The Buddhist concept of “mindfulness”, which means deeply paying attention to the present moment, can profoundly enrich your experience as a parent.
We spend much of our lives unconsciously absorbed in a future that hasn’t happened yet, or in a past that is already gone. In the process, we spend much of the day out of touch with the present moment, which is the only time we ever get in which to live or act.
Through the practice of mindfulness, you can learn to develop greater calmness, clarity, and insight in facing and embracing all of your experiences as a parent. You can turn challenges into occasions for learning, growing, and deepening your own strength and wisdom.
If you are routinely out of touch with the present, you may miss out on much of the joy of parenting. You might be thinking of other things while playing with your children, lost in thought when they are trying to get your attention, missing tender moments with them, oblivious to their wonderful uniqueness and creativity.
Mindful parenting is about learning to experience family life fully, as it unfolds— moment by moment. This is an invitation for you to wake up to the fullness of your life with your children, and to transform your moments of despair and struggle to those of peace and joy.
Everyday Blessings, written by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn, is a parenting book that was given to me as a gift by my grown son, and one that I cherish. Unlike books that focus on techniques for handling children’s behavior, the authors of this book direct readers to what they call “the inner work of mindful parenting.” Mindful parenting means nonjudgmental awareness of what is happening in our lives and in the lives of our children at each moment, coupled with a deep concentrated attention to those moments. It describes an inner process that calls for an ongoing commitment on the part of the parents to be fully present to their children. The daily interactions that parents experience with children hold the promise of many blessings and much richness, if parents can learn to be open to them. Every moment with our children can be special if we allow it to be. Your awareness of your children can go beyond the automatic actions and reactions that often drive your behavior. You can free yourself from being stuck in guilt, regret, fear and uncertainty. In essence, you can take on life with your children as an adventure in growth and learning and feeling.
Children come into this world ready to learn, love, and play. They are emotionally pure, loving, and trusting. When they behave in ways that we think are wrong, they are not intentionally bad, just learning and exploring. Ask yourself if you are doing something to negate the wonderful natural traits that your child was born with. Think of how many times you have unknowingly squashed your children’s joy and inadvertently projected onto them a malicious intent regarding what they were doing. Most likely, they haven’t a clue as to why you are getting upset with them. They just end up feeling bad by observing your tone of voice and facial expressions. This sets them up to think that something is wrong with them. We can choose to help our children feel good about themselves by not judging them.
There is no such thing as perfect parenting, but living in the moment and being mindful of the present will greatly benefit your relationship with your children. In each moment, we lay the foundation for our children’s future happiness and success. If you begin listening to your children, you will discover the remarkable beings that they really are, not what you wish them to be. By responding to them creatively rather than acting mindlessly, you will reestablish control and contentment in your lives.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #13.
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