BEGIN WITH YOURSELF
While some couples have mapped out family planning for the birth of each child, others suddenly find themselves confronted with an untimely pregnancy. In any case, when the news arrives that a baby is on the way, it is normal for maternal and paternal instincts to take over and for preparations to begin. It is understandable and commendable that parents-to-be would become interested in the countless books, classes, and workshops offering guidance to parents on just about every topic related to parenting. (See Resource section.)
It is not unusual for parents, new and experienced, to feel insecure about the work of parenting. After all, parenting is by far the most difficult job of all and the one that carries the most responsibility. It represents a commitment that is likely to last more than eighteen years. It requires nurturance and attention during every stage of the child’s life. Whether caring for a helpless newborn to challenging interactions with an all-knowing, impulsive teen, parents are faced with new challenges every day.
As a parent you must understand that despite all of your self-education and preparation and despite the natural processes of bonding, there will likely be many moments when you will feel out of control or become reactive in your relationship with your child. As regretful and ashamed as you may feel after such experiences, this does not mean you are a horrible or incompetent parent. It means you are human.
The Benefits of Being a Mindful Parent
In our Mindful Parent Happy Child classes, we set out to help parents understand themselves better while they develop skills that encourage a healthy and lasting parent-child connection. Many who have worked on parenting mindfully testified to positive changes in the overall atmosphere or mood within their homes. Parents who were initially worried about how easily they were triggered into uncontrolled rage by something their children said or did have been able to “maintain calm in the middle of the storm.” Other benefits reported are as follows:
• the enjoyment that can come from spending extra time and attention on yourself
• an increased sense of closeness with your children
• feelings of confidence that come when you successfully bypass potential power struggles with your child
Here are a few actual testimonials from parents:
“Mindful Parenting has helped me feel like a successful parent and left my children feeling loved and understood. What could be more fulfilling as a parent?” –Julie
“This class has taught me to be aware of how I communicate with my children. This awareness has given more attention to the positive attributes, therefore creating a more balanced and loving relationship. Thank you for taking the time to help all children and parents” –Maryha
“As a participant in Mindful Parent Happy Child class, I was able to use what I learned to connect more deeply with myself and, in turn, more deeply with my children. Sharing experiences and concerns with other parents as we learned tools of mindfulness reassured me that I am constantly evolving as a parent and a person.” –Katy
The methods of mindful parenting are not a panacea, nor will they transform you or your relationship with your child overnight. Becoming a mindful parent requires consistent and concerted effort in the direction of a long-term goal. With such effort, you and your family can reap the rewards for years to come.
Now that you have some idea of the benefits of being a Mindful Parent, let’s begin laying the foundation of the Mindful Parent Happy Child program.
How Do I Start?
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you can begin cultivating mindfulness by taking three simple steps:
1. Practice present-moment awareness and observation of yourself and your experience.
2. Name or label what you become aware of.
3. Mentally “step outside” of your internal assumptions, judgments, and emotional reactions to people and circumstances and note how they help, limit, or oppress you.
Incorporate these practices into the ordinary and often mundane activities of daily living. For example, at times throughout your day you may choose to do the following:
==> Take mini-awareness breaks by stopping what you are doing; take a few deep breaths; pause and reflect on the people and circumstances in life for which you are grateful.
==> Pay attention to the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that arise as you do daily activities such as washing dishes, folding laundry, working in the garden, or performing other mundane chores.
==> Envision those people, animals, and issues you are concerned about in life, and imagine directing thoughts and feelings of lovingkindness toward them.
==> Keep a journal in which you observe and note your inner and outer responses to life as it unfolds.
==> Take a walk in nature and consciously open your senses to the richness of the experience.
Beginning with these simple mindfulness practices will help you start building a deeper and more positive connection with yourself and, ultimately, with the children in your life.
What if I Don’t Like to Meditate?
Some people cultivate mindfulness in their daily lives through strictly prescribed methods of meditation or contemplation. Their practices can include extended periods of sitting or walking meditation. Some attend retreats that promote specific types of meditation, contemplation, or reflection.
“Walking meditation is the one that everyone can do. There are those of us who find it difficult to practice sitting meditation, but almost everyone walks. And if you are in a wheelchair, you can do a rolling meditation” –Thich Nhat Hanh
Fortunately, growing as a mindful parent doesn’t require spending time in the mountains with ascetic monks. In reality, a large majority of parents have priorities and limitations that make it difficult for them to engage in such formal approaches with any significant frequency. The good news is that each of us has every moment of every day available for practicing and developing mindfulness in ways that can enhance our relationships with ourselves and our children. You can find and use such moments, first, by setting your intention.
Set Your Intention
Whatever your preferences in practice may be, as you work your way through this book, there are three key ideas I urge you to keep in mind. Set your intention with the following affirmations:
Key Aspects of Mindfulness Practice
Now let’s consider the following five key aspects of mindfulness practice in detail:
• describing what is happening (in the present moment)
• nonreactivity (acceptance of your internal experience)
• nonjudgmental approach to yourself and others
To read more, you will be able to order Mindful Parent Happy Child: A Guide to Raising Joyful and Resilient Children In February, 2011. Join our email community today!