January 29, 2019
INTENTIONAL PARENTING: Using mindfulness to enhance parenting capabilities and improve outcomes.
Every night I come home from work and within 34 seconds of walking in the door, I have a 3 footer at my side chanting "mama, mama, mama, mama, look, mama, c'mere, mama, mama..., " and a 4 footer yelling from another room, "mama, I need you, can you help me..." On my worst, unmindful nights, I ignore the 2 year old until I firmly say "YOU NEED TO WAIT," and scold my 6 year old for not giving me time to settle in. Twenty minutes later we move in to making dinner and I begin cooking, chopping, pouring and plating while the two continue saying my name in concert trying to show me something, tell me something, or lodge complaints. Many nights, I am giving answers without understanding the question, giving cues that I am listening when I am not, and eventually raising my voice to say "guys, give me a minute!" If you are a parent, this scene is probably very familiar.
Mindfulness is defined by some as the practice of attending to your internal and external experience in the present moment without judgement. My experience tells me that mindfulness is a discipline, something that must be practiced in all contexts. The "practice" in parenting, is about shifting your attention from moment to moment in a way that allows you to focus on each task, each word, each child, and respond (not react) in a way that reflects your values and priorities. And this is no small feat. On my best days, this looks like sitting in my car for a moment before walking through the door. I turn my palms up, practicing an acceptance posture and bring my awareness to the situation I am walking into. I slow down my breathing, put on a half smile (just turning up the corners of my mouth, another cue for acceptance) and greet my children the moment I set down my purse. I carry around the 2 year old, responding to his questions and let him show me a few things on my way to the 6 year old where I get an update on her day. I then cue them both that I need to make dinner but I would love for them to help. I stop what I'm doing intermittently to answer questions or break up a fight - in a mindful way - in a way that communicates understanding while setting firm limits. And I am shifting my attention back and forth from dinner to the kids, with an acceptance posture and an intentional response. This is the ideal. Reality is somewhere between two extremes described here. Mindfulness is not about perfection, it's about the willingness to practice. For guided mindfulness practice, try the headspace app or freemindfulness.org.
NEXT UP ON THE BLOG: Enhancing mindfulness in your children.
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