Growing Character: Parenting from Our Best Selves Through Mindfulness
If you are like most parents, you have days — perhaps many days — when you wonder where that grumpy or angry parent who looked like you came from. Late at night in the quiet of your bed you can think of things you wish you had done or said that might have made the situation easier. But where was this calm presence of mind when you needed it? Most of us have parenting moments like that — where the parent who can listen, set clear limits or be patient has disappeared somewhere and this other human being shows up to take her place.
Being able to bring the real you, the helpful you, to the situation requires a sense of mindfulness, a sense of awareness in the moment. There is now excellent evidence that developing mindfulness enhances social, physical and emotional health. It improves relationships and can help in those hot-button parenting moments we all experience. With practice you can get better at it and feel better about yourself as a parent. Yes, it takes practice.
There are many practices for increasing mindfulness:
Develop a practice of pausing.
- Several times a day (you can remind yourself with an alarm on your phone), sit or stand tall with your spine straight and take four slow deep breaths, noticing the air move in and out.
- When you notice that you are pushed or stressed, pause before you do or say something.
Develop a practice of becoming more aware of your body.
- Pay attention to the sensation of your feet on the ground as you walk the dog or walk into the grocery store.
- Take a body movement class (dance, yoga, martial arts).
Develop a practice of becoming aware of your feelings.
After discussions with other people that went well or ones that went poorly, pause and ask yourself, “What was I feeling before the conversation? During? After?” Consolidate the feeling into one word: frustrated, disappointed, afraid, lonely, engaged, delighted, betrayed, loved. Be curious and notice any patterns.
Develop a practice of being more aware of your thoughts.
- If you spend 15 to 30 minutes a day sitting in silence trying to let your mind settle into the quiet, you will notice that your mind is very busy planning, judging and complaining. When you develop the practice of noticing your thoughts, gradually you will begin to have more flexibility in how you respond to those thoughts during the day.
- If you are interested in some free guided mindfulness practices you can get them at the Mindfulness Awareness Center website. Each is between three and 19 minutes long.
Develop a practice of reflection.
- Spend some time each evening or morning calmly reflecting on your parenting intentions. Sometimes it is easier after your children are in bed and looking quite innocent.
- Spend some time each evening or morning thinking about three things that you appreciate about each of your children, your partner and yourself. The practice of gratitude can shift your attitude.
About the author
Jody McVittie, MD is the executive director and cofounder of Sound Discipline, a local nonprofit dedicated to teaching people to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. Sound Discipline works with schools and families in the Puget Sound Community.