Mindful Parenting: Consciously Raising Our Children and Ourselves
I recently had the opportunity to keep my godson while his parents went away on vacation. It was a challenging undertaking to say the least. I have not had a 10 year old to be responsible for in several years. While he was certainly a delight and joy to be around, he was also a challenge as he demonstrated disruptive behavior at both home and school to the point of his teachers having to contact me several times. This challenged the very thing I’ve been trying to practice and implement in my life- patience, lack of judgment, and managing, NOT suppressing anger . Although we only had a week together, it was very interesting observing the changes my child rearing has gone through since raising my own son who is soon to be 25.
In this world of clichés and coin phrases, there’s been a lot of talk about mindfulness and being present in the moment. We hear about mindful eating, mindful working; “whatever you do, be present and mindful while doing it.” This leads me to this week’s discussion of mindful parenting and ways we can break the traditional approaches to better managing our children and relationships.
Mindful parenting is moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental attention to a situation or occurrence. It means approaching your child in their behavior or misbehavior from a standpoint of love. Whereas we typically observe a tough situation and react to the behavior, mindful parenting means participating from a place of enlightenment created from the alignment of your inner-self. If you could step outside of that triggered reaction for a moment and observe it (as neutrally as possible), what does it call forth in you to look at, become more aware of, or perhaps to consider an alternative approach or perspective towards your child and the situation? Many times we attempt to make our children prototypes of ourselves. We remove their independence and water down their own guidance system by imparting our desires on them, instead of allowing them to discover and cultivate their own God given guidance. Mindful parenting means detaching from outcomes and focusing more on what’s being presented in a given situation and teaching our children through our own alignment.
For example, as soon as I went to pick up my godson, I was immediately faced with a challenge where he demonstrated behavior and language towards his older sister that was unacceptable. There was name calling on his behalf and behavior that warranted an immediate solution. When it happened, my initial knee-jerk response was to attempt physical control over the situation. I remembered my previous instinct which was to chide and punish, with the approach that the more severe the punishment, the more the point got across to my child. I remembered the feeling of being somewhat out of control when my own children would act out and feeling the need to really “deal” with the situation. So, for this moment, I decided to take a mindful, centered approach to curb that urge and decided to have a heart to heart discussion where I did more listening and less talking. I guided the conversation in the direction of teaching from what my godson gave to me. His feelings poured out and I learned more about how he ticks and discovered the things that really matter to him; his insecurities, his fears, and how he had learned to resolve conflict. But most importantly, I was able to teach him from the clarity of my own example of how there’s only one thing in life that you can control and that’s YOU! All because I did less talking and more listening. I asked non-judgmental questions. I didn’t levy his insecurities against him. I was calm, relaxed, and focused.
I don’t believe in forced apologies, however I did suggest that he think about what he’d said and encouraged that he say something of remorse to his sister. Through the process of alignment with my inner-self, I was able to have an intelligent discussion with a 10 year old on managing emotions and why/how those emotions and the managing of them are most beneficial to him. I didn’t judge him on what he said and how he’d behaved as being bad or inappropriate but rather guided him to look at what the outcome of his actions were versus what he desired the outcome to be, and ways he could get a different outcome next time. I know this may sound like higher level mental processing than what a 10 year old can handle, but I believe children are much smarter than we give them credit for, and that given more opportunities, they will meet our expectations of them whether the behavior is wanted or unwanted. I purposely chose not to use the adjectives ‘good’ and ‘bad’. More on that at another time.
After the discussion, my godson said to me “I feel bad, that I said that to my sister”. I thought to myself, this is exemplary of him to come to his own conclusions regarding his behavior through our discussion. And this is exactly what we want as parents- for our children to come to their own discoveries and conclusions through the contrast of their own life experience. This was a good lesson in self-awareness and learning how to be conscience of the only real thing you have control over- your response.
What did I learn? I learned that along this journey of alignment and living with intention, and paying attention to my thoughts doesn’t mean that we don’t have challenging feelings anymore. Indeed, we may become more aware of them. But, with practice and persistence we are able to let them go more easily. Irritation and anger will pass more quickly. Over time, negative emotions and feelings can pass through so quickly and not even have a significant impact on your experience- you’ll be surprised. In addition, I was able to see the positive much sooner in an emotionally-charged situation. I used it that positivity to assist in remedying the circumstances from a more sound and stable position of how I envision my inner being would view and handle it – more allowing and forgiving, less resistance and unforgiving. I couldn’t stop or control my godson’s actions, but I could control where I placed my attention and how I managed my emotions.
It won’t always work as you plan. But over time and practice, you’ll have more and more wins. “Pure consciousness resides in the gap between thoughts” – Deepak Chopra. So in other words, we have the ability to choose how we are feeling and reacting to all that is around us at any given moment, allowing us to mold, shape and create our reality. It’s about progress, not perfection. Practice is essential for mindfulness and alignment to work.
Now it’s your turn. As you’re faced with challenges from your children, try taking a different approach towards teaching and discipline when they act out. And when you’re faced with challenges from your spouse, significant other, co-workers, the person who cut you off in traffic, practice mindfulness of the moment and what moment you are choosing to create next. How do you keep from exploding at your children yet still impart on them the education of consciousness? Practice your inner-alignment. Acknowledge gratitude. Choose happiness. Meditate frequently. We are a new generation of parents, determined to make a change and make peace and well-being a priority, especially through the raising of our children.