Parents often have idealized visions of how to be the best parents they can possibly be. You remember the flaws (real or perceived) in your own parents’ treatment of you growing up, or you observe where parents around you are struggling with their own children, and you resolve to do better with your own children. But it’s difficult to live up to these ideal mindful parenting practices – especially when you’re feeling stressed, pressured, overworked, exhausted, sad, or angry.
What gets overlooked is that those feelings of being stressed out, under pressure, tired, angry, and so on are often conditions that parents are working under. This isn’t because parenting is terrible – it’s because you’re not parenting in a vacuum. Life is happening while you’re trying to parent; sometimes you’re parenting while you’re sick, or while you’re in the middle of a 60-hour work week, or during a time of loss or turmoil in your family. And even under ideal circumstances for you, your teens are individuals with their own feelings and personalities, and sometimes they may be acting out of feeling sad, angry, tired, or stressed. Sometimes they may just disagree with you. And under those conditions, your kids may be pushing your emotional buttons, whether they mean to or not. And before you know it, you’re reacting in ways that you never intended to. You find yourself nagging, yelling, shaming, or otherwise interacting with your kids in ways that you know aren’t ideal – but you don’t know how to stop it.
So, what’s the solution?
Mindfulness is a method that can help you with being present in the moment, accepting your feelings and circumstances without judgement or shame, and then making an intentional choice about how to proceed. And you can apply mindfulness to parenting as well as in other areas of your life.
Take a look at what mindful parenting looks like and how you can apply it to your own parenting practices.
Mindful Parenting Is Knowing How to Respond Instead of React
What are you feeling when you experience conflict with your child or teen? And why are you feeling it? It may be that your feelings aren’t entirely about what is actually happening at the moment. When your toddler grabs items off the shelf at the grocery store, are you irritated because of what they’re doing – or are you embarrassed because you think their behavior reflects poorly on you and you believe that people around you are judging you? When your teen brings home a bad report card, are you angry with them for not studying harder – or are you afraid that this will prevent them from achieving their dreams in the future?
Your feelings are valid for you no matter why you happen to be feeling them, but that doesn’t mean that you always have to act on them. Understanding why you’re feeling the way that your feeling can help you decide on a course of action that makes sense. Sure, you may need to take action to stop your toddler from grabbing food off the shelves or help your teen better handle their homework, but you don’t necessarily need to take action to change the opinions strangers might have of your parenting skills, or to prevent your teen from experiencing hypothetical hardship in the future. Taking a moment to sort out what you’re feeling and why can help you formulate a proportionate reaction.
Hear Out Your Child’s Point of View
Whatever you think about your own child’s behavior and choices, you can be certain that they have their own take on it. Your teen has their own priorities and their own point of view, and those can be very different from yours. It’s important to hear your child out when they volunteer an explanation and to ask them to explain where they’re coming from when they don’t volunteer.
This doesn’t mean that you need to give your children their way on everything. Listening to your child’s point of view doesn’t mean that you need to be overly permissive – although there may be times when you find that they have good points that you hadn’t considered. However, respecting your child’s point of view even when you disagree with them isn’t about giving in, it’s about acknowledging that your child is also a person with thoughts and feelings at this moment.
It’s also a way of setting a good example for your child. Children (including teenagers) don’t yet have the tools to regulate their emotions the way that adults can. Many adults struggle with this as well, and it would be less of a struggle if the adults in their lives had taught them how to do so. By taking the time to listen to what your child has to say, you’re demonstrating the value of gathering information before reacting, treating other people’s thoughts and feelings as valid and valuable even when you disagree, and even learning from those that you disagree with.
Slow Things Down in the Heat of the Moment
One of the hardest and most important parts of mindful parenting is learning to pause and find calm before responding to a situation. Unless your child is in immediate danger, you often don’t have to react instantly to a conflict. If your teen comes home past their curfew time, for example, you don’t actually have to address it right then, while you’re worried and angry and overtired. You can send them to bed and talk it over in the morning when both you and they are feeling less emotional.
Parents learn early on to respond to their children quickly, even when they might be slower and more deliberate in other parts of their life, like when dealing with coworkers or family members. A baby’s soft cries can quickly turn into loud wails if they’re not picked up quickly enough. A full diaper can become a diaper rash in short order. A toddler who wanders a short distance away might dart into the road if you don’t take their hand. But as children grow older, the instances where you need to respond instantly become less frequent. Practice taking a moment to focus on your breathing before reacting. Concentrate on the present – the situation at hand – rather than on past history or your own complicated feelings. Acknowledge your emotions, but remember that you don’t need to be ruled by them. Find the calm space inside yourself before speaking or acting.
Mindful parenting is not the same thing as perfect parenting. There is no such thing as perfect parenting, and you won’t always succeed at being as mindful as you might wish to be. However, mindfulness is something that you can always come back to, and you can always try again. Practicing mindfulness won’t make you a perfect parent, but it will make you a calmer, more intentional parent and help you move closer to your own ideals.