Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Job Made Me a Mindful Mother

This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Blog Carnival hosted by Kelly of Becoming Crunchy and Zoie of TouchstoneZ

Participants are writing posts about what mindfulness mean to them. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Several years before I became a mother, I became a Registered Nurse. I worked through a Bachelors program in Nursing, received my degree, and passed the NCLEX licensure exam to become an RN. I felt very prepared from my schooling for working as a nurse, but I had no idea how much on-the-job learning there would be. I certainly never anticipated that it would have such an effect on my life today.

In my first full-time nursing position, I was working 12-hour night shifts (7:00 PM to 7:30 AM) mostly taking care of surgical patients. While I was good at my job, I often felt like I wasn't able to connect with my patients the way I wanted to. I always felt like I was rushing around to get everything accomplished within my shift (while still being able to take a lunch break). My patient load was heavy. Though my teammates and I helped each other out a lot, I still felt like I wasn't getting to spend the kind of time with my patients that I wanted (and needed) to for me to feel like I was practicing nursing with integrity.

I went to talk to a nurse mentor of mine, and he gave me some excellent advice. He told me it sounded like I needed to work on being more mindful during my time at work. He suggested that I develop a short ritual that I would perform before entering a patient's room, something that would help me leave my list of things "to do" at the door and allow me to be fully present with them in that moment. He talked me through a ritual he used to practice when he was a floor nurse (before becoming a nurse educator) and he challenged me to work it, or something like it, into my routine during my shift.

I left our meeting feeling like his insights to my work frustration were totally on point. I reflected about our conversation for a long while that day. I realized how easy it was to fall into the habit of identifying each of my patients (both in my mind and to my coworkers) by their room number. It was equally tempting to refer to them by the surgery they had just had to distinguish them from each other. Though this kind of shorthand was an effective way for me to organize my work in my mind, it wasn't the best way to honor my patients; it didn't give them the dignity they deserved. I decided I was going to work hard at being more mindful of that, and more present in each moment during my nursing practice.

Over the next week, I made an effort to implement a mindfulness exercise during my shifts: I would pause a moment before entering a patient's room, placing my hand on the door frame by their room number. I would take a deep breath, say the patient's name to myself, and picture their face (not their surgical site) in my mind. Only then would I enter the room, making sure to be aware of the energy that I was about to bring into their space of healing.

I noticed that I began to feel more satisfaction in my work. My mindfulness exercise didn't add any significant amount of time to my work, and I was still able to get everything accomplished. In fact, I began to feel like I was being more efficient! Taking that moment outside the patients' doors was helping me to remember everything I was supposed to do on that trip into their room, so I was making fewer return trips for forgotten items.

The mindfulness practice not only helped me to feel better about my work, but I noticed after a few shifts that it had changed the way I was interacting with my patients. I was making more eye contact. I was better understanding and remembering their responses to my questions. I was aware when someone would speak to me as I was on my way out of the room, and I made a point to turn back around and look them in the eyes to answer them, even if it was simply to say, "You're welcome."

This simple ritual of pausing to honor the person in the room—instead of just treating the patient—completely transformed my nursing practice, and it affects my mothering now, too. It's all too easy to look at young people and forget that they're doing the best they can, and also that they're relying on us (older people with more developed nervous systems and coping skills) to help them get the rest of the way.

When I'm beginning to feel frustrated with Daniel, I take a moment to look at his face and see his personhood instead of focusing on the thing he's doing that's difficult for me to cope with (screaming, usually). I look at his small features and fill up with compassion and empathy for this child who simply doesn't yet have all the tools he needs to communicate effectively.

I pause to breathe outside his room when he wakes up from his nap earlier than I'd like, being aware of my heart rate, my facial expression, and my tone of voice before I open his door to greet him. I remember that he has his own bodily rhythms and his own individual challenges to work through as well. I remind myself that it's my job to help facilitate his sleep, not to try to change him or make him fit into my (or anyone else's) schedule.

That simple mindfulness ritual I practiced in my job helped me to become more aware of how what I bring to a situation affects both me and the others around me. I hadn't paid much attention to those things before I had that important conversation with my nurse mentor, but now it's part of my awareness in pretty much everything I do. 

Mindful Mama Blog CarnivalVisit the Mindful Mama Blog Carnival Homepage to find out how you can participate in the next Mindful Mama Blog Carnival!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


  1. This is such a simple, yet effective, idea to put into practice! Thank you for helping me remember to "see Kieran's personhood" - what an excellent way to phrase it.

  2. Wow, this blows me away. First of all, I always knew nurses were the heart of hospitals, but knowing that even a percentage are practicing this kind of mindfulness is amazing. What great advice your mentor gave you.
    I love the idea of using it for mothering. I have felt in tune as a mother, but just taking that moment would improve my ability to be present and connected so much.

  3. Thank you for sharing this for the carnival. Those were some fortunate patients and now a fortunate child to have someone who has this practice.

    I have always wondered how nurses are able to stay focused on the people behind the pathology. I know that this is supposed to be the focus, but it has got to be hard to mindfully walk that detached-attached line. The ones who do it successfully are the ones who see the personhood well-the same for mothers (and anyone, for that matter)

  4. This post meant so much to me in so many ways...

    I find it way too easy at times to bypass that 'personhood' in people (self-protection, for the most part) and you've really opened my eyes to how wrong that is.

    It also touched my heart so much to hear of people in the medical profession having this practice, because that is one place where people are astonishingly affected by whether their care provider sees them as a real person or not. I have felt both sides - being seen as a number and being seen as a real person - and the later is all too rare. So thank you for what you've done with that as a nurse!

    And bringing it into cool that you were able to learn that lesson and practice and bring it home. :) AP and the personhood of children was something that came as totally new to me with the birth of my daughter, and knowing what I do now, I always want to bring that respect and acknowledgement to her.

    I am so thankful for this post and hoping it won't be long before I can say with you that this type of mindfulness can be found within every area of my life...

  5. Tone of voice. Facial expression. Compassion. Yes, you've really said it all.

    I'm really amazed when I learn of first-time moms who are so aware and thoughtful and *mindful* in their mothering, right from the start. Reading this post made me feel so sad for my own early days as a mother when I was such a *mainstreamer* and I really didn't know what I was doing. Luckily, I can now look back on those days and forgive my lack of compassion and utter inability to be mindful.

    Such a delight to read about your dedication to making the world a better place by raising your son with thoughtfulness and compassion.

    Joy to you!

  6. I feel truly humbled and blessed by all your kind comments on this post. I'm really just fumbling along as best I can on this motherhood (and life) journey, and I'm certainly not perfect at it. For me, making the effort is what feels important, though...not necessarily being awesome at it 100% of the time.

    Reading all the incredible posts in this carnival has given me a lot to reflect on. I'm very grateful for that, and also for being a part of this community of parents seeking mindfulness. Thank you all. <3

  7. Wow, what a beautiful and simple practice.

    I remember reading once in a text on hinduism, a practice of treating everyone you meet like an incarnation of god (because everyone you meet IS in some way). I have tried to remember that idea, to help look past the function or surface behaviours of people I encounter, and see the soul that exists there. I guess it's taking it a bit further, but the same idea, to pause and remember to really see people.

    I'm inspired to work on this. Thanks!

  8. This is such timely advice, as I'm taking a quick break from my children (who are in the other room with their grandmother) - Libra who has chosen not to nap today, and Gemini who inexplicably awoke from his nape 45 minutes early. It's good to be reminded that they are whole, unique little people, and that they do not change their schedule simply to interfere with mine, and that they have their own needs for interactivity and sleep, not just the needs I think they have.

  9. What a wonderful post (as always). You have such a way with words.

    "Personhood!" Awesome phrasing and a great reminder as to how we mamas need to view our babes.

    I must say that I really loved hearing about your journey towards mindfulness via nursing. What you said is so true. When I was in the hospital for 4 days after my c-section I could tell those nurses who were not connected in mindfulness from the ones who were truly present for the patient.

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a unique and thought provoking post!

  10. This is such simple and powerful advice! I love the idea that one connected moment can make such a difference.

  11. Oh, I love this post! As a mom, I do get overwhelmed and frustrated with my kids. Little Guy screaming and my teen getting an attitude over every little thing can send me over the edge. I have stopped a few times to lust notice their "personhood" and it really has helped. Why I don't do it more often is a mystery to me. I can assure you that, from now on, it will be at the top of my list of "Things to Do Before Blowing Your Top" Thanks, Amy!

  12. Thank you for sharing this practice. In being with the Critter, my tendency is to focus on eye contact and bodily awareness, mostly of my breath. But the pause — that's so important too, and I almost never pause. Too much rush, rush, rush in my life!

  13. This post is such a wonderful reminder of a simple yet powerful practice. The act of the pause and the breath are so simple, yet can change the situation in one second. Thank you for sharing and for the reminder.


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