A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about how I meditate; meditation and yoga are examples of formal mindfulness practices. But we don’t have to be sitting with our eyes closed or twisting ourselves into pretzels in order to practice mindfulness; we can choose to reconnect with the present moment at any time. Any of our daily activities—from brushing our teeth to drinking coffee or washing the dishes—represent an opportunity for informal mindfulness practice. Regardless of what we are doing, we always have a choice: we can pay attention to what we are feeling, thinking, and doing, or we can be a million miles away in our own mind, ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.
Informal mindfulness practice is essentially the opposite of multitasking; it is making a conscious decision to singletask. It’s remarkable how much time we spend multitasking; we eat in front of the TV, talk on the phone in the car, and make dinner while helping our kids with an art project or their homework. Even when we’re physically doing just one thing, our minds are often multitasking for us—running through our task list, worrying about a sick child, or rehashing a conversation with a spouse.
We like to tell ourselves that we benefit from multitasking. We’re so productive! We’re getting so much done, and so quickly! We’re solving the family’s problems, roasting a chicken, and planning a birthday party all at once! But research has found that we’re actually less efficient and effective when we’re doing more than one thing once. Furthermore, life isn’t just about getting things done. Parenting certainly isn’t.
I recently found a wonderful post by my fellow PsychCentral blogger Elisha Goldstein, a clinical psychologist, author, and mindfulness teacher. Last April, Dr. Goldstein wrote about mindful parenting, including these words of wisdom:
The fact is, 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 the 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.
I encourage you to read the entire post. It’s truly inspirational.
Father and son photo available from Shutterstock
My name is Carla. I am the mother of two young daughters, and I am addicted to my iPhone.
I am also a clinical social worker, which means I don’t use the word “addicted” lightly. There are many different ways to understand and define addiction, but the one that has always made the most sense to me focuses on the extent to which the possible addiction interferes with an individual’s ability to function in relationships and work and to keep themselves and others safe. After careful (and somewhat reluctant) reflection, I have come to see my relationship with my iPhone as an addiction.
Although neither my daughters nor I have ever been physically injured because of my smartphone use, I suspect it’s just a matter of time. Despite the fact that texting while driving is illegal in my home state of Massachusetts (as it should be), I do, on occasion text or check Facebook, Twitter, and email at red lights. I would like to tell you that I never do it when my daughters are in the car, but that’s just not true. Studies have found that talking or texting on the phone while driving is roughly the equivalent to driving drunk, yet I would never consider getting behind the wheel tipsy. Even if I were to put down my phone in the car, that’s no guarantee of safety. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal speculates that the rise in childhood injuries may be due to distracted parents—distracted by their iPhones. I’ve certainly spent hours at the park with my head down, staring at a tiny screen, and the fact that one of my daughters hasn’t yet been injured falling off a slide or the monkey bars is probably just a matter of luck.
I recently came across an article on The Huffington Post titled “5 Ways Technology Makes You Miss Your Kids’ Childhood.” The author, Nicole Fabian-Weber, contends that we parents spend so much time trying to capture every last moment or making ourselves accessible to everyone other than our kids that we totally miss the important moments with our children. I agreed with much of the post, but I thought it overlooked the most common ways in which my smartphone pulls me out of the moment with my children: email, Facebook, and Twitter.
Meanwhile, Annie Urban, the author of the PhD in Parenting blog recently re-posted a piece she originally wrote in 2010 on the same topic. However, Ms. Urban offers a more balanced view of the role of technology, acknowledging some of the problems as well as a lot of the benefits of email, Google, and social networking. (Last spring, I also wrote a piece about my struggles with technology for Kveller.com here.)
I agree with both of them. There is no doubt that I am a better parent and a more sane person because of the knowledge I have gained online, the books I have read on my iPhone while waiting for meetings, and most importantly, the friendships I have developed through Twitter and blogs. I spend less time running errands because I can shop online, and we take fewer trips to the Doctor’s office because I can email questions to our pediatrician.
When I was a new parent, celebrating a baby who was finally sleeping through the night or bemoaning the challenges of introducing solid foods, a more experienced parent would inevitably tell me that it was only a phase. This response irritated me to no end. Perhaps it was because I didn’t fully get what that meant, perhaps it was because I felt patronized, but for whatever reason, I didn’t want to hear it.
Over the past four years, as I have watched my daughters grow from newborns to infants and then toddlers, and now that my older girl is a preschooler, I have come to see the wisdom of those words. Yet I prefer to think about it from a slightly different perspective, one that a fellow Mama reminded me of recently.
This too shall pass.
These four words have become somewhat of a mantra for me lately, a reminder that my big girl’s culinary preferences won’t always be limited to macaroni and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches, and that my baby won’t always express her frustration by flinging herself to the floor and crying hysterically. Whenever I get to the point that I feel like I can’t possibly read Angelina Ballerina even one more time, or when I am up all night holding a sick baby who is so congested she can’t suck her thumb, I meditate on those words–this too shall pass.
Someone recently asked me about the difference between mindful parenting and attachment parenting. It’s a great question. I’m still working out just what my definition of mindful parenting is, but a good summation is that it involves being present in the moment with yourself and your children, in a non-judgmental way. By being mindful (rather than distracted or reactive), we can create space in our own minds and hearts and in our relationship with our children so that we can be aware of how everyone is feeling, and make thoughtful, conscious choices about how we want to interact with our children.
Attachment parenting (AP) is a specific parenting philosophy, initially outlined by William and Martha Sears. According to the Attachment Parenting International website, there are 8 principles of AP: preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting; feeding with love and respect; responding with sensitivity; using nurturing touch; ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally; practicing positive discipline; and striving for balance in personal and family life. In practice, attachment parenting often involves little or no use of outside caregivers, extended breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and co-sleeping, or some combination of the above.
I heard my 3 year old daughter coughing at about 7 AM on Saturday morning, and I knew. I knew it meant she was about to throw up. I briefly ignored it, and tried to pretend it wasn’t going to happen. But it did, and the next thing I knew, we were comforting our little girl and stripping the sheets from her bed. After we changed her pajamas and got her settled comfortably on the couch with a large bowl by her side, I started canceling our plans for the day.
The weather was beautiful, and at first I was totally bummed to be spending the entire day in the house. But as I watched my daughter, it was clear that she didn’t have the energy to do anything, and we didn’t want to risk infecting any of our friends with whatever nasty little bug had invaded my daughter’s body.
I recently found this piece on Mindful.com. As I read the article, it seemed as if the author was speaking directly to me as a parent. It’s worth reading the whole post, but briefly, the five expressions of mindful living that he outlines are:
1. I don’t know.
2. I was wrong.
3. I made a mistake.
4. It happens.
5. How can I help?
Think back to your childhood. How often did your parents say these words to you? What would it have been like if they had? Do you ever say these words to your children? Can you imagine saying them?
Dad and daughter photo available from Shutterstock
Let me be clear about this. I am not the “meditating type,” if such a type actually exists. I don’t wear long flowery skirts, I’m not into mystical rituals, and chanting has always creeped me out. To be perfectly honest, I always thought that meditation was for weirdos who would be better served by a little self-discipline and a well-crafted to-do list.
Until I had kids, and realized that perhaps I had become one of those weirdos, and that self-discipline and to-do lists weren’t the answer. I put on my research brain, determined to find a way to get myself back on track. Virtually every article I read about dealing with the challenges of parenting and balancing multiple roles came back to one idea: mindfulness practice, both formal and informal. (Formal practice includes meditation and yoga. Informal practice refers to those random moments during the day when you decide to purposefully pay attention—I’ll talk more about that later.) Once I started looking into it, I realized that there’s nothing woo-woo about all of it. It’s just about paying attention to whatever is happening, and accepting it without judgment. I found an entire body of research outlining the benefits of mindfulness meditation, including improved memory and concentration, stress reduction, and decreased emotional reactivity. It sounded like exactly what I was looking for.
I found an 8-week mindfulness meditation course, which taught me the basics of meditation, including different types (such as the body scan and focused breathing) and how to sit properly. Now, most days of the week, I sit for 20 minutes or so and just breathe. I don’t have a specific meditation space (we have a small house) or a fancy set-up, just a meditation cushion to help with my posture and a yoga mat that I fold over and sit on to cushion my knees. From there, I close my eyes and simply pay attention to my inhalations and exhalations. I don’t change my breathing, I am just aware of it. Every time I notice my mind wandering (which happens approximately every 8 seconds, or perhaps every 6), I bring my attention back to my breathing. And then I do it again, and again, until the timer on my iPhone goes off.
In a world filled with screens and phones and distractions at every turn, paying attention can be challenging, to say the least. The reality is that most of us just aren’t good at focusing on anything for more than a few minutes. Even when we do slow down long enough to do one thing at a time, our minds are often elsewhere, worrying about something that’s already happened, or thinking about the next thing we need to work on. Often, we’re berating ourselves (or someone else) for doing something wrong, or congratulating ourselves for finally getting it right. Either way, we don’t often have the experience of just being in the moment, paying attention to whatever is happening, not trying to change anything.
What greater gift could we possibly give to our children than our presence, our full acceptance of them, whoever they are, whatever they bring? We all know what those moments of mindful connection feel like; we are immersed in the present, in the experience of relationship. We’re full of love for our children, and we feel like good parents. It’s easier to remain mindful when we are doing something fun and interesting together; it’s much harder when someone (or everyone!) is feeling angry, frustrated, or bored. Yet that’s precisely when our children need to know that we love them, and that we value our relationship with them.