Is it possible to be a mindful mum? One stressed mum finds out

Jayne Cherrington-Cook
Izzy Judd says mindfulness can help you be a better mum, but how easy is it to put that into practice?
Izzy Judd says mindfulness can help you be a better mum, but how easy is it to put that into practice?

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Like most working mums, I’m pulled in many directions. To say I’m a pro at juggling is an understatement – seriously, Gerry Cottle could’ve hired me – as I balance my freelance workload with my son, my husband’s shift work and general life.

Throw into the mix the fact my son is autistic and we have no family nearby, and you’ve got a recipe for one seriously frazzled mum.

This is exactly why Izzy Judd, who’s married to one quarter of McFly, Harry Judd, decided to write her new book Mindfulness For Mums. She was searching for something to help with all the daily demands that motherhood brings – the ones that often mean mums are bottom of the list, rarely looking after their own well-being.

Izzy Judd appears on White Wine Question Time, alongside friend Kimberley Walsh
Izzy Judd appears on White Wine Question Time, alongside friend Kimberley Walsh

Speaking on White Wine Question Time, Izzy said being mindful is really important for mums because of the eternal juggle they go through, which stopped her enjoying her two children.

“As mums I think we hold so much pressure of everything we should be doing,” she told podcast host Kate Thornton. “I think we have so much noise. It's not just the exterior noise of the children whingeing… It’s also the noise in your head of ‘I need to return that email’, ‘I've got to get those presents for that birthday party this weekend’.

READ MORE: What is parental burnout and what can be done to prevent it?

“I mean it's endless the noise in your head, and I suddenly realised that I was not able to enjoy the moment that I was actually in with Lola and Kit because of all this exterior noise.”

This sounds very much like me, so can Izzy’s book help me be more present and more connected to my family?

Living in the present

The book is super easy to read, which I was grateful for as I don’t have much free time in the day. It’s also been designed to dip in and out of and I’ve definitely bookmarked pages that I want to refer to again.

I was thankful as well that none of what Izzy was writing about was completely new to me. I practice yoga regularly, so I know all about breathing, chakras and mantras, however, I do just usually leave that behind in the yoga studio, so I decided to follow Izzy’s lead and bring it into everyday life.

Following Izzy Judd's book Mindfulness For Mums, I attempted to see if I could become a more mindful parent to my son Milo
Following Izzy Judd's book Mindfulness For Mums, I attempted to see if I could become a more mindful parent to my son Milo

I started incorporating the mindful breathing cycle – in for four counts, hold for two, out for four counts – into my daily life. I particularly loved doing this one while walking the dog. I can be really guilty of walking through beautiful countryside and instead of enjoying what’s around me, I’m deep in thought, doing a mental to-do list in my head. Taking time out to breathe brought me into the present and made me stop and smell the flowers – literally.

I also used the exercised called ‘calm begins with me’ whenever I started feeling myself lose it – mostly when in queues and on stressful school runs – and it definitely helps calm you down. It’s so simple, it literally forces you to take a minute out as you tap the words Calm Begins With Me on your fingers, and then that Post Office queue doesn’t seem quite so bad.

A place for myself

The one thing I really wanted to work, but just didn’t, was Izzy’s idea of creating a mindfulness corner. I’ve been thinking of creating a little reading nook for a while, so I took the opportunity to do this and also use it for a little bit of meditation.

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While it worked for the first two days, on day three I came home from a meeting to find Kevin the Carrot and several toys had taken residence in my corner.

‘This is a great area to put all my toys’ the small boy tells me proudly on my return, so my meditation and mindfulness have now been banished to the bedroom – or in severe cases, the bathroom with the door locked so no children, dogs or husbands can interrupt!

Kevin the Carrot took over my meditation corner....
Kevin the Carrot took over my meditation corner....

Izzy’s chapter on self-care also resonated with me. When you have a child with a disability to look after, you definitely put yourself bottom of the pile and I’ve always felt guilty in taking any time out to look after myself - but as Izzy says ‘Self-care is not selfish. It is not a luxury. It is essential’.

Thanks to Izzy definite statement, I snuck off for a Sunday afternoon disco nap leaving the son and husband together. Not only was I not missed, but the two of them also went out for a bike ride, resulting in a much-rested mum and an exuberant son who had gone off-road for the first time, biking in the woods!

I was definitely much more engaged with both him and my husband after taking some time out for myself, so self-care is going up on my daily to-do list from now on!

Dealing with anxiety

One thing that was really refreshing to read was Izzy’s honesty about her anxiety, especially when she was young. My son struggles hugely with anxiety, especially around bedtime, so I was keen to try some of her suggested exercises.

Being 9 though I didn’t know if he’d be quite so keen to join in (Izzy’s children, who she mentions throughout the book, are pre-school age) but we did the body scan, where you go through tensing and relaxing your body. Although it created a few giggles – the word tense is really funny apparently – it seemed to have some effect on his anxiety levels.

READ MORE: Thousands of school children to practice mindfulness and meditation in a bid to improve mental health

That bedtime wasn’t quite the struggle it usually is – the one that usually sends me head-first into a vat of wine. I won’t say it was perfect, but I only needed one glass of vino after he finally went to sleep, opposed to the normal bottle, so that’s an improvement I’d say!

We also tried a couple of other exercises that really worked well. My son struggles with anxiety around school so the morning walk can be a bit of a nightmare. After reading about Izzy’s ‘5,4,3,2,1’ exercise. I thought I’d give it a go. Basically, as you go about your day you find five things that you can see, four that you can hear, three you can touch, two you can smell and one you can taste.

I wasn’t sure how it would go down or if it would be a bit babyish for him but on a particularly bad Monday morning, when I’d literally had to drag son crying out of the house, I decided to try it and what do you know? The crying stopped, he took notice of his surroundings and finally calmed down. I’m not sure it would work every time, but it definitely helped take his mind off the future day and into the present.

I’ve also tried a couple of the breathing exercises with him when he’s particularly anxious or having a meltdown – ‘breathing hands’ is a particular favourite – and they do seem to help him stop, relax and move on from what was unsettling him.

The verdict

What I’ve ultimately learnt from Izzy’s book is that mindfulness, just like any skill, takes practice.

Izzy agrees, saying that it’s not something that comes naturally. “I think with everything it's practice,” she said. “You can't suddenly one day think that that's just going to go away. It's practicing it every day.”

READ MORE: Slow down, get better: how to be mindful in the workplace

I now try and include some mindful activity every day, however small, whether it’s meditation, breathing, baking or reading a book.

I’m also trying to ensure I’m more present while around my son - and not finishing off features or making shopping lists. In fact, I’ve actually hit on a winner for me and my son. Playing video games together may not have been Izzy’s intention for perfect mindfulness, I have realised that when you’re trying to beat a nine-year-old at Mario Kart, that’s all you’re pretty much concentrating on! Who knew Mario could be such a mindfulness icon?

Hear Izzy Judd chat more about the struggles of modern parenting, alongside Kimberley Walsh, on White Wine Question Time. Listen on iTunes or Spotify.