Being a parent might be the hardest job you’ll ever have, yet it offers the greatest rewards. If you’re not mindful, it can seem like an endlessly unsatisfying toil, but with mindfulness, you can be present for the many moments of joy and happiness.
Raising a child requires enormous patience and the ability to stay calm under pressure – qualities which can be in short supply when you’re stressed and hurried. In today’s world, even our children may be stressed and hurried, the result of our best efforts to maximize their opportunities for success in school and life. Mindfulness offers us an antidote to our stressed, hurried, over-scheduled and over-stimulated lives, helping us find inner calm and peace, which in turn allows us to create calm and peace in our family life.
There is no such thing as a perfect parent. I speak from experience on this! We all make mistakes – it’s how we learn. As a parent you will be given plenty of opportunities for learning and personal growth; it’s up to you what you make of them. As Myla Kabat-Zinn writes in Everyday Blessings, the book she co-wrote with her husband, Jon, on their experience raising their three children:
“Most of what I have learned in my life, I have learned from being a parent. I did not learn it in kindergarten. My children are continually teaching me what I need to know, when I need to know it.”
Children don’t expect perfection from us, nor do they need it. What they need is for us to be there, paying attention, not only to make sure they’re safe and healthy, but also that they feel seen, heard, and understood. Children also need to know that family life is predictable, with regular routines and rhythms; that there are logical consequences for behavior; that everyone is treated with respect.
Most of us are doing our best to be good parents, and chances are, we’re “good enough parents,” but we may not feel that way – instead, we feel inadequate, or guilty that we’re not doing more. As Dan Siegel, the UCLA child development expert and founder of the field of interpersonal neurobiology writes, in Parenting from the Inside Out,
“When we are too busy doing things for our children, we forget how important it is to simply be with them. We can delight in the opportunity to join with our children in the amazing experience of growing together. Learning to share in the joy of living is at the heart of a rewarding parent-child relationship.”
Mindfulness teaches us how to step out of autopilot and come in to the present moment. When we practice mindful, present-moment awareness on a regular basis, we come to recognize how much of the time we’re pulled away from the present moment – by distractions, and by our mind wandering into the past or the future. We learn how to not get so caught up in our thoughts, which often lead us to anxiety, fear, worry, and negative moods.
Mindfulness also teaches us how to find “the space between stimulus and response.” We learn how to stop being so reactive when our children or teens push our buttons, and instead to be able to pause, calm ourselves, observe what’s happening, and then choose a skillful response.
We also learn to practice non-judging awareness – not to stop judging, but rather to become aware of when we’re being judgmental, whether toward our children, ourselves, or others, and how those judgments may get in the way of seeing reality clearly. And finally, we learn to be more kind and compassionate – not only to our children, but especially to ourselves.
Practicing mindfulness on a daily basis increases self-understanding, promotes kindness and curiosity, increases patience, and reduces reactivity. Being fully present, awake, and aware is the greatest gift you can give your children, and yourself. As Kristen Race, author of Mindful Parenting and founder of Mindful Life Today, writes,
“The practice of mindfulness could be the single most effective way to improve your parenting, your relationships, your health, and to increase your happiness in general.”