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can be heard discussing Positive Psychology here.


Mindful Parenting

January 2013

Have you ever asked yourself how to make the atmosphere in your home life calm and nurturing? Do you make it a point to be consciously aware of your responses to your child in the current moment? Do your children see you as caring and approachable? If your answer to any of the above questions is “no,” or “sometimes,” then some of the ideas extracted from the school of mindful parenting might be helpful.

“Mindful parenting” is a term coined by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn and well explained in their book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting (Hyperion, 1997). They present a method for learning how to be present with our children and stay connected to them. The book also teaches how to respond to our children in a careful, thoughtful manner. The exercises they teach can result in a home that is a peaceful haven for all who live there.

Mindfulness is a quality of awareness that is cultivated by paying attention to the present moment. However, we are often preoccupied with the past or future, with the result that the present opportunity is lost. The great poet, T.S. Eliot said this beautifully in Burnt Norton:

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Practicing mindfulness keeps us in the present moment. Thus we avoid automatically responding reactively. We all come to parenting with expectations that have been carried over from one generation to the next. These unconscious, unexamined expectations are often responsible for holding our children to rigid standards while we tell them we are doing this for their own good. Anger and resentment are bound to build up on both sides of the relationship under these circumstances. Rigid expectations deprive us of the opportunity to be present to ourselves and our child in the current moment and to respond non-judgmentally, openly and creatively.

Mindful parenting also enables a partnership to develop with your child that lets him or her teach you as well. As we know, children can teach us how to be more present, more available, and more empathic - if we let them.

How does one practice mindful parenting? Just hearing about mindfulness and that it is possible to practice it in the parenting process is a good beginning. Then we start to experience the moments of our lives as they are unfolding. One way we can do this by getting in touch with our senses through our breath. Awareness of breathing is an important way to ground oneself in all our intelligences, as well as a way to give us access to our interior world, so we can draw on it to navigate our way through life more clearly.

Another way to practice mindfulness as a parent is by cultivating empathy, acceptance, and sovereignty. The definition of sovereignty developed by the Kabat-Zinns is seeing the total, unique and true nature of each child – as they are, not as we their parents wish them to be. So, in practicing mindful parenting we must ask ourselves if we can allow our children to be as they are, even if they don’t fit our expectations. After all, it is the very rare parent who can make his child into someone they are not, and I would argue that he or she only does so at a great price.

To summarize, we can begin practicing mindful parenting by catching ourselves not being present in the moment. Then can bring calming awareness to our breath. We thus stop an automatic reflex reaction and instead give a heartfelt response, appropriate for the present moment. Our children will pick up on the difference in our being and we will be better able to nourish him or her and to grow ourselves in the process.

Mindful parenting under difficult circumstances will be my topic next month.



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