Erica Moltz, MA, NCC, Clinical Director
As the weather gets colder, the holidays approach and we are more involved in the stress of the school year, it may be a good time to reflect again about the ways in which mindfulness can help us to be more effective parents. For many of us, parenting is stressful and complicated by all the other things we have on our plates. The good and bad news is that technology makes it easy and inviting to multi-task so that we can parent while checking things off our long “to-do” lists. We can have a quick conversation, email, text, and/or be on Facebook with work, friends and family when we are with our children. Even if we are not literally multi-tasking, we may be distracted from being fully present when we are with our children. If our thoughts are elsewhere, we may be physically with our children, but not really present. We aren’t present if we are thinking about ordinary daily activities like what we have to do at work the next day, or what we will cook for dinner, or tomorrow’s car pool challenges. We aren’t present if we are stuck on habitual thoughts about an unpleasant past experience. We aren’t present if we are focusing on the future and worrying about how something will turn out that has not yet occurred. (Mark Twain actually commented about this very frequent tendency – “ I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened” ). The end result is that we may be in “ auto-pilot mode” when bathing our children, picking them up from school, sharing a meal with them, reading a bedtime story, or having a conversation with them .
Mindfulness is the remedy for an overactive, distracted and stressed out mind. It is very portable and goes wherever you go. Since it is the nature of the mind to be extremely active, mindfulness has to be practiced to get better at it. You can sit down and practice mindfulness every day for a period of time or you can do it on the run for a minute or two at a time. Mindfulness can be practiced moment by moment as you shower, drive, watch TV, eat dinner, and most importantly spend time with your children. It is very important to remember that the goal is to be a “good enough parent” not a perfect one and the goal is not to achieve total and perfect mindfulness. Instead, the end game is to be more aware of when our mind is wandering and we are not present, so we can bring ourselves, gently and with compassion, back to our breath, to our body, to the sights, smells and sounds in the room. The pay off is that when we are truly present and in a mindful state, our thoughts, emotions and bodies are more balanced and regulated. When we are in a mindful state of awareness, we will more likely be attuned and empathetic parents, able to have fun with our children and take delight in their presence. When we respond from a place of mindfulness, we are more likely to respond thoughtfully rather than in a reactive, less effective way.
There are many simple ways to practice mindfulness. Notice your breath. On the in-breath imagine taking in lightness and more than enough air. On the out-breath, feel yourself sink into your body and whatever you are sitting on, feeling grounded. Notice your breath. If your thoughts wander, just gently pull them back in this moment to your breath. Or notice your eating. Taste your food with awareness. Experience the food in your mouth – its texture and consistency. Smell the food. Taste the food. Eat slowly coordinating with your breath. When you are with your child, really take in their voice, their hair, their eyes, their face, their body. Remember to notice your breath, invite yourself to be totally present with your child by paying attention with openness and curiosity to the present moment.