Mindfulness, Mom and Apple Pie

06/09/2010 11:21 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

At dinner yesterday, I glanced at my kid and uttered those loaded words, "No, you can't have two pieces of apple pie." Then mindfulness emerged and I recognized my very next thought, "OMG, I'm turning into my mother" and, my reaction to that thought too, "OMG, indeed."

Mindfulness means paying attention to what's happening in and around you in the current moment. Practicing mindfulness means training your mind to cultivate this kind of awareness. Even a little bit of mindfulness helps us stay present, and every little bit of mindfulness helps us grow.

Thanks to mindfulness practice, I heard my own comment, felt my face freeze, and immediately (and invisibly) bit my tongue. Ouch -- on all counts. Then I took a breath, and another to calm my mind (a little) and attend to what was happening in and around me. My kid simply grinned (with a "thought I'd try" kind of look) and then easily focused on something else. And my inner voice softly reminded me, "There's so much to learn and the time to learn it is: right now."

Here's what I'm learning (and learning, again):

  • Daughters don't automatically become their mothers, even if we do grow up to become mothers. Hopefully, we repeat the best of our own mother's behaviors. Then, with a little luck, and a lot of mindfulness, we can hope to make our own mistakes -- and not repeat those visited on us earlier in life.

  • Luck is good, and innately unpredictable. Mindfulness practice helps us deal with reality (lucky or not), and predictably strengthens resilience in the face of uncertainty. When it comes to mothering, I advocate practicing mindfulness. Doing so is much more practical than hoping for luck.

  • Dessert is tempting, and moderation is sensible. We were in a restaurant, and the desserts were outrageously good -- if ever there was a time to indulge, that was it. One dessert was plenty and I wanted my kid to enjoy it guilt-free. One dessert was delightful, and I didn't feel at all guilty about nixing the second.

  • Mindfulness doesn't change reality; it simply alters our experience within reality. I saw, I thought, and I spoke -- and then mindful awareness lead me to realize what I'd seen, how I'd interpreted it, and what I really communicated. Staying present was the key that let me out of my own cell. I could notice what happened (I said "no"), and then remain in the current moment so I didn't belabor the point, or inflict shame or foster guilt. Staying present is the very best type of "moving on."

  • Healthy kids like dessert, and -- like my kid -- behave perfectly normally by occasionally asking for seconds. Even better, sometimes kids behave perfectly -- like when my kid accepted that I said "no." What a gift. And, with it, what a powerful realization that my kid didn't flashback on my mother's messages about caloric consumption, my own history of worries related to body image, or the weight of judgment surrounding food. That particular brand of emotional baggage is mine -- not my kid's. It's in my memory, and I don't need to pass any of it on.

In fact, mindfulness offers a strategy to help us put that baggage down and leave it by the wayside. The point is to notice when we bear the unconstructive weight of habits and feelings, and, then speed up the time required to recognize what's happening. Eventually, we pay attention earlier and earlier in the process -- until one day we notice that the baggage is there, on the sideline, and we don't have the impulse to reach down to grab it.

My comment last night about two desserts came with baggage -- about mom, and apple pie, and all that I associate with them. Last night, I noticed the weight of my associations and related actions shortly after I picked up those familiar bags. But then, once mindful of my actions, I could let them go and reflect on my experience. Next time, who knows -- I might even have a flash of mindfulness before my knee-jerk reaction takes us all by surprise. If I keep watching, and learning, and staying present, I believe that my mothering will become more mindful -- and let me offer unlimited portions of a sweetness so very different from dessert.