As published in Mad Mom Magazine March Issue
Living abroad in Asia sometimes feels like being a modern-day MOMstradamus by living quite literally in the future. As a result, I knew and experienced Covid-19 way back when it was still the untrendy Wuhan pneumonia (and 2020 was just getting started).
I quickly had to isolate myself with my two young children, who were two and four at the time. I felt confused and puzzled as to what was happening around us. And it seemed like I was the only one going through this at the time.
Being ahead of the curve meant my children and I started to experience all the adverse effects of social distancing earlier than the rest of the world. Under normal circumstances, my kids were already going through their regular and developmentally appropriate 53 tantrums per day (a number that kept doubling in quantum leaps with each passing day, just like the virus).
Weeks became months, and months became an eternity. If I had to describe what that time tasted like, it would be like having to swallow dirty wet socks with a side of vinegar. In other words, it was bitter, challenging, and unpleasant.
I was going crazy, and my kids were absorbing and internalizing all my stress and anxiety. They were becoming more whiny, clingy, and more challenging to handle. The worst was knowing that this was happening and not being able to do much about it because I was too emotionally drained to think straight. Hello there, mom guilt.
On the verge of my fourth meltdown and burn out, I began to search for a way out of this negative cycle. Countless times during the day, I was being triggered, having angry eruptions, and then picking up the pieces with a heavy and remorseful heart.
Breathe. Take it easy. Those were the words of advice from well-meaning friends and loved ones. Yeah, right, I mentally replied, why don’t you try locking yourself up with YOUR kids for a couple of weeks, huh? Oops, it seems I can also cast curses.
A part of me knew they were right. I had dabbled in meditation in the past, but never consistently or regularly. I had this notion that you had to sit in a lotus position for hours and reach Nirvana every time, so it seemed sooo darn hard! I had images of monks in orange robes peacefully levitating in some distant mountain. (Of course, monks can do it because they don’t have children tugging at their pants every 3 seconds.)
So I decided to give meditation another shot out of desperation. If someone had advised me to bark at the moon while hopping backward to put an end to my plight, I would have done it. By that point, I would have also eaten the wet socks with vinegar.
But still, it felt….complicated. I had to find a time with little interruptions (nope), or I would have to either get up earlier than my kids in the morning (fat chance) or at night (another chore to an endless list).
I wondered how I could find that moment of peace to sort through my emotions or give me the pause I needed so I wouldn’t be exploding again and again.
One particularly rough day, I was getting ready to crash for the night. There I was, tired AF, brushing my teeth when it hit me.
Why didn’t I have the same commitment towards being more mindful and present as I had towards brushing my teeth every night?
No sane (or hygienic) adult tries to negotiate the importance of toothbrushing. It’s a no-brainer! No matter how rough of a day it’s been. Or how late it is. No one stands there debating whether to do it or not. And we certainly don’t try to rationalize it with crazy thoughts like I’ll do it tomorrow for an hour instead of tonight.
After all, good dental hygiene comes down to doing it every. single. day, no matter what. And all it takes is just TWO MINUTES. Consistency and regularity of brushing are what keeps our mouths healthy.
So why can’t a meditation practice be similar?
Doing it with kids in tow seemed the challenging part. But then I thought they could certainly do it for two minutes too.
Because of our hardwired need to connect with others, social distancing affects us negatively, including our kids. Plus, small children absorb their parents’ and caretakers’ emotional states. So, if one is a walking cocktail of anger, frustration, and stress, guess what the child is drinking?
Also, young kids’ brains (between the ages of 0-8) operate mostly under theta brainwaves. Their young minds are highly suggestible. This is the perfect time to create positive associations and habits that become deep-rooted just like the habit of brushing teeth. As mothers, we try to instill good habits in our children regarding fitness and nutrition. Shouldn’t we also help strengthen their mental and emotional muscles?
I, for one, wanted to change that. Here I was, in the middle of a global pandemic, lacking any habit or tool to keep me even-keeled, calm, and present when I needed it the most. If anything, I would make sure my children wouldn’t struggle with resilience in their adult life.
Staying semi-sane became the name of the game (high expectations had gone out the window by then, and good enough was pretty darn good!).
The premise of the Mental Toothbrush Technique™ is straightforward:
You meditate with your kids for two minutes daily. No matter what.
My little ones were willing guinea pigs from the start, and I can proudly say we’ve been consistently doing it for the past nine months, and it has been a very positive experience.
Here are my tips, caveats, and disclaimers about it before you hit me with your ‘yeah, but’s.’
- Create a trigger for your new habit. Tie it directly to some other activity that happens daily at home at about the same time. Children thrive on routine. Choosing an event that happens daily like naptime, bedtime, or brushing teeth and working the meditation before or after it, is a great way to ensure consistency.
- Keep it reasonable. To the alpha moms out there, I see you, and I read your mind! Please keep it to two minutes regardless of how confident you feel you and your children can meditate longer. It’s not a race, no one will levitate any time soon, and you’re not going to get a Best Mom of the Year award for it. The point is to do it every day (yes, weekends, vacations, holidays, Christmas…). Two minutes is psychologically easy to manage.
- Your kids won’t meditate with you. Then what’s the point?!! you ask. They don’t need to. Young children are sponges, and they learn by watching you. If they see you are consistent and that it’s a fun activity, they will even come to request it even if they aren’t truly meditating. You’re building a lifelong habit. Our parents battled with us for the better part of eight years to instill a tooth brushing habit. Keep a long vision approach to it and adjust your expectations accordingly.
- You will get interrupted—a lot. Just keep breathing. If you stick to being calm and quiet, your kids will quickly make the necessary associations. Trust me; they’re fast learners.
- You don’t have to do anything else but being present and conscious of your breath. That’s it. Inhale and exhale. Want to sit down? Lie down? Do a headstand? As long as you keep it for two minutes, you’re golden.
- However, you can still take shortcuts*. While deep breathing does the trick, moms need all the help they can get. And there is one nifty little something that helps rev up your nervous system (AND that of your kids) in a matter of minutes. Essential oils like Stress Away have been scientifically proven to alter our limbic system, and they pair up perfectly with your two-minute meditation!
- Things at home will still be the same. Remember what I said previously about high expectations? The fights, the whining, the tantrums, they will all still be there after you’re done meditating. You will still lose your temper and go ‘mommy volcano’ on your kids. I don’t consider this a failure because two important things have happened since I started using this Mental Toothbrush Technique™ in my life.
First, my kids have started to consider meditation as a bonding time with me, and they love it. It has become part of their daily routine, and to see them being excited about it and looking forward to it, makes me feel like at least I did something right despite everything else that I did wrong.
They will not reap the benefits of what we’re doing until much later in life. But it motivates me to know that when they face crazy, stressful situations, they will have this powerful tool to find resilience and inner wisdom whenever they need it.
Second, my angry outbursts have gone down considerably. I was going off at the slightest provocation and poisoning my blood in the process. It doesn’t seem like any benefits can be reaped in two minutes of conscious breathing, but believe me, they are real! With enough regularity, your mood will be calmer, and you’ll feel less stressed. Want to have the exact Fail-Proof Guide that I used? Click here.
Most of us likely swore off making resolutions this year. Yet, this is an invitation to make a profound change in your life. Spending two minutes a day breathing with your children is the best investment you can make this year. Take it from a mom that came back from the brink of the abyss. The sight of a toothbrush has become a symbol of hope, resilience, and calm for me. As we continue navigating uncertain waters around us, I hope you grab a mental toothbrush and join me down the path towards good mental health!