The term mindfulness is so common these days that the idea often loses its meaning. Recently I had the opportunity to talk with eight women about how mindfulness has changed their parenting practices. This conversation both reinforced and illuminated how trying to be fully present can change our relationships with our children one moment at a time.
Parent Educator and Coach Lynne Brazg invited me to talk with the members of her Parenting with Presence class on its last meeting night at YWCA Family Village Redmond. Most of the women in this class live within this transitional housing building, and all of the participants were single parents looking to bolster their parenting skill set with this six-week class.
“I really expanded the mindfulness piece with this group. I noticed the hard parenting skills I was teaching almost became secondary once the parents could focus on their own self-regulation. There was space for their own intuitive wisdom to arise and they began to ask open-ended curiosity questions to their kids and were able to have the space to receive what their kids were telling them without being immediately reactive or judgmental,” says Brazg, who works with Community of Mindful Parents.
Below are excerpts from my interviews with each of these women, all of whom continue to inspire me as I try to mindfully parent my own children.
Marichelle, age 22, step-parent to three children
“I was raised by my grandparents who taught me to calm down so I could focus on one thing at a time. This class has reminded me of what I was already taught. Sometimes I’ll count back from 10, and if that doesn’t work I will tell myself in the moment what is going on right now. Or I’ll find a quiet spot somewhere for 10 minutes and let the kids know I need time to cool off. They sometimes check on me and make sure I am OK. I would say I’m still upset and I need a few more minutes. I also have a non-cancerous breast tumor, and this class has helped me stay calm with that, too.”
Have you heard about how you have to take the oxygen mask first when you are flying? That is how I really view these classes: as the oxygen mask to be the best person for your child and your family.
Krystal, age 31, parent to one child
“I have a safe place in my head that I go to, an image that makes me feel safe. I just say, ‘Breathe, take a deep breath, focus on what you are doing.’ When I think of things in the past that maybe distract me from what I am doing, like at work thinking about fight with my mom, I can use it to bring myself back to work. It helps when my child is doing something I don’t want him to do. I have been having him take deep breaths. It helps with temper tantrums. I also make sure that I am calm before I can calm him down.”
Diane, age 41, parent to three children
“This is my first time taking mindfulness. It has helped me a lot because my 16-year-old, she ran away from home. When she came back, she was expecting me to yell at her. But instead I said, ‘So, how did you enjoy being in Seattle for two weeks?’ She didn’t know what to say, and she went in her room for five minutes, and then came out and said, ‘I didn’t really like it.’ And then she told me everything.
The mindfulness taught me to center myself, calm down and think about the situation first before just reacting and you don’t get a response from the reaction. If I had yelled, she would have closed up and not said anything. This time she opened up and she felt safe.”
Kaneez, age 34, parent to two children
This single mom came to the U.S. from Pakistan at age 16. She incorporates her religion into her daily life, praying five times a day. When I asked her if learning about mindfulness made a difference to her, she replied, “No, I already am calm.”
“Is it because you pray five times a day?” I asked.
She laughed as she shook her head up and down. “Yes.”
Megan, age 27, parent to two children
“It’s helped me with knowing that things that need to be cleaned will be done; what is more important is being present in the moment with them and breathing and chilling out.
It’s helped knowing that if I am frustrated that they pick up on things like that. Now I really breathe and take a moment and not just react to whatever it could be that I was dealing with with them. It’s been empowering. It’s easier to encourage them and not get so upset. I am potty-training one of my kids and I am taking time to empower her to potty train, not just getting frustrated so she regresses; before I was constantly doing that. Now we are pretty much done potty training!”
Ruthie, age 27, parent to one child
“I was going through a fragile difficult time in my life. There were a lot of things that could have pulled me away from my son. If I hadn’t done everything to stay close, if I didn’t do everything I possibly could to be the best I could be for him, I wouldn’t be of service to him. This class helped me cope with the things I was going through so I wouldn’t let my emotions get the best of me.
The mindfulness aspect really just taught me that my son doesn’t need anything from me in a materialistic way. He just needs me to be present; he might not realize that. I have to watch my actions because they are sponges. I need to be mindful as a person and as a parent. If I can’t be aware of how I am feeling, I won’t be able to take care of myself.
Have you heard about how you have to take the oxygen mask first when you are flying? That is how I really view these classes: as the oxygen mask to be the best person for your child and your family. If you can’t do anything to take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else. It’s also nice to know you are not alone. Sometimes other people raise their voices at their kids.
Now I just really think before I speak. Would I want to be talked to that way? I apply it in work and at home. We don’t ever take enough time to listen. We are so quick to respond. People think they don’t have time for this. Sometime the best reaction is no reaction; this is the biggest thing I learned from Lynne. If I take the three minutes to quiet down and talk to him and find out what is going on so he feels safe and loved. It’s the small changes that make the biggest difference over time.”
Maria, parent to two children
“Your kid doesn’t ask you to bring them alive; the moment you have a child you make a commitment with yourself, that kid is part of you, even if you die, your genes are part of the kid. Even if you make millions, that’s nothing if you lose the connection with your child. We forget the principles of why we are working. [If we lose the connection with our children] they feel lonely and they go for a different satisfaction on the street like drugs or alcohol. For an extra dollar, am I going to let my son go? It’s more about commitment to your child.”
Tracy, 35, parent to three children
“Twenty minutes in to taking this class, I started crying. I’ve been panicked for the last six months. I’ve made poor choices and we became evicted and I pulled a rug out from under them. I needed the reminding; sometimes we just need a reminder to breathe.
I’ve tried to teach this [mindfulness] to the children in my community. You start with the children. You can teach them to be well, to have a sense of space, and to be aware of yourself and others.
For seven years I worked in an infant room juggling six infants. What kept them all from screaming is your center and your grounding and your tone. Children feed off the parent. What makes people think they don’t feel? People judge and react to what they feel.
It’s more than a parenting class; it is a reflection-of-self class. We are leaning how to properly feel. When you can allow yourself to feel, you can feel how others feel. Allowing yourself to feel, when you can do that, you can feel others, people don’t realize
I’ve learned a sense of control when being confronted with a crazy situation, of being able to keep the calm. With a crisis, I say oh and imagine a big exclamation mark in my head. And I say, ‘ok one breath in and one breath out.’ And I tell myself that the next words will be said with a soft tone.”