Being a Mindful Parent
by Ann Brand, Ph.D
The moment you say, “We’re having a baby,” you are bombarded with advice on how to parent your child from well-meaning friends, family, child development experts, and the broader culture (much of it through social media). Some of it is useful, some of it is not. Often you just end up feeling overwhelmed in the face of all the options.
As parents, we are always looking for that one “right way” to solve a parenting conundrum; that perfect technique that will help us raise healthy, happy children. Rarely do we turn inward and look at how we are supporting our capacity to be healthy, happy parents. Cultivating a personal mindfulness practice is one parenting tool that can support all other things we do as parents.
Below are three mindfulness practice tips that can support us in being more present, responsive, and compassionate parents.
1. Mindfulness helps us be more attentive. Consistent use of mindfulness tools helps increase our capacity to notice when we get distracted. We can see where our focus lies and shift our attention to what matters most to us. Paying attention is critical to parenting. Clearly seeing our child’s needs and wants helps us choose how to respond in the most supportive, skillful way. Too often we are distracted by daily demands, impairing our ability to be responsive in the moment.
Mindfulness practice also helps us be better listeners. How many times have we noticed we are not paying attention when our child is speaking? Listening with our full attention is a wonderful gift to give our children. Feeling seen and heard fills us with warmth and love. Mindfulness practice trains us to notice when we are not listening so we can choose to re-engage and support the relationship.
2. Mindfulness helps us be less reactive. Parenting is emotional work. As a parent, we can experience the full range of emotion in the course of a day, sometimes within a single hour. Joy, frustration, love, worry, contentment--all the feels. Emotion can come on suddenly and sometimes leads us to react in ways that don’t align with our parenting approach.
Mindfulness practices helps us notice our emotions and get some space around them so we can see them, feel them, and then choose how we want to respond. We may still be angry or frustrated, but we are not driven by these emotions. This helps us respond to our children in more skillful and kind ways, even when we are enforcing a rule or reprimanding an unwanted behavior.
3. Mindfulness helps us be more compassionate. As we gain self-awareness from mindfulness practice, we become more aware of our children’s experience too, allowing us to respond with more kindness and compassion.
We also need self-compassion as parents. Parenting is tough! Sometimes we make mistakes. Instead of getting hung up on these mistakes, we can practice showing compassion to ourselves. This allows us to kindly look at where we maybe didn’t react in the best possible way and how we can do things more in line with our parenting values in the future.
Take some time to cultivate your own capacity to be present with compassion by using mindfulness practice. Try five minutes of mindful breathing each day, or check out a parenting book like Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Ann Brand, Ph.D is an instructor at UW-Stout and a mindfulness meditation teacher. For more information about mindfulness, see Ann’s website www.annbrandmindfulness.com