A beginner’s guide to mindful parenting
If you have been to a yoga class, maybe you’ve heard an instructor say something about “finding yoga off the mat.” What she or he is describing is mindfulness, the process of adding consciousness and awareness to daily interactions.
It is powerful stuff.
With practice, mindfulness transforms our lives–how stressed we are, how we communicate, how we relate.
You may have come across mindfulness in connection to meditation, but I think you can apply the very basic premise to our daily interactions.
What follows in this blog post is an introduction to mindfulness as a parenting practice and how to implement it.
What is mindfulness and how does it work? (A nutshell intro of an ancient tradition)
Mindfulness as defined here is ” moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.
Mindfulness means stepping into a different mindset. Instead of “reactor,” we become the “observer.” This means that start to “hear” ourselves differently, and “watch” our own thoughts, and “notice and name” our feelings.
My mindfulness anecdote
At the start of the year before I changed a thing, I promised to just tune-in and add mindfulness to my thoughts and my parenting. I would take stock of my life.
If you would have asked me a couple of weeks ago if I was hard on myself, I would have said no. But through this exercise in mindfulness, I’m observing my inner critic. She is harsh. She compares and judges me with very little compassion.
What’s worse, I didn’t realize how automatically, habitually and frequently the inner critic responds to regular life situations!
Ouch. But knowledge is power, right? That’s the whole point of the exercise, to get more info about the habits that are cramping my style. It got me wondering though: if the inner critic is alive and well, what will mindfulness as applied to parenting reveal? (This excites and terrifies me, btw.)
How can mindfulness affect my parenting?
Although motherhood is described in many (precious) ways, the day-to-day experience is a blur. The wear-and-tear limits how much we are able to show up for our kids and our selves and not be totally wrecked.
Enter mindfulness. I chose just one interaction a day, homework hour, to heighten my awareness and focus. Doing homework is when I have the least amount of patience. I dread it. The fact that I’m a teacher and should know better does nothing for me. It’s tedious as hell.
By allowing myself to face it, as it, I saw my daughter in a whole new way. She is learning to read and she’s doing a beautiful job. And all she wants from me is my approval and recognition.
Powerful. Humbling. Lost in the daily grind.
When we choose to be aware of ourselves and our kids, we are loosen the hold of our habits and which can steal clarity and connection. Simply noticing what we are doing opens the door to reckon with our icky bits that stress us out and leave us feeling stuck.
I am not a yogini or a meditator. Can I still try mindful parenting?
Mindfulness is for anyone who wants more understanding of the kinks in their lives. So even if you are not a master meditator (which by the way, Pema Chodron once said that after 30 years of meditating, she’s still a novice and she’s a MONK) you can still try this. Here’s a framework to work within:
- Hone in on a time of day that is most charged in which you are also face-to-face. Unless you are into self-sabotage, please don’t practice mindful texting. Some good times to practice:
- Car rides
- Homework time
- Morning routine
- Put on your observer cap. This means consciously saying to yourself “What is happening RIGHT NOW”? and then…
- Naming what you notice. As in:
- “Right now I am thinking about dinner while driving and explaining the reason some kids are taller than others. And I just got a text about my son’s hockey game which has been rescheduled.”
- “Right now my daughter is giving me an attitude when I asked her about her day and I am getting annoyed.”
- Take note and literally write things down if you need to. This will help you see habits and patterns if they exist.
- Don’t judge.
- Repeat daily for a week and check in next week.
A note about naming things for what they are:
A common component to both being mindful and being a teacher is calling things for what they are. In meditation, you “name” what is happening; in education, you “report” a behavior. Either way, the goal is the same. By naming things, they become “known.” When we demystify things by calling them what they are, not how we feel about them, we gain clarity and control.
The goal of mindfulness is develop objectivity. We can’t do this when we are just racing to the end of the day on autopilot because there is a flurry of activity that we are so inside of–who can tease out the difference between what is happening and how we feel/react to it?!
For parents who want to connect more, calm down and make even-headed decisions, mindfulness is a powerful tool. It helps us become more-calmly-in-charge as we navigate our daily challenges. You don’t have to be a meditator to start noticing more of your thoughts and feelings and how they affect your interactions with your kids; start by choosing one spot in the day to become more present. Be kind as you explore and trust that subtle shifts your mindset will have big impact!