Erica Moltz, MA, NCC, Clinical Director
For many parents, one of the most challenging aspects of parenting is having the knowledge that bad things have happened to their children that they don’t have the power to take away. Parents desperately want the best for their children so that they can overcome the effects of their past traumatic experiences.
Parental experience and wisdom have taught us that a few bad decisions on a child’s part can make life much more difficult for them, and even cause them more problems in their adult lives. So, when our children don’t get good grades or don’t work hard enough or quit things too easily or are mean to their friends or get in trouble at school, we worry that their futures will be adversely affected by their actions and they won’t turn out to be productive citizens. We wonder if the disrespectful behavior they sometimes exhibit towards us will predict how they will be in their adult relationships. And, we may wonder if their behavior is a reflection of poor parenting on our part, compounding our own suffering.
If we get too caught up in worrying about what our children are NOT doing, we may forget to appreciate them for who they are and what they ARE doing that is “right”. We know that ultimately we are the most important person in our child’s life; the more positive our relationship is with them, the more we will influence their values and choices. The more attuned we are to them, the more we will be able to co-regulate or influence their reactions and behavior. Our relationship with our children will be stronger if they sense our delight in them and their very essence.
We will also feel less stressed as parents if we focus on taking delight in our children. One of the most effective ways to do this is to be more mindful of the present moment. For example, we can delight in their presence by being aware of ordinary moments: the way they breathe peacefully before we wake them for school; the way their eyes light up when they are pleased with something they have done well, or how gently they pet the dog or exuberantly run around the yard. We can be totally present at those moments when they want to tell us about their day or about the TV program they just watched. If we worry too much about our children’s future or stay stuck on what they did wrong yesterday, these ordinary moments may go unnoticed. Sitting on the floor with our pre-schooler and playing pretend games with dolls or toy trucks may not be the most interesting past time for us. However, paying that kind of attention to our children in the present moment will help them feel “felt” and understood. Watching a video or listening to a CD with our teen, even if we find it obnoxious or distasteful, will go a long way to help the teen feel “felt” and valued.
Quieting our minds and remembering to pull our thoughts away from the negative about our children will help us stay in the here and now with them and open up to the richness in the present moment. We can use our breath to still the noisy worry and anxious anticipation that our thoughts create about our children and cherish each moment as it unfolds. Noticing our own breath, the way our chest rises and falls with the in and out breath, can help us stay anchored in the present moment. With practice, we can train our thoughts to focus on all that is delightful about our children and help them to heal and overcome any trauma in their lives.
What are some of the ways that you slow down, take a breath, and delight in your children each day?