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Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Headshot

Mindful Parenting: The Buck Stops Here

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While there may be many books out there on parenting, there really isn't any definitive guide because every baby and child is unique and all parents come with unique baggage from childhood and genetics. Becoming a parent is wonderful for stirring up all of those old memories and connections from our own upbringing. Mix this in with our fractured attention spans and we begin to see why it is becoming increasingly important for us to learn how to attune ourselves to our own thoughts, feelings and emotions so we can have the ability to do that with our children.

For many, childhood was a time of betrayal and invalidation where parents were potentially disconnected from their inner worlds of thoughts, feelings and emotions. As a result, security and trust wasn't fostered and this bled into our intimate relationships and we swore that it would be different with our kids.

One of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is their presence, validation and security. When we're present with our children, it lays a path for attunement and resonance. Attunement is when the parent is aware and present to the child's inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions. When attuned, a state of resonance occurs where the child "feels felt." Think about anytime you felt completely understood. It breeds a sense of safety and when a person feels safe, they cultivate the ability to trust.

My friend and colleague Daniel Siegel, MD has a great acronym for this:

PART (Presence, Attunement, Resonance, Trust)

He notes that this attunement and resonance builds regulatory circuits in the brain that supports the child's ability to foster empathic relationships be resilient in the future.

This is an invaluable gift to give a child.

Easy enough, right?

Um... no. It can enormously challenging at times to be a parent. Author and blogger Therese Borchard often writes about her struggles being a mom and suffering with depression. As a parent, we are now responsible for a whole host of new responsibilities, trying to do the best we can while feeling guilty that we're not doing enough.

Mindful parenting informs us to first begin to practice PART within ourselves. Sometimes just taking a moment or two to let the dust settle and tune into how we are feeling physically, emotionall and mentally can be a wonderful gift in helping to cultivate self-attunement and resonance. Through this process, we can begin to come down from the chaos in our minds and trust ourselves.

When practicing with yourself, you can begin to do this with your children. If you find that all day you have been frantically running around, practicing continuous fractured attention and not paying attention to your children, rather than riddling yourself with guilt, see if you can recognize that you are now present, let that be, and invite yourself to be present to your child now.

If the little one is crying because he skinned his knee, you might notice the urge to make a happy face or give him a lollipop to ease his woes. See if you can instead validate his feelings, letting him know that his response is appropriate and allow it to come and go. This teaches the child that it's OK to feel hurt and it's OK to cry when you get hurt. This earns the child a sense of security within him or herself.

This could be more difficult if you have many children and the crying becomes contagious. So when the voices arise that you're not fit to be a parent, see if you can be aware of that trap, become present and remind yourself that you're good enough.

As is said in The Now Effect, we will never be the perfect parents so let go of the burden of that fantasy. However, we can be good enough as the well-known Psychologist Donald Winnicott pointed out. Mindful Parenting is the process of being aware of how you were parented affects your style of parenting and also to make it a practice to be present and attuned to your child's inner world. If you stray from this, that is perfectly fine, just let it be, and invite yourself now to be with your child.

As soon as you notice yourself drifting, you are present and can shift to tuning into to your child's inner world. It is that close. Be compassionate to yourself knowing this is a practice.

As always, please share your stories, thoughts, and questions. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy