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Why Mindful Parenting Works for Me

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Sarah Rudell Beach
Sarah Rudell Beach

Of all the parenting philosophies out there, you would think one that reflects teachings from such varied sources as psychology, Buddhism and even "Seinfeld" would provoke little controversy. But in keeping with our American tradition of the Parenting Wars (breast vs. bottle, cry-it-out vs. co-sleep, just to name a few), there's now been a bit of a dustup in the mindful parenting world.

Last week, Hanna Rosin wrote an editorial in Slate describing mindful parenting as a "trend" that is "setting parents up to fail." She claims it's simply another way to control our kids; in this case, producing mindful children that exhibit exemplary behavior.

And if that's what mindful parenting was, then yes, we would fail. Any parenting style, if adopted rigidly, will ultimately make us feel like George Costanza-worthy disasters.

I can understand the aversion to mindful parenting. When I first heard the term (and its cousin, intentional parenting), my gut reaction was, Does that mean I'm a mindless and unintentional parent? For a nonjudgmental approach, it sounded pretty judgy.

Mindful parenting is simply applying the practice of mindfulness (non-judgmental awareness) to parenting, the way we might bring our mindful attention to working and playing and living.

The Buddha told his followers to only accept his teachings once they had tested them and seen for themselves that they led to "welfare and happiness." Well, I've tested mindful parenting. It is a practice. It does not make me, nor my children, perfect. I make mistakes, and then I continue to practice. But it works for me. Here's why:

"The sea was angry that day my friends..."

I think the heart of mindful parenting is taking that beautiful mindful pause while we navigate stormy waters.

Carla Naumburg, author of the Mindful Parenting blog at Psych Central, responded to Rosin's article by describing mindful parenting as follows: "It's about the ability to tune into what is right in front of us, to accept it without judgment, and to make enough space in our crazy brains to make a choice about how we want to respond. That's it."

The other morning, as I was brushing my daughter's hair, she screamed every time the brush encountered a tangle. She was already mad because, at 6:23 a.m., I was not able to figure out the precise Rainbow Loom maneuver to make a double rhombus while simultaneously cooking eggs and making lunches. As the brush hit another snarl, she screamed, "You are the worst mommy EVER!"

My heart rate sped up, the sea turned angry, I wanted to yell back, "I make your lunch, I brush your hair, I love and feed and clothe you, and THIS is how you treat me?!?!"

Instead, I paused, took a deep breath and remained calm.

And then my daughter said, "Actually, that's not true. You're a good mommy. Just not right now." My mindful pause had facilitated her own.

Sometimes we can get away with acting on instinct, but sometimes, if we are, say, George Costanza, it doesn't always work. Didn't he once say, "Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, ... it's all been wrong"?

In K.J. dell'Antonia's article about mindful parenting on Motherlode, she quips, "there is probably a reason that the phrase 'visceral parenting' has not really taken off."

Mindful parenting helps me forgo the unskillful gut reaction and find the thoughtful response. A tense situation deescalates. The storm subsides.

"It's not you, it's me."

Whether you derive your parenting philosophy from Seinfeld or the Buddha, it pretty much comes down to this: What can I control? And as much as we may like to think otherwise, it only takes about four minutes of parenting to realize there's not much that we can control about our children.

What I can control is the narrative, the yada yada yada in my mind. This could be the noisiest, messiest house on the block, or it could be the most exciting and playful. My 4-year-old chatterbox could be the annoying kid from Jerry Maguire with his constant barrage of questions and fun facts: "Mommy, why does the Grinch hate Christmas? Mommy, did you know tornadoes are really strong? Mommy, why don't skeletons have hair?" Or he could be the most adorable and curious and engaging and delightful little boy EVER.

In many ways, mindful parenting is not about my kids at all. It's about me. My thoughts, my responses. It's asking, What is needed of me right now?

Mindful parenting, though the phrase is inevitably becoming a buzzword and a "trend," is nothing new. It's ancient wisdom. It's the Serenity Prayer. It's How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk.

And if this soup isn't for you, there's nothing wrong with that.

This article originally appeared on LeftBrainBuddha.com. You can follow Sarah on Facebook and Google+.