What does it mean to parent mindfully with less stress? It can mean enjoying the time you spend time with your kids because you're not always trying to change them. It can lead to making deliberate, intentional decisions about your kids with less worry. It can result in learning who your kids really are.
What does it take to parent mindfully? The attitudes and practices of mindfulness are available to everyone. They're simple, but require practice. Seven basic attitudes, based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, follow:
* Being or Non-striving. Learn to "be," without "doing." Slow down, take time to breathe, focus, and be with your kids without distractions. It feels good to spend time with them without having a specific agenda. Turn the phone off and be fully present. See what comes up.
* Non-judging. Take in your kids as they really are, without allowing predetermined beliefs and desires to color your perceptions. It's a lot easier to like and accept your kids when you're not constantly judging them against your internal standards of right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, good and bad. Have curiosity and interest, without judging.
* Acceptance and Awareness. Be conscious of your thoughts but don't let them define or control you. Focusing on negative thoughts leads to stress and worry. Be aware of your thoughts without letting them take over. Instead of worrying about why your kid is having difficulty with a teacher, notice and try to accept it. Your discomfort will decrease in its own time and any action you need to take will become clear.
* Letting Go or Non-attachment. After acceptance it's calming to let go. You'll have nagging, unpleasant thoughts, or situations that do not go as you'd like. You need not be attached to a particular outcome. If your kid is having peer problems, don't push away the discomfort with immediate action. When you don't have to change and fix things all the time, energy becomes available for other pursuits. Neither you nor your kids have to fix everything.
* Beginner's Mind. As yoga instructors like to say, you're practicing with the body you've come in with today. Let go of the memory of how things were yesterday, and expectations for how they ought to be today or will be tomorrow. Be open to seeing your kids as they are right now. When you look at them with beginner's mind, you notice new things daily.
* Trust. Trust your ideas, your feelings and your intuition. Give yourself permission to stop worrying about everyone else's opinion of your kids and your parenting style. Trust in others comes more easily when you follow your own wisdom. You may even start trusting your kids more.
* Patience. Patience is about knowing that things happen in their own time and cannot be rushed. It helps connect you to the present and reduces stress. Patient parents put less pressure on kids and show them, by example, how to be patient. Next time you're in a rush, ask yourself, "What's the hurry?"
Cultivating mindfulness involves practicing these skills. Pick one and try it three times a day; morning, noon and night take a moment to be aware of your thoughts and accept them without trying to change them. Or choose a few skills and use them in novel ways. Practice patience, non-judging and acceptance by taking three breaths every time you're about to say something critical at the dinner table. Sit quietly for five minutes, just watching your kids, in order to practice being.
Adopting the attitudes of mindfulness, you will parent with less stress by bringing a calm awareness to your interactions with your kids. You will find you can respond to them deliberately, with clear intentions. You'll enjoy them more and get to know them better.
Copyright, 2010 Judith Tutin, Ph.D.