Mindfulness is a popular concept right now, and there are a lot of misconceptions about what it is and what it isn’t. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment without judging it. Sounds simple, but it’s not easy. Mindful parenting involves being aware of how you and your kids are feeling and of what is going on between you and around you. It also means accepting whatever is happening, rather than denying it, fighting it, or immediately trying to change it. The reality is that so much of what makes life hard happens in our own minds, and once we can see those thoughts for what they are -- just thoughts -- and come back present moment, things get a lot easier. And more fun.
We’ll talk about how to do that next week, but for now, let's focus on how mindfulness can be a drastically different approach to parenting. It’s not about wishing things were different than they are, obsessing over the past, or trying to control the future. It’s also not about beating ourselves up when we make mistakes.
Even though mindfulness is really just about being in, and accepting, the present moment, there are a lot of misconceptions about it. Here are some of them:
1. You have to meditate to practice mindfulness or mindful parenting.
Meditation helps, but it’s not necessary. You can choose at any moment to let go of whatever difficult thoughts you’re obsessing over and refocus your attention. It’s not easy, and meditation can help. It’s like preparing to give a major speech -- the more you practice in low-stress situations, such as giving the speech to your cat, the better you will do on stage. When it comes to parenting, we never know when a high-stress situation will hit. Everything can be fine and all of a sudden the baby poops out of her onesie and the toddler throws his oatmeal on the floor. Staying calm in that moment won’t be easy under any circumstance, but it will be easier if you’ve been practicing with meditation.
2. Mindfulness is about emptying your mind.
I’ve heard this before, and thankfully, it’s just not true. Mindfulness is about how we approach whatever is going on in our minds and our lives. Do we get all caught up in angry thoughts or lose ourselves in to-do lists so that we miss the exit off the highway or get to the end of reading a book to our kids and realize we have no idea what we read? Or are we aware of what’s happening, so we can make a choice as to how we want to respond or engage with whatever life throws our way? That’s what mindfulness is about.
3. Mindfulness is for Buddhists.
Although mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, nearly every religious tradition has a history of meditative or contemplative practices. The mindfulness I’m talking about here is completely secular; it’s just about paying attention. You should find the language and way of understanding it that works for you, and if you want to infuse your mindfulness practice with religious beliefs or spirituality, that’s fine. If not, that works too.
4. Practicing mindfulness takes a lot of time.
Since mindfulness isn’t about what we do, but rather HOW we do it, it won’t add extra time to your day. In my experience, when I can interact mindfully with my kids (rather than throwing a Mommy tantrum), we end up with fewer power struggles and I spend less time in negotiations or managing time-outs. If you choose to meditate, that will take some time, but just 10 or 20 minutes a day. It’s pretty manageable, and well worth it.
5. Practicing mindful parenting will turn you into a super calm Zen parent.
I often wonder what people who read my blog about mindful parenting must think when they see me snap at my daughters or forget the diaper bag yet again. The reality is that mindfulness isn’t going to turn you into the Dalai Mama sitting on the floor chanting while your kids throw food and draw on the walls. With time and practice, though, it can help you calm down more quickly when you’re upset, make better choices when responding to your children, and help parenting seem just a little bit easier.
THIS WEEK'S CHALLENGE
The first step to learning how to stay present is to realize how often we’re not present. Here is this week’s challenge:
Try to notice one or two times each day when you are physically with your children, but not mentally present. Spend some time thinking or writing about the following questions:
What were you doing? What were you thinking about? How were you feeling? How did your thoughts and feelings impact your interactions with your children?
Next week we’ll talk about some ways to start infusing mindfulness into your daily life.
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