“Mindfulness is not hitting someone in the mouth.”
Those were the words of an 11-year-old boy who had just completed a five-week mindfulness-training program at his school, as reported by The New York Times. It’s a simple statement, but it speaks to several of the emotional and psychological benefits of mindfulness training, including increased patience and frustration tolerance, and the ability to stay calm in the midst of challenging situations and intense emotions.
What parent doesn’t want our child to use her words instead of throw a tantrum or take a deep breath instead of smash a toy? The reality is that our children will get better at these skills, but it’s a life-long learning process. (I started meditating at age 35 because I wanted to yell less!) The good news is that we can start to teach our children these skills now — as evidenced by the words of that 11 year-old boy — and there is a lot of research and information about how to do it.
You can read my suggestions for introducing our children to mindfulness over on the Huffington Post Stress-Less Parenting page.
I was absolutely heartbroken to read about yet another child dying after being left in a boiling hot car, for the second time in two days. This time the babies were in Israel, but it doesn’t matter. It could have happened here; it has happened here. It happens every year to parents just like you and me, parents who are exhausted and overwhelmed and simply forget that their baby is still in the backseat as they rush off to work.
As much as we may be tempted to believe that we would never forget our children, it’s just not true. Just a few weeks ago, we were headed home from our vacation in Maine, and we had been on the road for about 20 minutes before I looked back and realized that we had only buckled one half of our three year-old daughter’s car seat strap. I immediately pulled over, caught my breath, and was flooded with both horror at what we had done and gratitude that we had caught it before we got on the highway.
It could be any of us.
“Fine. If you’re going to pee your pants again, then you can’t sit on the couch anymore tonight.”
I said those words to my four year-old daughter last night. She’s been potty trained for over a year now, but it’s been a bumpy road. Things had been going really well for a few months, and then the accidents started again just over a week ago. I’d been doing my best to stay patient, but it all fell apart yesterday. Thanks to a bout of insomnia, I was functioning on two hours of sleep. And by functioning, I mean not at all. Quite frankly, I was a mess.
My little girl cried; the couch is her preferred spot in our living room. I was conflicted. I felt terrible about how upset my daughter was, but I was at the end of my rope and I felt like I needed to make a point. I needed my daughter to understand that there are consequences to her actions.
She looked at me through her tears and said, “I wish you wouldn’t get angry at me, Mommy.”
“All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves.”
I read these words in the description of Andrew Solomon’s latest book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. I haven’t yet read the book, as it just came out, but it’s on my list. In it, Solomon (who won the National Book Award for The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression) draws on interviews with over 300 families in which the children were profoundly different from their parents. He spoke with families dealing with schizophrenia, deafness, and other disabilities, as well as those with transgender children and prodigies. (For more information, you can also visit the book’s website.)
The quote above caught my attention, as it is one that I struggle with on a regular basis, in small and big ways. My daughter doesn’t seem interested in math and science, but that would be a good career for her, so should we push it? She’s an anxious child; do I embrace the anxiety (a genetic gift I gave to her) and make life easier when I can? Or do I push her to face it, and hopefully overcome it? And of course, there is the obsession with Hello Kitty and the Disney Princesses. Do I accept my fate (and their love of all things girly and pink) or push forward with my wish for them to be strong, independent girls, unphased by the glitter and glam of pop Americana?
And what about the bigger questions, the future? As much as I’d love to tell you that I don’t have plans for my daughters, that I am willing to follow them on whatever path they may choose, it’s not entirely true. I expect them to be healthy and functional, contributing members of society. I hope they get an education, find life partners, start families, and work hard at careers that inspire them. I want them to be happy, and make the world a better place.
Now that I’ve written it all out, it seems like an awful lot to expect of another person. And yet, I can’t imagine wanting anything less for them.
I recently attended a lecture through my local Community Education program, and the presenter offered a great list of books related to mindful parenting. I haven’t read all of them yet, but I’d like to share them with you, along with their author’s websites (when available).
My daughters recently discovered Cinderella and the rest of the Disney Princesses, and within a few days they were obsessed. We read the stories on a daily basis, they’ve seen the Cinderella movie, and when they play, there’s a lot of “discussion” about who gets to be Cinderella and who has to be the prince.
The egalitarian feminist social worker in me is a bit horrified; I don’t love the idea of my daughters learning that the way to a better life is being swept off your feet by a handsome man. After the first twenty readings of Cinderella, I realized that I had two choices: I could either suffer through the books time and again, or I could apply what I’ve been learning about mindfulness to story time.
So, I tried to suspend my judgment and just be present. Instead of obsessing over all of the negative messages my daughters might be getting about female empowerment or body image, I decided to just read, notice, and accept. I focused on the feeling of my daughters next to me, the innocent curiosity of their questions, the colorful images on each page and the weight of the book in my lap. After a few readings, I started to notice some different, more positive messages emerging from the story of Cinderella. Is it possible that I was learning about mindfulness from a Disney princess?
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