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May you live all the days of your life.

Jonathan Swift

Mindful Parenting

Mindful Parenting hands image To show up and be fully present with our children is the greatest gift we can give.

Parenting is one of the most fulfilling endeavors we can undertake. It can also be one of the most challenging. Parenting offers us the opportunity to experience more aspects of ourselves than we could have ever imagined! From intense joy and pride to worry and guilt, parenting leads us through the full range of emotions. Mindfulness can support parents to be fully present with our children in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty.

Mindfulness is a natural complement to parenting. Mindfulness practice can support parents to remain connected to our parenting values when responding to challenging situations. Rather than reacting automatically through anger and frustration, mindfulness practice can support parents to be aware of our emotions and then to take a step back and respond in a more intentional manner. Mindfulness also supports us to be compassionate and forgiving with ourselves during the times when we do ‘flip our lids

The best way to teach Mindfulness to children is to practice and model it ourselves.

(Photo by Lee Freedman)

Attitudinal Foundations of Mindfulness

By cultivating the following attitudes during our mindfulness practice, we can learn to also cultivate them towards our life experience ... and parenting.

Non-judging during mindfulness practice is the impartial witnessing of thoughts, feelings and body sensations as they arise; with kindness and intentionality, resisting the inclination to judge and criticize our experience.

As parents, we can be experts at judging our children ourselves. Mindfulness practice can support us in cultivating a less reactive and ultimately less critical approach to our children and ourselves.

Judgement and criticism in relationships can lead to negative interactions and feelings of guilt, shame, resentment and disconnection. When we cultivate non-judgment, we create more space for kindness, compassion, empathy, and connection with our children.

Acceptance in mindfulness practice is permitting whatever arises in your experience to be fully present, no matter what your reaction may be, including resistance.

Acceptance denotes a willingness to see things as they are, because that is how they are. We so often expend a lot of energy (and create a lot of stress) by wishing things were different and thinking everything will be fine once that thing changes (e.g. – an aspect of ourselves or our children). Acceptance is not about passivity or resignation, but rather seeing the situation for what it is and then making conscious decisions about how to respond; whether it be with action or perhaps letting things be.

Sometimes, even the act of accepting that a situation is really difficult can support us in softening towards ourselves and offering compassion and empathy.

Patience in mindfulness practice is resting in the wisdom that things need to unfold in their own time and allowing for this process to happen.

Ahh, the possibilities open for us as parents when we can cultivate patience with our children and ourselves...

Adopting a beginner’s mind during mindfulness practice invites us to see things as if for the first time with a sense of curiosity and genuine interest; Allowing for preconceived ideas to not influence our direct experience of the present moment.

Children have so much to teach parents about Beginner’s Mind… How they bring such intense curiosity and interest as they explore and learn about their world. They often use all of their senses to learn as much as they possible can about a new object or situation. We can set an intention to re-connect with this inherent and playful curiosity that we had as children and bring it in to myriad experiences as adults..

Inviting a beginner’s mind –bringing curiosity as if experiencing something for the first time, can help us approach situations in novel ways. In particular, when we are having difficult experiences, we can often become stuck in our thinking. Thoughts replay over in our minds, creating stories that we believe to be fact

  • This pain will never go away
  • Morning routine will always be a struggle with my child
  • My child is a terrible sleeper
  • There is nothing that can be done about this situation
  • My teen and I just don’t see eye to eye
  • They “just want my attention”
  • My child is just THAT way
  • My child is so manipulative
  • Etc.

However... Learning to approach such situations with a Beginner’s Mind can free us from the limiting assumptions we may hold; assumptions that may prevent us from coming up with a novel solution that may support us in remaining connected with our children.

The mind seems to have a habit of making assumptions, jumping to quick conclusions. With a Beginner’s Mind, we can bring a curiosity to familiar situations – to be open to the fact that other possibilities may exist for us in this moment or situation. We can notice our assumptions, label them as assumptions, and then bring an open-hearted curiosity… what else might be happening here?

  • What might my child be trying to communicate?
  • What does this pain need right now?
  • What can I learn when I approach this situation with curiosity and a fresh perspective - with a child-like Beginner’s Mind?

Adopting a beginner's mind towards our children can also support us in becoming more aware of their 'bids for connection.'

Or you read a book by a ‘parenting expert’ that says you must do X and then another that claims ‘You must do Y and if you do X, you could be damaging your child for life!!’ Parents, out of our desire to do the best for our children may end up questioning ourselves and the way we parent. Cultivating trust can support us in navigating the world of ‘parenting advice’ and settling into our own approach to parenting that fits for us and our families.

Non-striving during mindfulness practice is about not becoming attached to any particular experience or expected outcome, but instead allowing your practice to be whatever it is in that particular moment - because that is what it is...

It is allowing oneself to be on the path with direction but also being in the present moment each step of the way.

As parents, we can often have very high expectations of our children and of ourselves. This attitude invites us to check-in with and reflect on these expectations. How are they serving us? Our children? Do they impede our ability to be present with what is unfolding in the present?

Letting go / letting be in mindfulness practice is recognizing the inclination to hold onto experiences, whether positive or negative, and allowing oneself to let go of what is not needed nor helpful. We so often cling to positive experiences, wishing they would last forever and alternately, struggle against challenging situations, wishing they would never occur. Our reactions to experiences can often cause us greater difficulty than the actual experiences themselves. When we can learn to let go of our reactions to our experiences, we can then invite ourselves to begin again, with fresh eyes, an open heart and a beginner's mind.

As parents, when we hold onto grudges against our partners, our children (teens, in particular) and even ourselves, we can become rigid and indignant and miss out on opportunities for connection. It can be helpful to reflect on the following questions:

  1. Is it more important to be "right" in this situation or find a way to remain connected?

  2. What possibilities might be opened up if I let things be and begin again, with the intention of fostering connection?

Connected to each of these attitudinal foundations is compassion.

What might it be like to set an intention of regularly approaching ourselves and our children with compassion - of recognizing that we are doing our best, even though we may struggle along the way and perhaps be able do things a little better - rather than giving voice to the critic that is always so eager to tell us about our supposed "short-comings."

Why not invite yourself to bring kindness and compassion to yourself and your family for one week -- simply letting the critic be when it arises -- and see what this experience is like?

We are rarely taught how to be kind to ourselves, and yet we are experts at being unkind. What a gift to teach our children that we can be compassionate towards ourselves...

Nurturing connection, one breath at a time...