heather grace: mindfulness & self-compassion

Helping adults and children to create a more joyful and harmonious life…

Category: Mindful Parenting

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3 Ways to Help a Child to Live the Good Life

So what exactly is ‘the good life’?

good life sitcom imageThe 1970s sitcom called ‘The Good Life’ made an impact on me.  I was very young when it aired, but I realised when watching it that in many ways, as a family, we were already living the good life.  I had a fairly unusual upbringing on a farm on the Isle of Islay – I say ‘unusual’ because at any point in time our house was home to at least 4 different species of animal, plus my sister, my mother and me.  It was not uncommon to find ducks waddling around the house, lambs in the playroom, plus the more mundane  – dogs, cats guinea pigs etc.  We lived off the land – grew our own vegetables, ate our own meat (a concept I sometimes struggled with), and often bartered for whatever we didn’t have.  My sister and I spent our time, when not in school, barefoot and outdoors; we climbed trees and invented games.  This closeness to nature encapsulates some of what the good life is, but it certainly isn’t the whole story…

Recently I noticed a friend’s Facebook post, saying that she was “living the good life” on holiday. She was perhaps referring to ‘living it up’ with good food, drink and a lovely place to stay, but I don’t think that her idea of the good life is quite the same as that proposed by ancient Greek philosophers.  It reminded me that many of us may have lost touch with what the good life actually is, and may not be fully engaged with making our normal day-to-day work and home lives ‘the good life’.

Ancient Greek philosophers were onto something when they suggested that the good life is one that is concerned with the development of human potential – where each of us cultivate our innate strengths, abilities, virtues and passions for the good of others as well as ourselves.  The good life is one that promotes the greatest wellbeing for all.

The good life invites us to become the best versions of ourselves that we can possibly become and does not depend on our emotional landscape.  We can experience wellbeing at the same time as experiencing difficult emotions – it all depends on attitude.  The good life asks that we develop virtues such as wisdom and knowledge, courage, honesty, loving connection, a sense of fairness, forgiveness, humility, appreciation of beauty, gratitude, humour, hope and spirituality.  It also asks us to engage in pursuits that develop our natural abilities and interests.

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Where do your passions and natural talents lie, and do you nurture these passions?

Do you love to dance, paint, make music, climb mountains, play strategy games, write, sing, act, play sport… or something else?  What makes your heart sing? What makes you feel more alive?

Sometimes activities that we previously loved to engage in simply slip from our lives without us really noticing.  Life events can cause priorities to shift and we may find ourselves very much needing to focus on others, with less time for ourselves.  But the good life never forgets about us – it’s always there in the background, calling us to be all that we can be.

Ways we can teach a child to live the good life…

1. Model what it means

Perhaps the best way to teach a child to live the good life is to live it for ourselves – our actions speak so much louder than words.  To do this, we will require mindfulness (being aware of what we’re doing, while we’re doing it, with a certain kind of an attitude) so that we can marry intention with action.  We also need to start having conversations – lots of them – about living meaningfully.

We can go to school, get qualifications, get a job, raise a family, retire, collect a pension and grow old in a care home without ever having truly lived.

Living the good life is a process, not a destination, and is focused on promoting the wellbeing of both ourselves and others – but how often do we stop to consider whether what we’re doing or saying is contributing to anyone’s wellbeing? We must regularly take stock and check that we are staying true to our compass bearing.  If not, rather than beating ourselves up, we need simply to notice and adjust our direction.

2. Grow something

cucumber imageWhether it’s growing an ability or growing a cucumber, it doesn’t really matter (unless you’re looking for something to put in a sandwich, in which case the cucumber is probably preferable).  The point is, life isn’t meant to stand still… life wants to express itself through each of us, and that means movement and growth. Cultivation. Development.  Decide with a child what they’d like to grow, and plant the seed – either literally or figuratively. Then, crucially, remember to tend to it.

3. Talk about values

When teaching mindfulness to children, I find so often that children simply don’t have a language to explore value and it can be a completely alien concept to them.  When I asked a teenage girl recently what she valued in life, she replied, “Shoes”.  My heart sank a little, if I’m honest!

What do you value, and what does your child value?  Many clues will be present in what they say, and we can use these clues as ways in to explore values with a child. For example, we might say, “I noticed that you were very cross when your brother told you he didn’t take your marbles but then you found them in his room.  It appears to me that you value honesty?  I value that too.” This example obviously touches on related issues such as trust and integrity, but is also an opening into a discussion about compassion – when individuals behave in ways that aren’t very honourable, the root of the behaviour often relates to fear (of not having enough, or being enough) and when found out, fear or reprisal or being told off, which essentially confirms our fears that we weren’t good enough.

It’s important to work out what we value, attend regularly to prioritising our values, and have these kinds of conversations often with children.   With young children we can use the context of heroes or heroines as a way in, noticing the attributes that they value in characters they connect with and exploring this with them.  My eldest, when a toddler, loved ‘Bob the Builder’ because he could fix anything that was broken and he was really reliable.  You could depend on Bob if you were in trouble and this was clearly something that my son valued.

And finally…

More than anything, the good life asks that we don’t simply exist, but that we live life as fully as we can, engaged with life with energy and vitality and caring for the wellbeing of ourselves and those around us, including this beautiful planet that supports us.  The process of living the good life is, then, a powerful force for good, and one that we must engage in if we are to truly thrive rather than simply survive.

With so much love on your journey,



Heather Grace MacKenzie is a mindfulness and compassion teacher based in Strathaven, Scotland, and author of Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion.

Teach a child mindfulness – the ‘No Ordinary Moments’ game

The game that I’m going to describe can be a complete game-changer if you play it often enough – both for you and for any child you play it with.  It’s really the game of life as it is supposed to be played, and it really harnesses the power of a child’s mind (and yours too).  It’s not a traditional kind of a game where there’s a winner, but if the idea of a game where there’s no winner leaves you cold, then perhaps you can make the winner the person who’s judged to have best found the extraordinary amidst the seemingly ‘ordinary’.

So here goes.  The rules.  Because you probably want rules, right?  Well there’s really only one in this game, and it’s that we’re just describing what we notice rather than making things up.

Before you begin. Assemble whoever is playing – it may be just you and a child or you and a whole classroom of children.  Drop anchor.  By this I mean invite everyone present to move their attention down into their body, perhaps noticing the contact between any parts of the body and the floor.  Spend a few moments noticing the movement of the breath in and out of the body.  You’ve now moved into a more experiential mode of being, and so you’re ready to begin.

Take turns describing.  Each person takes a turn to describe why this moment is a special moment.  Each person starts by saying, “This is no ordinary moment because I’m noticing…” and then proceeds to describe in glorious detail whatever they’re noticing.  An example may be helpful here, and is part of my experience right now:

This is no ordinary moment because I’m noticing the branches of a tree moving out of the corner of my eye.  As I turn my head towards it, I’m noticing how the light is reflecting off the shiny surface of the leaves and some raindrops falling between the leaves each time a breeze moves the branches. I notice a moment of feeling thankful for this tree outside of my window because it’s so beautiful, and this thankful feeling right now feels like a lightness in my chest and I notice that I’m smiling a little.

You may be thinking, “Ah, but I have no tree handy”.  Fear not, you’re having an experience, right?  Here is another example, so you get the picture and see (hopefully) that there really aren’t any ordinary moments.  The extraordinary is to be found everywhere!

This is no ordinary moment because I’m noticing the sensations in my back right now as my body moves a little to keep me balanced.  I’m noticing how my chest moves outwards as I breathe in, and how I can feel the soft fabric of my top moves slightly against my shoulders as I breathe.  I’m noticing some strands of hair touching my face very lightly, and it tickles slightly.

Keep taking turns, getting more and more detailed in your quality of noticing, until the child cues that they’ve had enough – trying to continue past that point will most likely result in not wanting to play the game again.  You might want to start the game by noticing the big things, i.e. a really broad awareness of the whole environment, and then start to home in more and more on the little things.  This is so helpful in teaching children focusing skills, and the ability to move between broad awareness and narrow focus.

The idea for this game was inspired by this YouTube video clip of part of the wonderful Peaceful Warrior movie by Dan Millman.  The idea that, “There’s never nothing going on” is incredibly powerful, and what this game aims to teach.  I’d love to hear how you get on with it!

Wishing you so much joy and happiness on your journey.

Heather x

‪#‎ParentingTips‬  ‪#‎AwakeningChild‬

Summer Holiday Survival Guide (using mindfulness) – Part 4

Thriving frankly sounds a lot more joyful than surviving, doesn’t it?!  And as a very wise person once said, “If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, then you’re doing it wrong!”

In Part 3 of my Summer Holiday Survival Guide we looked at feeding the rather malnourished piggy bank of patience and wellbeing so that we’re in a better position to weather the challenges of the summer holidays; and challenges there will be, because kids will be kids, the summer holidays are long, and British weather will be… um, British?  In this final part of the four-part series, we look at whether there may be ways to add a little old-fashioned magic to your summer.

I’m going to suggest something a little controversial here, depending on your own experiences and the meaning that you attach to the word ‘learning’; I’m going to suggest that you make this the summer of learning.  And by learning, I’m not talking about the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, I’m talking more of real-world skills that are a little more immediately applicable.  I’m talking about helping your child to make connections, learning more about themselves, learning more about relationships with others, and learning more about the world around them and their connection with it.

Let’s start with routine. Whatever the weather, kids tend to feel a little safer with some routine in their lives.  I’m not suggesting for a moment that we get all military with our organisation of the day, but my kids know that during the summer holidays I get a little work done in the mornings, because PhD study does not do itself and neither does the housework.  During this time, pyjama-clad offspring tend to watch cartoons, make lego creations, make dens etc (see below).  Letting go of any guilt in relation to having a couple of hours to get things done is essential to my own well-being, and the kids know that this is how things roll during the holidays.  In the afternoons, we do something.  It can be something simple like walking the dog somewhere nice, or heading to the play-park.  The cost of taking children to museums, soft play, farm parks, cinema etc. can really add up quickly during the holidays, so here are some inexpensive (or even free) suggestions:

Den-making.  Children never tire of making dens.  I still really enjoy a den.


Image: theinspiredtreehouse.com

A whole day can be enjoyably be spent turning a bedroom, dining room or living room into a really wonderful den and your child will learn much from the experience.  You can even dig out your fairy lights to make it extra-pretty!  Actively promote getting your child to make decisions about how it is to be built, and afterwards in a quieter moment ask your child how they feel in the den, (as well as perhaps checking in with how they feel at various moments through the day). You may need to suggest some possible emotions to them if their emotional vocabulary is still developing.  Getting in touch with emotions, both pleasant and not-so-pleasant, can really help to build self-compassion and empathy for others.  If your child worked with you or another child to build the den, ask them to reflect on how it was to work together to get a job done, how they made decisions, and what they might do differently next time.

Baking and cooking.  Many children no longer learn the skills with food that previous generations had instilled in them from an early age.  As a result, and also because it is so easy to buy and prepare food with the minimum amount of effort, children grow up with almost no knowledge of how to prepare food with love.  We can teach a child to prepare food mindfully, bringing gratitude to the ingredients and taking a moment to appreciate the food as well as the amount of work that went into bringing the food to a shelf in a shop for you to buy- sunlight, earth, water, harvesting, packing, transporting, unpacking, shelf-stacking.  We can teach a child to move into the more experiential being mode by using all of their senses to explore ingredients, noticing their aroma, taste, texture, appearance.

Picnicking.  Everyone loves a picnic.  If the weather’s not conducive to outdoor-picnicking, have an indoor floor-picnic and take the time to really enjoy preparing the food.  It can be the perfect time to practise appreciation and savouring, and also caring for the needs of others by paying attention to whether another person’s glass is empty or if they need something passed to them.

So you may be thinking that there’s nothing new in what I’ve suggested above, and you’re right!  People have been building dens, cooking and enjoying food in a variety of ways for a very long time, but in years gone by those who were engaging in such activities would most likely have been a lot more focused on what they were doing, because they weren’t part of the distracted, ‘unmindful’ generation.  I haven’t suggested loads of different activities above because by now I’m sure you get the picture – it’s not about what we do, it’s about how we do itAs Edward Monkton illustrates so beautifully in his Zen Dog cartoon, life isn’t about the end result, it’s about the ride:


If you would like a few more ideas of mindful activities to engage in with your kids this summer, this is a really gorgeous blog post by Sarah Rudell Beach:



Happy holidays!  Heather x


#‎SummerHolidays ‪#‎Parentingtips‬

<- Part 3

Summer Holiday Survival Guide (using mindfulness) – Part 3

The piggy bank of patience is a thing that must be well tended. Usually, you see, it’s a rather sad and dejected little piggy bank that’s always nearly empty. In this section of mythin_piggy Summer Holiday Survival Guide I shall start to set the scene for a really joyful summer holiday – the kind that you and your kids will remember forever, for all of the right reasons – but first we need to pay some attention to the piggy bank.  As the summer holiday wears on, your energy and enthusiasm for dealing with bickering and boredom may wane a little.  The piggy bank, as I see it, reflects our inner resources; our inner well of wellbeing. As parents, friends, siblings, daughters and sons, we find ourselves trying to tend to other people’s piggy banks, but seldom our own.  Tending to our own is like coming back to the centre of the court after every shot during a game of tennis.  We’re ready for whatever life throws at us next.

Savour the moment. Mindfulness is all about bring a certain kind of attitude to the present moment, and savouring the moment really reflects the quality of the attitude that we aim to cultivate when learning to be more mindful.  As you make a cup of tea, for example, use all of your senses to really inhabit the moment; notice the sounds that the kettle makes as it comes to the boil, the aroma that starts to reach your nostrils as the contents of the tea bag begin to infuse the hot water, the sensations of the mug in your hand as you lift it, the flavour of the liquid as it moves across your tongue.  Bring appreciation, using your senses, to the little things.  This is like adding what my littlest son calls, ‘flat money’ (his favourite kind) to the piggy bank.

Meditate. Even a few minutes a day will make a huge difference to your piggy bank – your inner resources of strength and patience to deal with whatever arises.  Here’s a soothing practice to try.  It’s one of the short mindfulness practices that accompany my book, ‘Awakening Child’.

Gratitude. Keep a gratitude diary. Before you go to sleep at night, perhaps bring to mind 3 small things that you’re grateful for, e.g. grateful to have a comfortable bed to sleep in, grateful to have bed covers to keep you warm at night, grateful for feeling sleepy. Studies show that those who take time to experience gratitude are much more likely to be happy, and that happiness increases when we express our gratitude. So take every opportunity to express gratitude.  If you’re grateful to somebody for something they’ve done for you, thank them in person and let them know how much you appreciate what they did and why, or write them a letter.

Nurturing Activities. We can spend our day tending to others without remembering to intersperse the day with small things that can make a big difference to the piggy bank. For example, taking some time to read a good book (even if you only manage a few pages before you’re interrupted!), engaging in a small task that gives you a sense of mastery or control (e.g. clearing out a shelf of a cupboard that’s been accumulating ‘stuff’ for years).

Also, ask yourself whether you take time regularly to do what makes your heart sing (other than tending to your little one(s) of course) because you need some time for you – it might be something creative, maybe you love to write or draw or paint or make music; it might be something physical such as a sport you love, maybe running, yoga, netball, horse-riding, indoor-climbing, origami even. Maybe you used to love doing something but somehow it’s been squeezed out of your schedule over the years. Parenting will be so much more joyful when you build in a little time for yourself. Taking some time for you is not selfish, it’s skilful, because you will have so much more patience in the piggy bank for others when you top up your resources by tending to yourself regularly.

Use BE.LOVE.  I write about this method in much more detail in ‘Awakening Child’ but in brief, you may find this method helpful when in the midst of a difficult moment wibeloveth your child; for example, they’re tired and upset and don’t want to go to bed even though it’s bedtime, and you’ve had a long, tiring day, and you just want bedtime to go smoothly so that you can finally put your feet up.  One parent who I shared this method with loved it so much that she had it tattooed on her arm so that she would always remember to bring mindfulness to a difficult moment. The steps are as follows:

  1. Breathe – yes, that old chestnut.  Take your attention to your breath, which will tend to have the effect of deepening your breathing which activates your parasympathetic nervous system, thus helping you to stay calm and focused.
  2. Enquire – notice the thoughts that are floating around in your mind.  Are you telling yourself a story about how things ‘should’ be going here.  Shoulds and shouldn’ts are just stories we tell ourselves and ways that we create suffering for ourselves by resisting what is.  Allow yourself to feel whatever feelings are here right now.
  3. . (pause) – literally just stop whatever you’re doing for a moment.  Remind yourself that there is space here, if you remember to create it, and remind yourself that when you create space you will respond to the situation rather than simply react out of habit.
  4. Listen – take a moment to really listen with your whole body to what your child is telling you with their whole body, and try to suspend logical mind.  Your child will most likely be in right-brain mode and simply expressing how they feel, which may not make logical sense.  Connecting to the feelings will allow a right-brain connection to be made between you, which will help to diffuse the situation.  Bringing in logic to an illogical situation will only further inflame the situation.
  5. Open – intend to open your heart to your child and let go of expectations and needing for things to be different from how they are in this moment.  Your child needs you, more than ever, to be present in this moment and to really hear them.
  6. Validate – having listened deeply to your child, show them that you understand how they are feeling and that it’s ok for them to be feeling this way.  There are no ‘wrong’ emotions to have; some are more difficult to experience than others.
  7. Empower – give your child choices, if you can, even a little choice (e.g. red pyjamas or yellow ones).

Although I’ve given you a bit of a whistle-stop tour of BE.LOVE, I hope you get the general gist of the steps and that this gives you some food for thought in terms of responding with presence to some of those difficult moments in family life.  Many people have told me that they’ve found it helpful in their working lives too, although (clearly) giving a colleague a choice in colour of pyjamas would be a bit weird.

Next time. The final part of this Summer Holiday Survival Guide, which will be released in a couple of days, will look at really thriving this summer rather than simply surviving …

#SummerHolidays‬  ‪#‎Parentingtips‬

<- Part 2

Summer Holiday Survival Guide (using mindfulness) – Part 2

Is this the summer holiday that you qualify as a Zen Master, wafting around in a state ofKids fighting in the back of a car complete equanimity even while little Johnny puts a solitaire counter up his sister’s nose because she annoyed him and he wants to see how far it can go?  Probably not. There will be moments, particularly during a long trip, that will get emotions rising, and so in this section of my Summer Holiday Survival Guide I’m aiming to share some tips that will hopefully help you to cope with a long trip with your child(ren). The ideas here are not just centred around mindfulness – I’ve aimed to make this a really practical bunch of suggestions, because you want practical stuff rather than me just telling you to breathe, right? Although breathing’s good, don’t forget to do that.

On the road …

You’ll no doubt have packed plenty of things for kids to keep themselves occupied with in the car, but there may still be times when boredom kicks in or when kids start arguing.

Snacks. Make sure you have plenty of low-sugar snacks with you. Feeding sugary snacks to a child in a confined space can be like lighting a firework in your hand and hoping it won’t go off! You probably keep sugary snacks to a minimum anyway, but sometimes service stations don’t stock anything particularly healthy, so having a box packed with things such as hard-boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, little cheeses, fruit, nuts etc. can help to prevent emotional outbursts due to low blood sugar.

Make regular stops. Stop regularly so that the kids can stretch their legs and move about a bit. Perhaps even schedule a stop at a play-park or other attraction along the way so that kids can let off a little steam. Even if you don’t have time for a long stop, a brief stop to stretch legs at a service station can be enough to change the energy in the car completely when you all pile back in.

Be the peace you want to see. OK, the phrase is usually, “Be the change you want to see” so pardon me for switching it up a little, but your own energy on the trip is really important – if yours is peaceful then the journey will tend to be much more peaceful, if you’re feeling tired, on-edge and impatient then your kids are much more likely to play-up. If you notice yourself starting to feel a little wound-up, see if you can take your attention to your breath and maybe deepen it a little, then intend to ‘zoom-out’ from the situation; see if you can remind yourself that whatever you’re feeling or thinking in this moment is just an experience that’s moving through you. Perhaps you could even say to yourself in your mind’s eye, “softening” a few times, and invite your jaw to soften, your shoulders, your belly.

Flying …

The suggestions above about snacks are still pretty relevant for plane journeys (except for making regular stops, obviously!) but it’s perhaps also worth mentioning that if you’re flying with young children then you may also have to deal with other passengers who are not sympathetic to your child’s crying (if your child, like I used to as a child, struggles with pain in their ears on take-off and landing).

Grumpy passengers.  Firstly, please be aware that you’re not alone.  Thousands of parents will be dealing with exactly the same kind of situation, right in the same moment that you’re dealing with it.  And you don’t want to be contending with grumpy passengers, you want to be focusing on your child.  Please remember that most passengers (many of whom will be parents themselves) will be absolutely on your side, but sometimes there’s the occasional other passenger who doesn’t deal well with your child’s crying or fidgeting, simply because it triggers something uncomfortable in them and they reject that uncomfortable experience rather than just allowing it.  If a passenger is bothering you, please get an air stewardess to deal with them, and then you can concentrate solely on your child.

Helping your child (and you).  You’re probably already aware that regularly sipping water throughout the flight as well as sucking dried fruit or a sweetie can be helpful in equalizing the pressure in your child’s ears, but if you don’t usually find these tricks work for your child then you might want to consider investing in flight ear plugs for them.  They’ve certainly made my flights with my children a much more pleasant experience!

Wishing you wonderful travels and gorgeous adventure, wherever you may be heading to this summer.

Next time. You may be an endlessly patient parent or are perhaps lucky enough to have children who get on really well together, but for those of us who are not or who don’t, in the next part of this Guide (released in a few days) we’ll be looking at how to add to your ‘piggy bank of patience’ so that you feel better able to weather any difficult moments you encounter.  I’ll also give you a preview of my BE.LOVE method for dealing with difficult moments, that I write about in my book ‘Awakening Child: A journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion’ …

#SummerHolidays‬  ‪#‎Parentingtips‬

<- Part 1                     Part 3 ->


Summer Holiday Survival Guide (using mindfulness) – Part 1

OK, so looking after children during typical British summer holiday weather would try the patience of a saint, right? As parents, we tend to look forward to school holidays so that we can have a couple of months free of homework and school runs, but then quickly find ourselves a little adrift with no routine and with increasingly fractious children who seem to know only a few phrases, such as “I’m bored!”, “He/she started it” and “I’m hungry” (what, again?).child-raining

As I write this, the skies are grey, with more rain forecast, my partner is at work and I have 4 children in the house (2 teens and 2 youngsters), and so I feel your pain, I really do. I wanted to share how mindfulness, with a healthy dollop of self-compassion, is helping me right now, and if you find that information helpful in your own situation then that’s awesome.

In this four-part Summer Holiday Survival Guide, that will be released over the coming week or so, I will share my tips to help you keep your sanity, covering:

  1. Dealing with boredom (here, in Part 1)
  2. Coping with long trips (Part 2)
  3. Adding to the piggy bank of patience (Part 3)
  4. Not just surviving, but thriving (Part 4)

Perhaps the most useful thing to know about boredom (drum roll here) is that there’s nothing wrong with it. Children, and indeed adults, have grown very used to almost constant stimulation in an age where omnipresent technology can satisfy our need for entertainment instantly and so we’re even more susceptible to feeling bored if for some reason we’ve been parted from an electronic device for more than a few minutes.

You most likely do your best not to allow your child too much technology-time, but it’s so tempting, particularly when the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor play, to allow relatively unrestricted access to TV or some other device to keep your child occupied. If nothing else, summer holidays are the perfect opportunity to practise being really firm with our boundaries, giving our reason for saying “no” and then sticking to our decision. What helps us to do this is to remember (and forgive me for saying it again) there’s nothing wrong with experiencing a moment of boredom.  Once we’ve made it clear that there’s nothing wrong with feeling bored, and ask them with curiosity how it feels for them, it’s perhaps a great moment to direct a child towards activities such as reading, art or making music, if they’d prefer to find something to do rather than to feel bored.  A child will often announce that they’re bored as if it’s one of the worst things in the world to be experiencing, and our ability to model an OKness with feeling something difficult is what will really set the scene here. In fact, a willingness to feel difficult feelings is one of the most fundamental lessons a child will learn from us.

In a blog post, it’s hard to really give a full sense of what I mean by ‘modelling an OKness with feeling something difficult’ so feel free to comment or message me if you’d like some clarification. Alternatively, it’s something I write about in great detail in my book, ‘Awakening Child: A journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion’ which has just been released. It’s available on Amazon if you’re interested.

#SummerHolidays‬  ‪#‎Parentingtips‬

Part 2 ->

A Journey to ‘Perfect’ Parenting

Nearly sixteen years ago I found myself thrust most unpreparedly into parenthood and determined to do a much better job than my own mother had; while Mum possessed some wonderful qualities, she chose to hide them often in her quest to find whatever it was that she sought at the bottom of the whisky bottle. I resolved to become the perfect parent.

I immediately proceeded to feel dreadful every time I noticed that knot of dread in the pit of my stomach that was triggered the moment my colicky little bundle started yelling. And he yelled A LOT. I fretted A LOT. I beat myself up A LOT. As well as trying (and in my view, failing) to be a good mum, I was trying (and again in my view, failing) to be a good wife. This was not how it was supposed to be.

My mother grew up in the light of harsh criticism from her own parents; she, in turn, having internalised this voice of criticism, would often direct this voice at me and my sister. She thought that this would make us better, stronger, more resilient, more motivated, keener to succeed. She was so very wrong. I too had internalised this critical voice, and this inner-critic was giving me a running commentary on all of my failings. The voice was pulling me down into crushing darkness.

The more I strived to do a good job, the worse I felt when I evaluated my performance to be catastrophically sub-standard. Perfect parenting – to my mind anyway – involved copious amounts of patience (after all, perfect parents do not raise their voices or get frustrated), serene scenes of contented little-one breast-feeding, immediately burping and falling into a blissful sleep in my arms at which point I would transfer the sleeping little angel to his cot and proceed to do the housework, the laundry and make delicious and nutritious home-cooked meals. My reality was starkly different – I struggled even to find the time to brush my teeth in those exhausting first six months!

The difficulties that I experienced around that time, along with the departure of my husband into more-welcoming arms, conspired to make life so uncomfortable that I was forced to find a new way to journey through life. What I did next surprised some people. I left my well-paid job. I became a Reiki Master, and then a meditation and mindfulness teacher. The process took some years. Along the way, I started to have a new sense of the ‘perfect’ parent.

And here I am, my eldest child due to turn sixteen in a few weeks’ time, presenting a very different idea of the perfect parent to you. You see, I’m a mess. A compassionate one. I parent the four amazing boys in my care from a place of presence, as best I can, and oceanic love. But amidst this is a willingness to be vulnerable and to sometimes feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark wishing that someone would please turn the lights on. At times I don’t know the best way forward, and do you know what? It’s really very OK not to know – in fact, it’s heroically brave! Resting in that not-knowing and taking time to pause and reflect, we often find that a different path – one that responds more skilfully to what is required – is the one that callsperfect_parent us, rather than the habitually trodden path of reactivity.

I get it wrong, and I do my very best to speak up and admit it as soon as I realise that I got it wrong. I don’t see these moments as mistakes but as growing pains – the path of cultivating self-awareness is often not a comfortable one.

My children are not always full of joy, perfectly confident, perfectly content, perfectly at ease. This, as I point out in my forthcoming book, Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion, is completely OK! In fact, it’s more than OK; the practice of cultivating mindfulness and self-compassion invites us to let go of thoughts of ‘not enough’ and shows us that we, and our children, are always enough – always were and always will be. We come to realise the glorious perfection of this oftentimes messy and imperfect life.


Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion will be in bookstores and on Amazon from 29th July 2016


Three steps for helping your child deal with strong emotions

tantrum image

One of the questions I’m asked most often is, “How do I help my child when they’re in the grip of <insert strong feeling here>?”  Despair, anger, rage, disappointment, anxiety – these are perhaps the most common.  First of all – and this really is key – there’s nothing wrong

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Mindful parenting misrepresentation

8 Rules of Mindful Parenting

In my humble opinion, the above article on mindful parenting rather misses the point.  I have a feeling that the author hasn’t misunderstood mindfulness as fully as she makes out, and that actually this is more a backlash against ‘perfectionist parenting’.  To balance the argument (and in defence of mindfulness, not that it cares a jot whether it’s defended or not), mindful parenting isn’t at all about spending our days endlessly sniffing our child’s hair and gazing into their eyes with adoration. 

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Time to let go…

Standing in the rain...

Standing in the rain…

Feeling a little raw today if the truth be told, and it feels good to admit it.  No need to put on a game-face and pretend.  The Buddha taught of how deeply our human suffering is bound to the Universal law of impermanence, and how true that is!  ALL forms (be they physical forms, thought forms, emotion forms, sensations, events) arise and then fade away, arising from the unmanifested, the Source, and returning back to it.  Learning to let go is one of the hardest lessons; yet it is essential work to be done if we are ever to allow inner-peace to find a foothold within us.

We are a couple of days post full-moon, and we are being buffeted by high winds and heavy rain.  Tomorrow my youngest starts primary school, my middle son starts high school and it is the anniversary of my father’s death.  I took this picture just moments ago whilst standing outside in the rain; something I used to do as a child after my father passed.  Yes I feel raw, but at the same time incredibly supported by the Universe; it almost feels as if the skies are crying with me, holding me in my pain.  My children are growing up, and they need me less now.  My youngest revels in doing things for himself and spends much more time gazing adoringly at his older brothers than being with me.  So the hour approaches when I must wave goodbye in the school playground and let go, staying intensely present and allowing life to unfold just as it is.

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