Iris (38) is mother of Maan (3,5) and halfway ‘Mindful with your toddler’. In this long read she explains why this course is great and you too should join.

Iris, what led you to join the training?

I felt that I could use a bit more peace and tranquility. Sometimes I’m preoccupied with so many things at once. I know that things are easier with the children when my mind is not somewhere else. Bit that is so difficult to stop and I thought a mindfulness course could be helpful. It was the beginning of the year and I thought ‘Yes, I’ll make a great start with 2020.’

You’ve had four sessions without Maan and one session together with your daughter. How were the first four sessions for you?

It was very relaxing. It is such a good start of your Friday and the weekend. It is nice to have time to myself and to see other mothers who are struggling with the same things. During the breaks it was great to talk about motherhood. That there is space in the program to chat, is very valuable for me.

“In daily life you just get on with things, but here you explore your mind. Bizarre how much comes by in a few seconds.”

The sessions have a great energy and build-up: you begin with meditating and then there’s a mix between exercises and theory. It is good to know why you do something, then it is easier to absorb.
The workbook covers all the theory from the sessions, plus you have all meditations on audio. This will help after the course to continue to practice.

The later sessions are a bit more confronting, as you observe the way you parent. But for me that is great, as I get to know myself better this way. Where in daily life you just get on with things, here you discover the workings of your mind. Bizarre how many thoughts come by in just a few seconds. And taking the time for this exploration has given me valuable insights in how the brain works. It is a beautiful addition to not just meditate, but also gaining knowledge of your brain and yourself.

The main part of the training happens at home: daily meditations of 10 to 20 minutes, keeping a log and doing exercises in daily life. Was that helpful for you? Or were it purely the insights that work for you?

No, exercising is definitely helpful. It was good to first do the new exercises in the sessions, and then to continue at home. There you notice fluctuations in you attention: sometimes it goes well and other times you’re continuously distracted. It is great for your process to learn to accept whatever is happening.

Small exercises such as doing something with full attention, were not so easy to do. I am happy they are part of the program, it keeps you active. But planning something extra – even for only ten minutes – works out only some of the time.

I loved doing the body scan, but in the evenings I would often fall asleep. During the day when the children are not around, it is much easier to meditate. In the weekend it is often more difficult to get around to.

“After the breathing space I felt a lot more tranquil and I thought ‘Wow, this is amazing, I can do this more often’.”

So you have encountered what can be difficult for many of us: with children around you sometimes literally have no time to spare, or it is simply hard to think of yourself and to create space for you.

Yes. The small meditations are therefore great. The three minute breathing space is easier to implement in daily life. For example last week when we had to be somewhere on time, it was clear that we were not going to make it. I felt the stress rise and thought ‘Okay, this is my moment. I will take a breathing space, even if it means that we will be three minutes later.’ After the breathing space I felt a lot more tranquil and because of that the children relaxed too. That’s when I thought ‘Wow, this is amazing, I can do this more often’.

You mentioned that you would like to learn to do one thing at a time. We have practiced with that in the training. Was that helpful for you?

Yes. I sometimes have to tell myself consciously ‘Okay, let go of what I want to do and give attention to the kids’. Or the other way around I tell the kids ‘Mom is cooking at the moment and when I am finished I will join you’. I used to say that once in a while, but I wasn’t always consistent. Now I experience the pleasure of finishing a task. Or I am able to consciously stop doing something, without staying preoccupied with it. Of course sometimes that is easier then others.

I am happy that I started ‘Mindful with your toddler’ and not with a normal mindfulness course that was just for me. I am a mother after all, and life with kids can be busy. In this course you get shorter meditations, and practical exercises for daily life. That is much easier to implement then long meditations.

It seems that you mainly benefit from shifting gear and taking mini moments for yourself, is that right?

Yes. And I notice that I can handle certain emotions from my daughter much better. You tend to solve for example the crying of your child. Now I more often tell her ‘You can feel angry, that is okay’. I notice that when I feel more acceptance, emotions pass quicker or Maan accepts comfort easier.

“Amazing to feel an itch pass. And if itches pass, emotions will too.”

In one meditation there is a simple experiment: trying not to scratch an itch. It is amazing to notice that it works. That indeed you do not need to scratch and it will still pass. And if itches pass, emotions will too.

Your first session together with Maan, how was that for you?

It was beautiful. Very different from the first sessions, where you have all the time to yourself. This is still time for you but it is different with a child. But it is really good to practice this way, because in daily life you also don’t have time for yourself necessarily.
It was great to see the children play while we talked or meditated. Usually they’re happy just to interact with co-trainer Julia. It was nice to see that everybody was fine with how things went. Everyone knows that toddlers can’t be managed to perfection. And because we were confident and full of trust, the children felt safe. They went about their own business and sometimes checked in with us.

How did you experience Julia and me as trainers?

You complement each other very well. I found that you as a trainer move well with the presence of the children. You followed the program but also kept an eye on the energy and needs of the children. You adjusted the program to their needs and that made it very comfortable.

I felt very much at ease during the sessions. I feel that I can share anything without it being judged. During the first sessions I felt pampered and it feels great to be appreciated as a mother.
During the session with Maan, the guidance of the co-trainer is incredibly valuable, as you can let go of your toddler for a while. Maan can come to me when she wants, and when she is simply playing, she is being taken care of. That feels like a present.

I do not have criticism really. It is all very comfortable for me. ‘Mindful with your toddler’ is a valuable course for everyone. I would say that it should be covered by standard health-insurance. I think that every parent will benefit.

“Motherhood can be tough and you will benefit from this course the rest of your life.”

If a parent isn’t sure about joining the course, what would you –

–  Let them call me. I’m serious. When someone isn’t sure it is better to hear from a participant than from the trainer.
If someone is in doubt, I want to emphasize that you gain a lot for yourself and for your family as a whole, not just for your toddler. Many exercises are applicable to older children and adults. It is an important factor in your decision, because I was also in doubt: ‘Maan is almost four, is it still useful?’

Give yourself a present, treat yourself to this training. Motherhood can be tough and it can be great to have some attention for yourself. And this course can benefit you for the rest of your life.

I believe that many mothers are harsh to themselves. Nowadays you want to be a good mother, a good partner, have a good social life and have the house in order, plus your work. Than it is a relief if someone says in the training ‘It’s okay. It is good the way it is. It doesn’t matter what you are feeling, you can accept it’. That makes everything softer and bearable. I notice that when such a thing is said, I feel myself relax and think ‘Oh yes, you can do it this way as well, it is fine like this.’

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