Mindfulness Makes You a Better Parent!
My journey into mindfulness started in the same way it does for many people. Life became challenging, and I turned to self-help book recommendations. One of the first authors I read was Eckhart Tolle. In The Power of Now, he turned me on to being present, or mindful.
Imagine that you’re washing your hands; it’s a simple task that we do many times each day. We don’t give it a second thought. Our minds drift, and suddenly we’ve dried our hands, and we’re on to the next task. But what if we only focus on that moment of handwashing: the feel of the water on our hands, the sound of water coming out of the tap, and the smell of the soap. It’s a mini-meditation. For that moment, we aren’t thinking about picking up the kids on time or the awful morning with our surly teen. We’re experiencing all the sensations involved in washing our hands.
To me, that’s what mindfulness is: staying present without allowing future or past thoughts to invade our minds. We cut out the mental noise. Mindfulness takes practice. We aren’t in the habit of staying present. We are consumed with thoughts of the past and future. Thinking about the past can create regret, and thoughts of the future produce anxiety. Honestly, it’s not a fun way to live.
Now mix in parenting. Parents can’t help but focus on the past and future. We work so hard to build a stable future for our kids. And we can’t let go of those mistakes along the way.
Take potty training for example. Some kids take longer to master the potty. At 4 or 5 years old, they are still wearing pull-ups or diapers. Parents panic. “What if my child doesn’t learn before kindergarten? Is there a developmental problem? Is there a physical problem? Why have my friends' kids potty trained already?” We worry. We compare. We “horribalize.” We become anxious messes, and our anxiety gets worse as we encounter one developmental milestone after another.
How does our worry affect our kids? Kids pick up on our anxiety. Maybe we think we’ll win an Oscar for “the best non-anxious parent” role, but kids know. Children read our body language. They hear weird voice fluctuations. And they become anxious too. Consider the potty training toddler. Anxiety may cause Mom to be short-tempered with the child or push him before he’s ready. Sensing that anxiety, he may retreat to the safety and security of his comfortable old diaper.
I see mindful parenting as a way to stop myself from ruminating about a future, horrible scenario or a past mistake. I’m not saying it’s easy. We all experience anxiety and regret. It’s the human condition. But we can be most helpful to our kids when we work on mindful parenting.
Back to the toddler. A mindful parent might say to herself, “At this moment, my little one is struggling. That’s ok. I will hug him, and we will try again later. I will let him know that I love him.” And Mom can then work on staying in the moment. When her mind drifts to an unsettling future scenario, she can focus on a sensation of the body. Maybe she’ll look into her child’s beautiful eyes and see their deep blue color or listen to her son’s laughter. Our senses keep us present.
Mindful parents are great role models too! Kids are less anxious when parented from a mindful place. We can teach this skill to our kids. Practice a little every day, and you'll find that mindfulness really does make you a better parent!
by Joanne McNulty, M.S.
founder, Free Printable Behavior Charts.com