The journey into parenthood is fraught with challenges that will test us beyond what we know we are capable of, and at the same time, give us a beautiful gift that we wouldn’t give up for the world. It is a true honor to be a parent, and developing more mindfulness practices can enrich our experience on this journey. Like other time tested wisdom, the benefits of mindfulness continue to be discovered by more and more people. “Being more mindful” is easy to say, but it can be challenging to turn this into a tangible routine. I hope these tips can help infuse more mindfulness into your day.
What is Mindful Parenting?
Mindful parenting is developing the ability, as a parent, to watch ourselves: to watch our thoughts, our actions, and our reactions in all aspects of life, and especially when it comes to interacting with our children. So often we are running full speed ahead, with so much going on, and we have a tendency to divert to the automatic answer or response without really assessing the situation in that present moment. Maybe the automatic response is not actually the best response. Maybe we can open up to other possibilities at hand.
The place that parents often allow themselves to let go is at home. Children often end up feeling the brunt of the stressful day, with the adult checking out, having a short fuse, or not having the enthusiasm to have meaningful interactions at the end of the day. The pace of modern day living creates so much stress and sets unrealistic expectations for us, producing a mental trap of always feeling like we are playing catch up, and the cycle of future thinking keeps us away from the moment at hand – disrupting our ability to truly savor life’s gifts.
Parents often don’t feel like there is enough time in the day. Mindfulness can be seen as yet one more thing that we need to check off of our to-do list. Yet, if approached from a place of curiosity and expansion, mindfulness can open up a path to create a fulfilling, healthy life.
Develop Self Compassion
In order to practice mindful parenting, we have to have self-compassion, self-love, and to acknowledge that we aren’t going to be 100% perfect. Ebbs and flows will be strong: some days will be better than others. We are human! Every parent has emotions, and that is ok. We can be reactive, stressed, tired, or frustrated. Yet we also feel the need to be compassionate, loving, and kind towards ourselves and our kids. That is a lot to take on! It’s easy to beat ourselves up if we are not doing those things.
As parents, we have to acknowledge that it is ok for us to step out of the responsibilities and expectations we hold ourselves to, and to just be. In fact, it is necessary. Every day, prioritize stepping out of the noise, and stepping into yourself. Every day, make a space to sit, or to go into nature for 20 minutes, to breathe, to take your adaptogens, or to take an herbal tea break. Every day, embrace the fact that you are a parent – and that you are doing the best job you can. There is no ‘perfect’ parent.
Our responses to stressful or tense situations are embedded into us more than we realize. We need to break our automatic responses, like yelling. Instead, we can ask ourselves: “how can I readjust my energy and make this more constructive? How can I adjust the flow of what is happening to me?” It sounds so simple, but just stop, breathe, and give it a minute. Developing new habits that will enable you to have a time out will help you react in a more constructive way. Some people need to leave the room, but if you can’t walk away or feel trapped to respond in the right way, I often told my patients to just say something silly like, “my toes feel like rubber bands!” By saying something absolutely ridiculous, it breaks the whole tense momentum building up around you. It makes everyone chuckle and creates a pause to figure out what to do next. When we are so full of timelines, to-do lists, projects, and activities, we often forget to have time for humor. If you can laugh, it creates more space for a creative solution.
Realize our Vulnerability
I remember once getting upset in a situation and crying, and my kids were so shocked and they said, “Oh, you cry?” They realized that I am also a human, with human emotions. It was an eye opener, for them and for me. It was ok to show my emotions in a healthy way. It showed them that mom needs compassion too. When we become mindful about sharing the true nature of human emotions, and showing this to children in constructive ways, we are helping to cultivate compassion in our kids. We are helping them to notice what emotional strains and stressors that come from people look like. When children recognize that parents have emotions and feelings too, they are able to become mindful and begin to develop the emotional intelligence that is needed throughout life. Emotions are a part of the human experience.
Listen to your children as you would listen to a friend or a colleague – listen with the respect you would give an adult. Children have their own boundaries, wants, and desires. As a parent we are guiding them through life, but we also have to listen to them and take their thoughts and feelings into consideration. After listening, we can then take what we heard and respond to their thoughts, feelings, and desires within what is realistic. When my children were growing up, at the end of the day we would share one thing that we learned, and one kind or compassionate thought we had or a kind act we did. Each night we would report on those two things to each other, and create an opportunity for comment. Every night my kids knew that they had to report on this question, which made my kids more mindful of what they were doing throughout the day, what they were thinking, and how they acted. They also asked the question back to me, and it made me be more accountable to them too.
Develop Self Awareness
Developing and practicing mindfulness as a parent increases your mental capacity while also being in the best interest of the kids. It helps us to develop better, kinder, more compassionate human beings. It also helps children have a stronger self-awareness and the possibilities of what their strength and skills could be. A lot of kids come into their early adulthood not having the self-assuredness and clarity of what they should be doing in the world, or what their strengths are. We can create these self-aware beings by recognizing their strengths in the world.
Children want to tell their parents about their day, and if the parent puts them off, it deflates the enthusiasm of the child, and that translates back to the child and they tell themselves, “Work is more important, I’m not important, I don’t matter, my opinion doesn’t matter.” What they hear and process is not necessarily what we mean for them to take on, but if we can recognize these needs, listen, ask questions, and slow down, children will develop the self-confidence that what they are saying does matter, that they matter, and that they are important.
Using Herbs to Change the Moment
Making Golden Milk as a whole family event is a delicious, healthy way to slow down and spend time together – to focus on the act of warming up milk, smelling the potent spices, and stirring the golden hued milk to create a nourishing drink can bring the attention away from anything negative, into the moment at hand. Using aromatherapy like Lavender is another way to ease tension. You can also have dried herbs on hand to change the moment, and use them as props. Herbs can offer us something to smell, taste, and discover new colors and textures. And when all else fails, take a walk in nature, and breathe into this moment, exactly as it as.