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During this particularly busy time of year, remember that one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child is your presence.
Mindfulness is a term used to describe a way of striving to be more aware and present in our day to day lives. We live such hectic lives that being mindful helps us to slow down and absorb the moments in a deeper way than we normally might. Applying mindfulness to parenting can bring many benefits to the parent/child relationship.
Most of us love our children dearly but find it challenging to spend quality time with them amidst the busy demands of work and other obligations. Even when we are at home, we can often be distracted, worried and preoccupied with all the daily demands of parenthood and household routines.
What is it that we really value? Do we take a moment in our hectic days to think about that? Most of us value and believe strongly in building connections and bonds with our children. We value a model of parenting that reflects caring, compassion and respect. But how do we create these connections and bonds?
Listening to our children is one of the most important aspects of developing connection. Taking time to pause, and really give our kids our undivided attention for even a few minutes daily creates connections. Listening is not just nodding of the head while you’re cooking dinner, but really stopping what we’re doing, getting down on our child’s level, looking into their eyes, and being present in a way that communicates to them that what they have to say is important. In spite of these values, many of us find it difficult to do that well, life seeming to rush along without much time for anything; we feel caught up in the flurry and haste.
Mindfulness is a choice to step out of the busyness of life in order to be present. As described by Dr Max Innes, “Being mindful, as parents, means having intention in our actions. With intention we purposefully choose our behaviour with our child’s emotional well-being in mind”.
We cannot be mindful about every moment in the day, but we can take a moment with our children and choose to be mindful. I recall one of many busy days when my children were young, the days when I was lucky if I could get a shower in. I was washing dishes, trying to keep up with the interminable pile that was always on the counter. One of my 3 yr old twins came up behind me, upset about something. “Hmm, uh huh,” I nodded, frustrated to be interrupted as I continued trying to get the dishes done. She carried on talking to me, her voice escalating. Finally I decided to stop what I was doing and listen. I took a deep breath, turned around, sat on the floor in front of her and looked into her eyes. Suddenly she stopped as she realized that I was there. She finished telling me what she had been trying to tell me for several minutes when I wasn’t listening. Now as I listened with my whole being, my body, mind and heart, i.e. I listened mindfully, her whole demeanor changed, her face and eyes seemed to open up and her body relaxed. When she was done, which took all of a couple minutes, she smiled, then gave me a quick hug, said ‘I love you mommy’ and skipped off to play. I had not said a word during this encounter. The act of choosing to be mindful had allowed her to sense my presence and her importance, helping her to feel acknowledged, validated and connected in the relationship between us. That was all she needed in that moment.
All of our encounters may not flow so easily, even if we are present and available, but being mindful gives space to hear our children’s concerns in such a way that, at the very least, we will be better equipped to support the difficult moments of parenting and respond in a way that is more helpful to the situation at hand. Mindfulness does not mean that we can stop everything every time our child needs us, nor should we. Children need to learn to wait, to be patient and to understand that there are important concerns that parents need to take care of, and we’ll have time after dinner to talk. Being mindful is being thoughtful; it allows us to have the presence of mind to respond in the best way for that moment rather than by simply reacting. If a child senses our calmness they will more likely accept our response even if it isn’t the exact response they would like.
I am certain that as parents we will fall short of living every moment mindfully, but using mindfulness as a framework gives us a focal point, a lens from which we can continuously come back to parenting from. The benefits to ourselves and to our children are many and support a healthy quality of life in our families. We can all make a choice in this moment to be mindful to the rich texture of our lives as parents, and as we do we will teach our children to thrive. Mindfulness allows us to grow as parents so that we can handle the ups and downs that family life brings us.
Mindful Parenting Tips:
Learning and using calming techniques, such as deep breathing, focusing on our breath or meditating to help our children and ourselves to feel calm and to regulate emotions.
Example: Breath in through your nose (smelling a rose) to the count of six, breath out through your mouth (blowing out a candle) counting down from 5 to 0. Picture letting go of stress as you breathe out. Breathing in this way is like pressing a reset button, helping you, or your child, to feel calmer after just a few minutes.
Example for young children:
Rock the baby; have your child lie down and place one of their favorite stuffed animals on their tummy. Have them breathe in deeply to expand their tummy and then blow out slowly through their mouth, their tummy going down as they do. Take a moment in between each breath.
Choosing to put aside all distractions for a particular moment in order to be fully present with our mind, body and soul, i.e. I will choose, just for this moment, to stop everything else to listen to my child or just to be with my child where they are at.
Giving space to our children to express their fears and worries and to support them through them; welcoming tears about their worries.
Being thoughtful and reflective about our parenting; being willing to grow as a parent, to acknowledge what isn’t working and to learn new ways.
Acceptance of the difficult parenting moments and remembering they will pass.
Acceptance of who our children are. Mindfulness helps us to slow down and connect with the beauty and uniqueness of each child; love the child you have not the one you imagined you would have.
Mindfulness will help us to be more present and attuned to our children’s world; to be in and enjoy more fully, the wonder, curiosity and joy that our children experience.
To read more on mindful parenting, follow this link to an article by Dr Max Innes, a Couples and Family Therapist in Vancouver: http://www.maxinnes.ca/parenting/an-introduction-to-mindful-parenting
As also mentioned by Max Innes, an excellent book about mindful parenting:
Parenting from the inside out: How a deeper self-understanding can help you raise children who thrive by Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell. New York: Tarcher/Penquin, 2004.