Meditate with (and like) a toddler

Diana Winston on the difficulties and benefits of meditation while raising a toddler.

Diana Winston
21 October 2010
Photo by Caleb Woods

I try not to complain that my formal practice has disappeared since I had a baby. I mean, I knew what I was getting into. For the first year of my daughter’s life, my formal practice was spotty at best, and often most accessible in the middle of the night when I couldn’t go back to sleep after the latest feeding. So I went for sleepy-meditation over nothing at all. My daily life practice was alive and well, but I missed formal practice.

Well one night while meditating, I had the brainstorm of bringing back formal practice in toddler-friendly style. And thus we instituted “family meditation time.” My daughter is only one so we don’t have too high of a bar. We sit together, the three of us, for five minutes. We have one of those wooden pyramid timers that we set for five minutes; we all listen for the ding (extremely exciting to the one year old in all of us). Then my husband and I close our eyes and try to meditate. (Operative word: “try”).

And what does my daughter do? She tries to nurse. She fiddles with the bell. She pokes us and giggles. She wanders about, not too far usually. Sometimes she whines and occasionally cries. Once she seemed like she was meditating along with us—for about two seconds. More often than not she’s jumping on us.

At first I tried to keep my eyes shut and do my thing. But she was doing her thing too, which initially I found cute. Then, slowly, it became frustrating, and then downright annoying. You can’t say “Mama and Papa are meditating” to a one year old. So I started opening my eyes, handing her toys to distract, offering some milk. That worked to a certain degree, but alas, my precious five minutes were dwindling.

Then one day I realized—wait a minute, my wild mind is like a one-year-old’s anyway: full of wants, aversions, distractions. Why don’t I just include her as part of my meditation field, just like how I am aware of my mind? And so I settled back, opened my eyes, and let the baby’s antics become part of the passing show. I breathed with her. I smiled, she cooed. She bonked me with a book, and I just sat there and took it all in— spacious, open, wild-child mind.

We end each meditation session with a song inspired in the moment. Sometimes it’s a kids song for her—“Five Little Ducks.” Last week it was an old Dead Kennedys song to make my husband laugh. And more often than not it’s the Beatles, which seems to work for everyone.

Now we don’t get to it every day. Again, I lower my expectations. And I wonder— how are other parents incorporating meditation into their family life?

photo of Diana Winston

Diana Winston

Diana Winston is the Director of Mindfulness Education at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center MARC . She is the author of The Little Book of Being, published by Sounds True, and the co-author of Fully Present: The Science, Art and Practice of Mindfulness. She is a member of the Teachers Council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and is a founding board member of the International Mindfulness Teachers Association.