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Mindful Parenting Under Difficult Circumstances

February 2013

Parenting is one of the most difficult jobs we undertake. Often we don’t have training for it, and as a result we end up flying by the seat of our pants. This might work when life is peaceful and all is going well. However, when we find ourselves in more stressful situations what comes out of ourselves first is frequently something negative that resembles how our parents responded in ways we didn’t like when we were growing up.

We all have these moments. Often they are the build-up of small things - toys scattered in the yard, the morning newspaper that nobody bothered to bring in, shoes lying in the doorway that should have been put in the closet. As the result of this cumulative build up we get angry to a breaking point where our children and spouse can do nothing right.

As much as we don’t like those moments and our reactions to them, they can be our teachers, giving us opportunities to be more flexible and to respond in ways that are more congruent with ourselves and with the situation. In order to do this, we have to be fully present for them. This will enable us to respond more effectively, especially in difficult situations.

First we must notice and admit that what frequently comes out of us is something negative. One common reason this happens is because our negative experiences of the day build up in our minds. Then we find we don’t have anything to say that is positive, and we find flaws in everything. As we do this, we feel justified and righteous. We find ourselves spouting angrily,“You didn’t do this, you didn’t do that!” Regrettably we make our children or spouse into our enemies in those moments.

Next we must catch ourselves reacting, and then simply stop. When you find yourself feeling angry at your loved ones, take a moment to become aware of your impulse to react automatically. Then calm yourself by focusing on and deepening your breathing. In addition, become aware of your whole body, your feelings, and your thoughts .

Then bring your awareness to your child and how he or she is in that moment. Try not to judge his or her state. Rather, only note what and how it is. Try to see this moment or situation from your child’s point of view. Ask yourself, “What does this child and this situation need from me in this moment? “ Once you have done this, you will be able to see the possibility of new and imaginative choices and responses for yourself, as well as openings in situations where you had previously perceived everything as closed.

As you respond mindfully rather than reacting on the basis of perceived offenses or omissions, be sure to return regularly to paying attention to your breathing and to the present moment. If you are confused, consider not doing anything for the time being and instead just being present without a resolution. Remind yourself you don’t have to "fix" things right away. You can include saying something appropriate like, “I’m feeling angry. I want to take some time to think about this. We can talk about it later when my thoughts are more clear." That in itself will teach your children honesty and responsibility for one's own feelings.

The reactions you have to your children in difficult situations can happen within a matter of seconds and have the potential to damage your relationship with them forever. When you practice mindfulness, those same situations become opportunities to grow your relationship instead. This will then allow you to concentrate on the positive qualities of your relationship with your children and to find the joy and satisfaction of maintaining a deep sense of connection with them.



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