Mindful Parenting When I sit down and think about mindful parenting, it takes me back to when my children were small and I hadn’t even heard of mindfulness then. Thankfully, my children have more than survived my sometimes mind-less parenting, and have turned into gorgeous young adults. I too, survived the fog of having three […]
When I sit down and think about mindful parenting, it takes me back to when my children were small and I hadn’t even heard of mindfulness then. Thankfully, my children have more than survived my sometimes mind-less parenting, and have turned into gorgeous young adults. I too, survived the fog of having three small children close in age. Sometimes I got it right, but not always, and I have forgiven myself my ‘less than’ mindful parenting.
Having practiced mindfulness for a number of years now, one of the first things I learnt was to have some compassion for myself. That’s how I learnt to forgive myself when I parented through the fog and isolation of raising my young family in a country 12,000 miles away from any family support, and without my own mother, and a grandmother for my children. I didn’t know what mindfulness practice was back then, but I can be kind to myself in the present as some of the memories of parenting are not very clear in my memory.
Do you remember that first night you brought your first baby home from the hospital, and it felt so strange and scary? I certainly do, and I can remember crying and wondering how I was going to get through all of the worries of keeping this baby alive. We can have so many different emotions when we have a child such as fear, guilt, resentment, frustration, confusion, disbelief, and hundreds more.
What is Mindful Parenting?
- Paying attention fully to the moment you are in with your child;
- Noticing your child/ren as they are in a particular moment;
- Awareness of your surroundings with your child;
- Non-judgemental stance – not judging your thoughts or feelings but just noticing them;
- It’s about noticing your child/ren for who they are rather than something you would like them to be – a state of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’;
- Acceptance of your thoughts and feelings just as they are – being realistic and letting go of expectations such as your toddler may not be able to sit at the table quietly because they are a toddler.
Sometimes it’s really hard work and quite distressing being a parent. We all have our own family legacies from our upbringings. Under stress, we can often be on automatic pilot, and find ourselves going back to those defaults without thought. Mindfulness practice can help you with many aspects of parenting such as:
- Improve communication between you and your child/ren;
- Can help us to recognise when emotions or thoughts are being aroused by our “fight or flight” responses;
- Gives us the space in between our immediate reaction, and the response that comes next;
- Helps us to become familiar with the quiet space in our minds;
- Helps us to notice our emotions as they arise;
- Help us to catch our thoughts and act more wisely;
- Teaches us to see our thoughts and feelings without judgement;
- Helps us to be kind to ourselves as parents, and more accepting of our minds.
How do I get started with Mindful Parenting?
The biggest lesson I learnt as a parent was to be there for myself first. How can you be there for your children if you’ve got nothing left in your reserves? This may seem like it is hard to do when you have little people with big demands on your resources, but as a parent and someone who works in the ‘caring’ profession, I know that you need to do this in spite of the thoughts that sometimes pop up like “I shouldn’t be doing this”, “but they need me….” You must begin with yourself first. If you haven’t given yourself enough care and attention, you can bet that the inner resentment of “what about me?” will soon start to spill out as you go to your child at 10 o’clock at night, when they should be asleep, you’re tired from a big day at work, and you’ve still got washing up, washing, ironing, and making lunches to do! Here are some steps to get you started:
- Pick a specific place and time and practice the techniques when you know you are not going to be disturbed;
- Notice what you are actually experiencing at this moment right now;
- Notice what you are feeling and if you are having any painful emotions coming up;
- Notice what thoughts you are having and whether there are any self-judgements of your parenting;
- Notice that you are not the perfect parent and just acknowledge this;
- Notice the sensations you are having in your body and if any of the sensations are painful;
- Notice the sounds in the room and outside of the room;
- Notice how your thoughts will take you out of the moment;
- Notice your breath and breathe normally paying attention to your breathing, noticing each inhalation and each exhalation;
- As you exhale, see if you can expand your noticing experience to include your whole body;
Parenting is the hardest job I have ever done, and also one of the most fulfilling and rewarding. It is also one of the most judged jobs in our society. Parents are the first to be blamed if something goes wrong. We are probably the biggest judges of ourselves as parents, and have high expectations and standards of ourselves. I know I did. I always thought I was the parent who would be judged if my child didn’t get the best comments on school reports and at parent/teacher interviews. We need to be kinder to ourselves. As my example shows, I sought approval as a parent from external sources. With mindfulness practice, we can give ourselves the acceptance and self-love that will support us in our parenting.
What to do when I have a difficult emotion as a parent
- First of all notice yourself breathing in and out.
- Notice what you are actually feeling. What is the emotion? Can you name it?
- Don’t try and distract yourself from the emotion, or try and push it away.
- You are feeling this emotion for a reason.
- It is a normal reaction.
- Think about how this emotion came about. What were the circumstances surrounding the emotion?
- Accept that you are having this emotion right now.
- Notice how you are breathing when you have this emotion.
- Ask yourself questions about the emotion. Can I feel it in a particular part of my body? Is my breathing changing? Is any part of my body tenser than other parts? How big does this emotion feel? Do I feel like I want to make the emotion go away? If I do, can I just notice that this is what is happening?
Although my children are young adults now, I can still be a mindful parent. I may have lived in a fog at times when they were little, but I can be the parent I want to be based on my values. Mindfulness and acceptance of my thoughts and feelings helps me not get caught up in the ‘small stuff’ and gives me a more present and powerfully felt connection to my children.
I hope by sharing these experiences and tools for mindful parenting, that you can take away some tips that will support you in this rich, fulfilling, at times confusing and overwhelming world that is parenting. I’m happy to talk to you further about introducing mindfulness into your parenting. If you’d like to know more, check out my other blogs and my website, or call 0403 848 398.