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The more we are able to keep in mind the intrinsic wholeness and beauty of our children - especially when it is difficult to see - the more our ability to be mindful deepens.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness Practices for Parents

Parenting is a wonderful mix of joy, worry, laughter, stress, play, frustration, tenderness, chaos and everything in between... aptly described by Jon Kabat-Zinn as "The Full Catastrophe of Parenting." Creating moments of stillness to reconnect with ourselves and reflect on our parenting can be a challenge, but can also be hugely rewarding as we navigate this full catastrophe. Mindful parenting is not about somehow becoming the 'perfect parent,' but rather being present in our parenting - with all it's imperfections...

Practicing meditation, such as breath awareness, body scan, walking meditation, mindful dishwashing, etc. can support us in becoming more mindful in our everyday lives, including our parenting. Through meditation practice, we can learn to be more present in general and with our children --and more intentional in our interactions with them. In addition to meditation practice as a way to support the cultivation of mindful parenting, the following are ideas of ways to approach parenting as a mindfulness practice in and of itself... to support us to be more present in our parenting and to enhance our connection with our children.

Practices & Exercises

Choose a daily interaction that you have with your child – brushing their teeth, breastfeeding, walking to school, bedtime stories, etc. Set an intention to be fully present in this interaction for a certain time frame, eg – a week. You can do this by bringing your awareness, as best you can, fully to your interaction with your child and being fully immersed in the activity with them. When your mind starts to wander to other things like work, planning for dinner or the weekend, to-do lists, etc., see if you can just let those thoughts be; then come back to being present with your child. Remind yourself that you have the rest of the day to think about these issues, but only this moment with your child.

You may wish to reflect on:

  1. How this experience of being present may be different from how you currently engage in these routine interactions

  2. What you might observe about your own mind’s habits and where it goes when you are not as present with your children

  3. What possibilities this practice may create for your relationship with your child

  4. An ongoing intention that you might set for yourself around being more present with your child(ren) during life’s everyday moments

These interactions are commonly approached as tasks that need to be completed so that we can 'get on with the rest of our day or evening.' And yet it is the constellation of ‘tasks’ that make up the majority of our interactions with our children. They offer us endless possibilities for connection that we might miss if we are not really present, even though we may be physically going through the motions. You may come to experience these 'little' moments as 'precious moments' not to be missed.

When we find ourselves in challenging situations, it can be helpful to take a step back and ask ourselves, "What is Most Important Now?"

In such situations, when we take a moment to reflect on this, we may open ourselves up to possibilities that may otherwise may be hidden by the stress and worry of what we think should be happening.

It is 9:30 p.m. Monday night and my baby is still not asleep. "Oh no," I'm thinking I really shouldn't have taken him to the drop-in center with his cousin after he was rubbing his eyes... he napped too late... his whole sleep is going to be thrown off... I'm not going to have time to cook now for tomorrow... I'm not going to get to work on my website... "Come on sweetie," I almost plead, as he's flopping all over the bed. I can feel the tension rising in my shoulders, tightening, I'm almost in tears..."I'm not going to get his clothes put away...again... I'm not going to get anything done... I'm not going to have time to meditate..." Ha! Then it hits me...

Here is my moment to practice, to notice the sensations arising in my body, the racing thoughts of questioning the past and forecasting into the future. I take a few deep breaths and reflect on "What is most important now?" And I realize, it is helping my baby get to sleep. Not folding laundry, not cooking, not being on the Internet, not even formally meditating. Not only is helping my baby sleep the most important thing, but it is also the reality I'm faced with. I can struggle with the situation and wish it was different, but that just doesn't change it (and never really does). Or it can be right here, present with the situation I am in and figure out what is needed in this moment, right now - not for tomorrow or not even for the next hour.

Once I took a step back, and a few breaths, I was able to let go of questioning the past and worrying about the future and focus on the task at hand. I also became aware that I was super-tired and needing support this particular night, so I called my partner to come home from a class and help put our son to bed... I followed shortly thereafter.

At the end of each day, invite yourself to reflect on a positive moment that you had with your child or children. Even if it has been a particularly challenging day (especially if it has been so), bring to mind a pleasant moment that you had with your child or children - or reflect on something that you appreciated about your child or children today.

It can be all too easy for our minds to hold on to the challenges that we experience in our day-to-day lives, overshadowing the moments of joy. Intentionally reflecting on the pleasant moments can support us in re-connecting with and remembering the joy and pleasure we share with our children each and every day.

"Instead of positive experiences washing through you like a sieve, they'll collect in implicit memory deep down in your brain." (Rick Hanson, "just one thing: developing a buddha brain one simple practice at a time).

Lovingkindess is a practice of cultivating compassion, both for ourselves and others. It can be easy to feel love and compassion when people are doing things we like or acting in ways that we want them to. But it can be challenging during those times when people aren’t necessarily acting how we would like them to or when we are faced with aspects of ourselves that we find hard to accept.

Just like we practice the cultivation of mindfulness / present-moment awareness, we can also engage in practice to cultivate compassion, patience and acceptance for ourselves and others. This practice is known as Metta or lovingkindness practice.

It involves the repetition of phrases, and tapping into the intention behind them. Depending on how much time you have to practice, you may choose elements of this practice, for example, offering lovingkindness to yourself as a caregiver, or perhaps focusing on offering lovingkindness to your child.

With this practice, it is also important to notice if an attachment to an outcome arises; to notice that and let it be. The purpose of the practice is to support us in developing compassion for ourselves and for others, rather than expecting others to change as a result of our practice. You can do the entire practice in one sitting or perhaps focus on a specific section if that feels most relevant.

Below is a sample of lovingkindess phrases that you might use. It is not the actual words or phrases that are most important, but rather the intention behind them, so please feel free to use phrases that resonate most with you.

May I / you / we be happy and live with joy
May I / you / we be healthy and strong
May I / you / we be safe and protected
May I / you / we be at peace and live with ease

For the first part of this practice, bringing into your mind’s eye, the image of your child (or one of your children) during a time in which you felt very connected to them. Perhaps it was a pleasant experience that you shared, or maybe a moment when you felt very proud of them... a time when you felt a lot of love - positive feelings towards your child. While holding this image of your child in your mind, repeat silently the phrases of lovingkindness.

May you be happy and live with joy
May you be healthy and strong
May you be safe and protected
May you be at peace and live with ease

When you are ready, invite an image of the same child during a difficult time. Perhaps you are feeling angry or disappointed or frightened with something that they have said or done – or saddened by a choice they have made. Perhaps it was a time of conflict between the two of you. While holding this image of your child in your mind, again repeat the same phrases of lovingkindness. See if you can invite yourself to generate a sense of compassion, even in the midst of a challenging time. Notice if any struggles arise in the mind, or in the body, when saying these phrases. Perhaps feelings of righteousness or a reluctance to let go. See if you might invite yourself back to the phrases. Practicing holding on to compassion, amidst the difficult times, which are bound to happen.

Now, bringing an image of yourself, as a parent or caregiver into your mind’s eye during a time when you felt very positive about yourself as a parent or caregiver. Perhaps at a time when you were feeling connected, responsive, attuned to your child… pleased with yourself in your role as parent/caregiver. While holding this image of yourself in your mind, repeat the phrases of lovingkindness.

May I be happy and live with joy
May I be healthy and strong
May I be safe and protected
May I be at peace and live with ease

If you don’t remember the exact words, that is okay, again, it is the intention behind the repetition of the phrases that is the goal.

Now, bringing into your mind’s eye an image of yourself as a parent/caregiver during a time when you were not so pleased with yourself in a situation. Perhaps this is a time that you 'flipped your lid,' when you responded to your child in a way that you wish you hadn’t. We can often be very hard on ourselves in such moments, very judgmental, and forget that in these situations, we are doing the best that we can. We may see another parent in a challenging situation, and our heart goes out to them. Yet, when we find ourselves in a similar situation, we may be very hard on ourselves. Seeing what it might be like to bring compassion to ourselves even during those times when we may be stressed, maxed out, not necessarily at our best. Not only reserving kindness and compassion for those times when we are “on,” being kind and gentle and forgiving with ourselves when we may be having a hard time.

Repeat the same lovingkindness phrases while holding onto this image of ourselves.

If you find this very challenging, and notice judgement creeping in, perhaps bring into your mind’s eye is slightly less difficult or ‘loaded’ situation and see if that might support the cultivation of compassion towards yourself.

Now, bringing in image of your entire family together, whatever ‘family’ means to you. Repeating the lovingkindness phrases, sending love and compassion to yourself and your family together.

May we be happy and live with joy
May we be healthy and strong
May we be safe and protected
May we be at peace and live with ease

Finally, offering these wishes of loving kindness to all families everywhere.

May we be happy and live with joy
May we be healthy and strong May we be safe and protected
May we be at peace and live with ease

Schedule time to just be with your children, with no agenda in mind. Follow their lead and see where it takes you. So much of our time is scheduled, rushing from one place to another, whether it be work, school, extra-curricular activities... Invite yourself, even if for 5 minutes a day, to just hang out with your child or children. Gently observing what they are interested in, and engaging when they invite you in to their activities. Otherwise, just sitting back and observing them. Imagine what they might be thinking and feeling - what's going on in their world. You might even on occasion, wonder what they might be thinking or feeling. Observing your child engaged in an activity of their choice is actually a simple, yet profound way to contribute to building their self-esteem.

  1. Coming into a comfortable sitting position and bringing your awareness to your breathing.

  2. Inviting an image of your child (or one of your children if you have more than one) into your mind’s eye, seeing them completely. What are qualities of your child that stand out to you as you bring awareness to them in your mind’s eye? How would you describe them - their true nature? What are some qualities that make up their true nature? (loving, active, strong-willed, sensitive, etc.).

  3. As you bring awareness to these qualities of your child, notice what you might feel in your body – any physical sensations (warmth, tightness, etc.).

  4. Bringing awareness to any thoughts that may arise as you reflect on your child’s True Nature. Also allowing whatever feelings show up to be present, not needing to do anything with them, but noticing them.

  5. Next, inviting yourself to bring to mind a situation where a conflict may have arisen between yourself and your child – when they may have been asserting an aspect of their True Nature that may not have fit with what you were hoping for in that situation. Bring this scene to mind as vividly as you can, recalling as best you can what feelings you had at the time. What thoughts came up? What body sensations were present?

  6. Now, bringing awareness to what you notice in this moment as you reflect on this conflict. What thoughts, feelings and body sensations, if any arise? Perhaps frustration with your child, or with yourself as a parent, perhaps judgment, perhaps tension.

  7. Seeing if you can simply sit with those emotions and thoughts and sensations as they slip into your awareness, without doing anything but allowing them to be in your presence. If you notice the urge to rationalize them or make them stop, simply acknowledge that as well and let it be within your awareness. If there are any judgments that accompany your thoughts and feelings, bringing awareness to those as well. Again, not needing to do anything with these thoughts and emotions, just letting them be, come and go, in and out of awareness. Practicing being an observer to our inner experiences, without having to act upon them.

  8. Often, in challenging moments, we react automatically when difficult thoughts or feelings or judgments arise, and yet when we can be mindful of them and observe them, we can make more of a choice of how to respond. With practice, we can learn to observe our thoughts, feelings and body sensations and to not have them dictate our reactions.

  9. When we bring more awareness to our inner experience when in relationship with our children, we open up the possibility of rich learning - about what’s going on for them, perhaps seeing the situation through their eyes, and, as such, honouring their True Nature, while also remaining connected, both with them and with ourselves.

Developed by Rachael Frankford

This simple practice is a way to bring breath awareness and stillness with your child. Children are so attuned to their parents that they can sense when we are stressed, upset, happy, calm, etc. Here is an opportunity to provide them the opportunity to experience your calm presence. You could do this practice if there has been a stressful interaction, you have had a stressful day and are feeling stressed out or just anytime when you are with your child.

You can do this practice when holding or wearing your baby, when your child is sitting on your lap or simply when you are with your child. You don't even have to tell them that you are doing anything special!

Simply checking in with your breath and bringing your awareness to it. What is it like in this moment? Can you be intentional about your breathing? What do you notice about the contact / interaction with your child when you slow down and bring your awareness to your breath? What do you notice about any response form your child (if any)?

If it feels right for you, perhaps even quietly, in your own mind reciting the phrases offered by Thich Nhat Han.

"Breathing in, I feel calm. Breathing out, I feel at ease."

 

Your brain will thank you.

What a perfect way to soak up the summer, by taking a moment to slow down and really linger in a pleasant experience. Drink in this experience, with all your senses, with all your being. Whether it be lying on a beach, walking with a loved one, smelling a flower on a morning stroll, feeling the wind on your face as you ride your bicycle, savouring a yummy frozen treat with your family, or a warm summer front-porch evening, watching the neighbourhood go by. Not grasping. Not clinging. Just fully showing up to what is already occurring. Throughout your day, invite yourself to slow down and really experience these moments, even for a few seconds. By doing this, they are more likely to make it into your memory.

Invite yourself at the end of the day to recall one of these experiences. What body sensations, emotions, thoughts do you recall as you reflect on the experience? Intentionally reflecting on positive experiences not only feels good, but actually strengthens the positive neural pathways in our brain.

You can even do this with your family. Each person can reflect on and share an experience they basked in that day. The more details the better to really make it stick in your memory. What a feel-good way to train our brains to become more aware of all the good around us.

Check out Rick Hanson for more ideas on bringing more good into our lives.

Feel free to bask in ALL of the goodness offered by each of the seasons.

 

 

  1. To begin this meditation, start by finding a comfortable, seated position. Allow your attention to be directed inwards. Checking in with how you are feeling in your body and in your mind. Bringing a sense of acceptance to whatever your experience may be – because it is already here.

  2. For the second part of this meditation, direct your awareness to your breath. Observing the full of cycle of your breath from the beginning of the inhalation to the end of the exhalation. Perhaps saying to yourself – "inhaling" as you inhale and “exhaling” as you exhale. No need to manipulate the breath in any way, just simply staying with one point of focus. And when distractions tug at your awareness, gently guide your attention back to the breath.

  3. Now that you have taken some time to settle into the meditation, see if you can bring an image or your child or your children into your mind’s eye. See what it is like to hold this image. Is it pleasant, or unpleasant or neutral? As you continue to hold this image, see if you can evoke feelings of loving kindness towards your children. To help you in this practice, you may try bringing forth phrases that capture your deepest feelings. Some phrases you may try are the following: May you be happy; May you be healthy; May you live in peace.

  4. For the next part of this practice, see if you can direct the same feelings of loving kindness towards yourself as a parent. Recognizing the qualities of yourself that your children benefit from having you as a parent: your commitment, your compassion, your caring, your vulnerability. And recognizing how at times we may feel uncertain or judged, particularly from ourselves when faced with difficult situations. Knowing that as parents we do our best to be the "good enough parent", to borrow a phrase from D.W. Winnicott. We accept that we will make some mistakes and perfection is impossible. So as you offer yourself loving kindness, find phrases that resonate with you: May I be happy, May I be healthy, May I be at peace, May I do the best I can as I care for my children.

  5. And now bring your entire family into your mind’s eye. As you hold this image, again evoke feelings of loving kindness with the phrases that you have chosen: May we all be happy; May we all be healthy; May we all be at peace; May we live in ease and enjoy our lives together.

  6. For the final part of the meditation, bring to mind all families everywhere, in every part of the country, the world. And now bring feelings of loving kindness and compassion to all families, knowing that all parents and their children face struggles in living a peaceful, harmonious life. May all families be happy; May all families by healthy; and May all families live a harmonious and joyous life together.

Adapted by Rachael Frankford

 

"Here are some intentions that you may find helpful. Of course, you can also create your own." (Kabat-Zinn & Kabat-Zinn, 1997, p. 382)

Intention One: I will bring my entire creative genius to the work of mindful parenting.

Intention Two: I will see parenting as a spiritual discipline, meaning that it provides me with every necessary opportunity to cultivate wisdom and open heartedness in myself, so that I may come to know and express my true nature and share what is best in me with my children and with the world.

Intention Three: I will cultivate mindfulness and discernment in my daily life, especially with my children, using an awareness of my breathing to ground me in the present moment.

Intention Four: I will make every effort to see who my children actually are, and to remember to accept them for who they are at every age, rather than be blinded by my own expectations and fears. By making a commitment to live my own life fully and to work at seeing and accepting myself as I am, I will be better able to accord a similar acceptance to my children. In this way I can help them to grow and to realize their full potential as unique beings.

Intention Five: I will make every effort to see things from each child’s point of view and understand what my children’s needs are, and to meet them as best I can.

Intention Six: I will use whatever comes up in my own life and in the lives of my children, including the darkest and most difficult times, as “grist for the mill,” to grow as a human being so that I am better able to understand my children, their soul needs, and what is required of me as a parent.

Intention Seven: I will pull these intentions into my heart, and commit myself to putting them into practice as best I can, every day, and in appropriate ways that feel right to me and that honour children’s sovereignty, and my own.

From Kabat-Zinn & Kabat-Zinn, (1997). Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work Of Mindful Parenting. Hyperion: New York

You might consider taking a moment to reflect on and write your own intentions for parenting...

Like the 'Seven Intentions', these twelve exercises are by Myla & Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Exercise One: Try to imagine the world from your child's point of view, purposefully letting go of your own. Do this every day for at least a few moments to remind you of who this child is and what he or she faces in the world.

Exercise Two: Imagine how you appear and sound from your child's point of view, i.e., having you as a parent today, in this moment. How might this modify how you carry yourself in your body and in space, how you speak, what you say? How do you want to relate to your child in this moment?

Exercise Three: Practice seeing your children as perfect just the way they are. See if you can stay mindful of their sovereignty from moment to moment, and work at accepting them as they are when it is hardest for you to do so.

Exercise Four: Be mindful of your expectations of your children and consider whether they are truly in your child's best interest. Also, be aware of how you communicate those expectations and how they affect your children.

Exercise Five: Practice altruism, putting the needs of your children above your own whenever possible. Then see if there isn't some common ground, where your true needs can also be met. You may be surprised at how much overlap is possible, especially if you are patient, and strive for balance.

Exercise Six When you feel lost, or at a loss, remember to stand still, as in David Wagoner's poem: "The forest breathes..." Listen to what it is saying; "The forest knows/Where you are. You must let it find you..." Meditate on the whole, by bringing your full attention to the situation, to your child, to yourself, to the family. In doing so, you may go beyond thinking, even good thinking, and perceive intuitively, with the whole of your being (your feelings, intuition, body, mind, and soul) what really needs to be done. If that is not clear in any moment, maybe the best thing is to not do anything until it becomes clearer. Sometimes it is good to remain silent.

Exercise Seven: Try embodying silent presence. This will grow out of both formal and informal mindfulness practice over time, if you attend to how you carry yourself and what you project in body, mind, and speech. Listen carefully.

Exercise Eight: Learn to live with tension without losing your own balance. In Zen and the Art of Archery, Herrigel describes how he was taught to stand at the point of highest tension effortlessly without shooting the arrow. At the right moment, the arrow mysteriously shoots itself. Do this by practicing moving into any moment, however difficult, without trying to change anything and without having to have a particular outcome occur. Simply bring your full awareness and presence to this moment. Practice seeing that whatever comes up is "workable," if you are willing to stand in this way in the present, trusting your intuition and best instincts. Your child, especially when young, needs you to be a center of balance and trustworthiness, a reliable landmark by which he or she can take a bearing within his or her own landscape. Arrow and target need each other. Forcing doesn't help. They will find each other better through wise attention and patience.

Exercise Nine: Apologize to your child when you have betrayed a trust in even a little way. Apologies are healing. An apology demonstrates that you have thought about a situation and have come to see it more clearly, or perhaps more from your child's point of view. But we have to be mindful of being "sorry" too often. It loses its meaning if we are always saying it, or make regret into a habit. Then it can become a way for us not to take responsibility for our actions. Be aware of this. Cooking in remorse on occasion is a good meditation. Don't shut off the stove until the meal is ready.

Exercise Ten: Every child is special, and every child has special needs. Each sees in an entirely unique way. Hold an image of each child in your heart. Drink in their being, wishing them well.

Exercise Eleven: There are very important times when we need to practice being clear and strong and unequivocal with our children. Let this come as much as possible out of awareness and generosity and discernment, rather than out of fear, self-righteousness, or the desire to control. Mindful parenting does not mean being overindulgent, neglectful, or weak; nor does it mean being rigid, domineering, and controlling.

Exercise Twelve: The greatest gift you can give your child is your self. This means that part of your work as a parent is to keep growing in self-knowledge and in awareness. We have to be grounded in the present moment to share what is deepest and best in ourselves. This is ongoing work, but it can be furthered by making a time for quiet contemplation in whatever ways feel comfortable to us. We only have right now. Let us use it to its best advantage, for our children's sake, and for our own.

From Kabat-Zinn & Kabat-Zinn, (1997). Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work Of Mindful Parenting. Hyperion: New York

Nurturing connection, one breath at a time...