We're delving a little deeper into the topic of mindfulness with none other than the Mindful Mama, Hunter Clarke-Fields! We discuss Hunter's journey from being triggered just as often as the rest of us, to using mindfulness techniques to center herself so she can parent more effectively. She even walks me through an impromptu mini-meditation!
You can buy Hunter's book, Raising good humans: A mindful guide to breaking the cycle of reactive parenting and raising kind, confident kids on Amazon or at your local bookstore.
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Hi, I'm Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo podcast where I critically examine strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research and principles of respectful parenting. In this series of episodes called Sharing Your Parenting Mojo, we turn the tables and hear from listeners. What have they learned from the show that's helped their parenting? Where are they still struggling? And what tools can we find in the research that will help? If you'd like to be notified when new episodes are released and get a FREE Guide to 7 Parenting Myths We Can Safely Leave Behind, seven fewer things to worry about, subscribe to the show at yourparentingmojo.com. You can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners in the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you'll join us. Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast and we're here with another sharing your parenting merger episode today with Hunter Clarke-Fields who is the author of the book Raising Good Humans: A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids. Welcome, Hunter! It's great to have you here!
I'm glad to be here. Thanks for having me, Jen.
So do you want to tell us just a little bit about who you are and what is your work in the world?
Sure. I'm the Mindful Mama mentor. I do the Mindful Mama podcast and I wrote the book Raising Good Humans. And I basically help parents stay calm so they can have stronger, more connected relationships with their children. And I'm really interested in changing generational patterns, like shifting through the old harmful stuff we don't want to pass on.
Yeah, there's some of that, isn't there? Okay so you've always been a mindful parent, right? When your daughter was born, you were immediately mindful and...
Oh, yes. First, they just shout out of my ears,
...and that's what I thought you're going to say okay, so tell us how that really happened.
I discovered mindfulness when I was younger, I had already always kind of suffered from extremes of ups and downs. And I would kind of fall into I guess I was like a highly sensitive kid, I'm highly sensitive person. And I would fall into these pits of, you know, just felt like I couldn't handle life every week, or every couple of weeks or so throughout my whole life. And I just thought, this is the way life is, in fact, my father once told me, he was like, rubbing my back after I'd been crying and crying. And he said, this is Hunter. This is just your artistic nature. And this is the way life is going to be for you. And I was like, Wow, thanks. So not helpful. But he was right. And I started to read about mindfulness as a teenager kind of desperate for some relief. And then, about 10 years after that, I finally started doing my own meditation practice. And lo and behold, it is much more effective if you actually do it than if you read about it. And it really transformed my life and I, you know, it's interesting because you're, you're sitting and, you know, once one starts a sitting meditation practice, you know, you, you start to realize, like, Oh my God, my brain is going everywhere. This is impossible. I can't do this.
And I had all those things, but I kept going. And I sat for two or three months. And around that time, I remember thinking, like, I just sit here and think of the whole time like, nothing is happening, this isn't working. But I looked back at the rest of my life. I realized I hadn't fallen into any of those pits that I'd fallen into for 27 years of my life at that point, and it was incredibly game changer for me as far as this equanimity. So then when I was pregnant, then I remember being sort of big and pregnant with like, sitting with my meditation group, like I'm going to be this great parent. I'm going to be so calm. You know, look at my baby is like meditating with me, this is going to be amazing. And, you know, the reality of course was like, much farther from that my practice, you know, fell off a bit, obviously with newborn times. And it was just incredibly hard as so many of us find it just like, you know, physically, mentally, emotionally, incredibly taxing. And I really struggled. And then when my temper really started showing, you know, then I was like, well, I just need to sort of return to my really dig in deeper into my mindfulness practice and also learn how to speak how to respond with my child. So I saw that I really needed sort of these two things that I ultimately teach now, which is mindfulness and to be able to lower our stress response and learn how to be less reactive, access all the different parts of our brain. And then what do I say then?
Yeah, and you mentioned it, you slipped a little word in there equanimity. I wonder if you could expand on that a little bit. Because I think It has so much relevance for parents, right?
Oh, sure. So before I had been doing my meditation practice, it was really very, very up and down for me and, and that's kind of the opposite of equanimity, right? Like equanimity, we're able to kind of, as we practice mindfulness, as we create space to hold all the different feelings that arise, you know, I still have all those different feelings that arise. What happens is that I'm more able to create space to hold those on less like kind of pushed and pulled around by the intensities of my feeling. And mindfulness gives you this ability at some point to be able to observe it to say, Oh, look, this irritation is arising. Here's the sadness. I can see that and I can kind of hold space for that. And so it's your less like, whoo, you know, like more, just, you know, gentle surf.
Yeah and people who have been listening for a while or maybe have been through Tame Your Triggers workshop, when we talk about a lot about, you know, what pushes you outside of your window of tolerance and into fight or flight or freeze. And yeah, if this is one tool that we can use to help to keep us within that window of tolerance so that we're more able to respond in a way that is helpful to our child and helpful to ourselves as well. So I'm curious about the distinction between mindfulness and meditation. I do have a meditation practice. It's maybe not as formal as advanced practitioners are but I do meditate every day. And I'm curious about your thoughts on, firstly, what the distinction is between the two. And secondly, is it helpful to have one without the other and how do they kind of fit together?
Okay, sure. Well, so mindfulness is it's an ability of practice of intentionally placing your attention into whatever's happening in the present moment, it could be your breath, your child, your feelings, the sounds in the room, so you're placing your attention on present moment with an attitude of kindness and curiosity. So you're saying, oh, okay, what is here if I pay attention to right now, what do I find here? So that's the practice of mindfulness. We can practice that in so many different ways. I can practice mindfully having a podcast interview.
Yeah, I'm doing it right now.
Yeah we're very attentive, we're listening to each other. We're looking and aware in this present moment, right? You can practice mindfully washing the dishes. If you're practicing mindfully watching or listening to this, you're maybe you know, disregarding like other distractions and just being fully present, and practicing to do that because our brains sort of pull us away into the future.
Yeah , I'm thinking about the things I need to be doing and what did I forget to do before we got on this call and just saying, Oh, yeah, I see that. And that's not here right now. And we are here right now.
Yeah. Sort of practice of coming back again and again and again and again. And meditation is there's many different kinds of meditation. And meditation can be a way to practice mindfulness, I kind of think of it as the gold standard for practicing mindfulness because you just, you sit or you lie down or you relaxing on the Lazy Boy, whatever you want, and you do nothing else but bring your attention back to the sensations and the way you feel in the present moment without other things kind of pulling at your attention. So you can practice all kinds of different meditations. But that's a way to practice mindfulness. And it's been shown by research to be incredibly valuable and, and I think of it as a kind of a parental superpower.
Hmm, okay, so then there's two avenues to, to that the parental superpower avenue and the research avenue. I wonder if we could cover research first and what has the research led you to believe about the effectiveness of mindfulness and meditation.
It's pretty interesting what they've shown in Johns Hopkins, they did a meta study of like 47 different studies and it showed that you mindfulness meditation practice increases sense of well-being, decreases depression, decreases feelings of anxiety, helps our sleep. It has a lot of incredible benefits. And one of the biggest things that's so important for parents is that it reduces our reactivity, because it just kind of gives us a little bit of space between stimulus and responses, kind of how I think that works. And it's really, really interesting. They've done a lot of MRI studies with the brain. And they've shown that after an eight-week course of mindfulness meditation, usually an MBSR - Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course that it's really fascinating. So you've talked obviously about the stress response in those triggers, and the stress response or originates in the amygdala which are kind of two almond shaped pieces in the low in the near the brainstem. And that's kind of our like, oh crap response in the body like alarm bells and the brain studies. The scans have shown After an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, that those actually shrink in density in their grey matter. And that the density of the prefrontal cortex which is like our higher order brain, we're all that, you know, our thoughtfulness, empathy, verbal ability, all that, you know, problem solving, higher order thinking stuff actually grows more dense, and grey matter and the connectivity increases and changes too. And the, the connectivity of the amygdala to the rest of the brain actually, like shrinks. So it's pretty amazing. Like you actually see these physical changes in the brain. And it's interesting for people kind of experiencing that. A lot of people don't realize themselves, maybe what has served shifting change in their lives. But my clients tell me a lot of times they say, their partner has said to them, oh, you're calmer, you're like much more chill these days and they don't realize it. They can't see it yet, but then they can their partner sometimes can see it's pretty cool.
Yeah, that reminds me of an anecdote. I can't remember which book it was in, I think it was one of in one of Phillip Moffit's books, and he was talking about a loving kindness meditation. And for those who aren't familiar with it, it's the idea of sending loving kindness, sending good thoughts out to somebody in the world. It could be somebody you start with somebody who you have an easy relationship with, and maybe then somebody you have a neutral relationship with. And then eventually, somebody you have a difficult relationship and even to yourself sending these thoughts to yourself. And the book was telling a story about how somebody had been sending loving kindness thoughts to a person at work that he had a very, very difficult relationship with and did not get along well with, they didn't see each other for a period of months of months. They saw each other again, and the other guy says, whoa, you seem so different. And of course, you know, just by saying in our minds, you know, I wish you happiness. I wish you comfort I wish you peace. Nothing changed for the other guys. But our perception of our relationship to that person shifted, which is the point of the loving kindness meditation and, and by directing it to yourself, your perception of yourself self shifts as well. And yeah, we may not even see these things happen. But isn't it fascinating how other people see them in us?
Yeah, and I think our, our children's sense that like they get this, they first they get their sense of grounding and that connection from their relationship, their attachment relationship to us. And they can sense and feel everything that's kind of going on with us. You know, it's very palpable to them. And it's really interesting to teach people to, like, shift what's happening in themselves. And sometimes that's enough for their children to like, shift their behavior to have them just have this sense of more relaxation, more kindness for themselves, that can really shift the whole dynamic of the whole house sometimes.
Mm hmm. Yeah. And we're so conditioned to think 'Well, I think I was here first and I was doing fine. And now my child's here and this is not going well, and it's my child's behavior that's at the root of this, right? And if they would just change their behavior, then things would be so much easier. My life would be easier. Our family life would be easier.'
If you would just listen to me, I would be okay.
Yeah. And what we instead see is, instead we shift ourselves and our reaction to that situation and maybe even turn it from being a reaction to creating a space that allows us to choose a different action.
Yeah, and that's where that mindfulness really comes in really well because you're practicing, like, kind of, you're sitting down daily, and you're practicing with yourself. You're practicing curiosity rather than judgement. You're practicing saying, I wonder what's going on here, you know. So, this attitude of kindness and curiosity is really important. Because then it allows you to then say, okay, bring this curiosity in other parts of your life like I wonder what's going on for you. I wonder what's really going on here? You know, is it more than just what this behavior is? And isn't there something past my irritation underneath all of this stuff?
Yeah. So let's make this super practical then for parents who are listening and are thinking, Okay, this sounds kind of a bit, a little bit out there a little bit woowoo, but I'm willing to try it, I'm willing, good. Just give it a shot and see if it might have some benefit. Where would you advise people who are completely new to this to start?
Well, I think that it's a great start is to kind of start educating yourself and learning about it listening to something like this or watching something like this is a great idea, learning a little bit more about it. But yeah, you know, there's this perception that mindfulness is like this kind of, like woowoo thing for yoga teachers, but or whatever, you know, you're sitting like this and you're just going to feel so blissed out. And the truth is that no one feels blissed out like the second they do a meditation practice. There's a lot of stuff that comes up your mind is like a monkey, they even have a thing called in the Buddhist tradition of noble failure, which is because it's so normal and common to fail at being able to bring your attention to the present moment that, you know, there's this term for noble failure. So I just want to put that out there before I say how to practice because sometimes we go into we say, Oh, it's easy to practice. And it is easy. It is simple. I guess I would say it is simple, but it's not easy. It's a simple thing to start. And it's a hard thing to practice and continue. So I recommend people start with something really, really small, like a three minute or a five minute guided meditation. So you just find yourself a nice corner in your house. If you can create a space where you feel comfortable, where you're not going to be distracted. First thing in the morning is optimal. But you know, maybe not for everybody. Some people find other times to practice.
I do it right before bed. I find it really settling.
There you go. And then You make yourself a little space. Sometimes you could put a little candle or a little picture and inspirational quote there just something to kind of. I talk about the space because the space helps to trigger and remind our habit, you know what we've intended. And then you can sit down and there's so many wonderful guided meditations. I recently did like 24 five-minute guided meditations on the Mindful Mama podcast for the pandemic times to help people lower their anxiety. And there's a tons of resources where you can find that but I think that's like a great way to start, but you want to think of it as so you're building a muscle, right? You're building a muscle of non-reactivity. You don't just go to the gym and do triceps and be like, Okay, I'm done with that. I'm good. Like, my triceps is great now. Like no like that doesn't happen. It's something that you have to decide to you want to have be able to have this skill build this muscle for the long term. So maybe you look back in like two months and kind of see how it's going. But you want to build that muscle because that non reactivity muscle is so powerful, you know, it's like, if you think of like your child's tantrum like that as this is like the Little League World Series, okay? This is like the big game. If you have a child, you're not going to put your kid in Little League and say you're just go to this Little League World Series game and play, you're going to be great, good luck. You don't do that. Because you know that your child needs practice needs to know what they're doing needs to build that muscle memory. And so it's the same thing for us. It's something that is a practice. It's something that you're going to have some noble failure with. But in the long term, it's incredibly powerful for helping us not only with our parenting and our kids...