
Dance Moms features a scary abusive dance instructor who belittles and insults her students (young girls) while teaching them competitive dance. The parents of these little dancers are just as bad for allowing their children to take class from this bully, but also because they engage in their own screaming tantrums to get what they want. It’s not terribly clear what they want that’s so tantrum-worthy, but they don’t appear to want happy, emotionally stable children who feel valued and respected.
What if instead of being verbally abusive to these little girls, all the adults in their lives took a mini yoga break. What if they took a deep breath, chanted their mantra (respect, kindness, patience), relaxed and thought about the words they spoke and behaviors they modeled. What if they used full-on kindness and respect instead of full-bore hostility? What if that teacher taught with joy instead of fear, with discipline based on high expectations and respect for her dancers instead of abuse and degradation? Do you think they could dance?
Every day we see examples of meanness and rudeness directed towards children and I wonder how parents think their child is ever going to learn to speak kindly and politely if they don’t model that. How are children to learn that bullying is wrong if their role models are bullies? To the mom at my local market: If you holler expletives at your kindergartner because she’s picking her nose, why are you surprised when she hollers back, “F*** you, Mom, I’ve got a bugger.” What if, instead of freaking out on your little one, you took a deep breath and chanted your mantra (I am a wonderful mother. I love my child) and said, “here honey, use a tissue.” In response, you might hear, “Thanks Mama.” Better, right?
To that dad on the playground: Instead of grabbing your crying two-year-old by the arm, calling him a sissy and yanking him off the climbing structure when it was time to go, what if instead you took a deep breath and chanted your mantra. You might have realized he was crying because he didn’t want to quit playing with you or because he was too tired to switch gears gracefully. Or because all he’d learned to do when he wasn’t getting his way was the behavior you taught him – to yell and scream. Maybe you’d have the insight to realize he’s watching your every move and will grow up to act just like you. Imagine what you’d be teaching him if you just breathed through your frustration and practiced patience.
To the millions of parents who’ll spend hour after hour enduring the non-stop crying of a colicky baby: you’re going to feel frustrated and utterly powerless to stop the crying. Don’t let yourself get to the end of your rope where you might do something you’ll regret. Instead of shaking your baby or screaming in his helpless little face (oh yes, you’ll be tempted), just take a deep breath (take a few this time) and chant your mantras (both of them, over and over again). Put your baby down in his crib and put a little space between your frustration and your child. Even if you’re on your last nerve and coming completely undone, take that breath. Just keep breathing for as long as you need to until the moment has passed and you’re able to practice active respect, kindness and patience for yourself and your baby.
Take that prenatal yoga class and practice. Then, imagine what the world could be like if instead of using tough love and bullying to manipulate our children, we practiced deliberate acts of kindness, respect and patience.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.