In my last post, I wrote about why parenting when you were under-parented can be so hard. It’s harder because those of us who grew up in chaotic homes may want to raise our children in drastically different ways, which means we’re basically reinventing parenthood as we go along. In addition, we may be more likely to be triggered by our children’s challenging behavior, sending us down an emotional “low road,” which can lead to angry outbursts and out-of-control behavior—precisely what we were trying to avoid in the first place.
In this post, I’m going to offer some suggestions for how to move beyond our own difficult childhoods so we can become the parents we want to be. As you read this post, keep in mind that these are not easy tasks I am suggesting. They require time, hard work, and a lot of self-compassion for ourselves when we miss the mark (which we will do, just as every other parent does). I am still doing this work—with the help of a therapist, supportive friends and family, my meditation practice, and most importantly, ongoing reminders from my own children about why I am doing all of this.
Lately I’ve started doing a different kind of meditation. Rather than focusing on my breathing, I repeat the following phrases in my mind:
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be well.
May I feel loved.
And then I repeat those same words, but for different people. Lately, I’ve been mostly focusing on my daughters.
Now, if this sounds a little bit too Stuart Smalley (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!”) for your taste, well, I hear you. The first time I heard about this lovingkindness meditation (complete with instructions to place my hand over my heart), I almost laughed out loud. It sounded so preposterous and contrived and just plain silly that there was no way I could possibly imagine doing it. Sometimes it still feels that way, even when I am doing it.
Yet I keep doing it, because I have come to understand that kindness is my greatest challenge, and my greatest opportunity, in parenting (and in life).
I recently got the following question on my Twitter feed: Do you feel meditation has really changed you? More relaxing, less stress? So on?
The short answer to these questions is YES! All of the above! But that answer isn’t terribly helpful, so I thought it would be useful to share just how my meditation and mindfulness practice helps me to be a better parent.
Before we get into the details, I feel compelled to clarify something. As I have said many times, I am not the Dalai Mama. If any of you were to follow me around for a few days, or spy on me (in a totally non-creep way, of course), you would probably see me snap at my kids or sneak a peek at my smartphone or hide in the kitchen for a break.
You would see me being anything but mindful.
The reality is that I’m doing all of these things less often than I was before I started meditating, and when I do find myself doing them, I am able to calm down, center myself, and make better choices more quickly than before. That’s just what happens when you learn to pay attention to the present moment without judging it or fighting with it. (I actually have a huge amount of experience fighting with reality. I never win.)
Here are the ways in which my meditation and mindfulness practice make me a better mother (in no particular order):
I will never forget the first time I tried to meditate. I was sitting on a hard floor in a stinky gymnasium, hoping to score an easy PE credit so I could graduate from college. A tall, thin man dressed all in white with a long, wispy beard instructed us to cross our legs, close our eyes, breathe deeply and clear our minds.
I was able to cross my legs, but it all went downhill from there.
Clear my mind? What the hell did that mean? Every time I tried to clear my mind, I realized I was just thinking about clearing my mind, which clearly isn’t the same thing. I tried thinking about black. I visualized black. But then I thought about how black isn’t my favorite color; I prefer blue but I can’t decide between sapphire or turquoise… and the next thing I knew, my mind was anything but clear. Also, my butt hurt from sitting on a hard floor, my nose itched, and I wasn’t sure if I should scratch it.
I didn’t try meditation again for almost 20 years…
You can read the rest of this post about mindful parenting and meditation over at the Huffington Post Stress-Less Page. Check it out, and let me know what you think by joining the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
Woman meditating on a beach image available from Shutterstock.
A little while ago I asked my friends on Facebook the following question:
“What’s the best, most real and resonant, piece of parenting advice you have ever received? The kind that really sticks with you?”
I got some great responses, mostly having to do with making choices that work for you and your family and filtering out the advice of well-meaning family, friends, and “experts” who might not have a clear understanding (or any understanding at all) of your situation. There is no question that it is excellent advice, but I’ve often had a hard time implementing it. I’m an anxious person by nature, and I feel plagued by self-doubt and worry as I try to navigate the choppy waters of parenting. I have a hard time trusting myself.
That may be precisely why a different piece of advice really caught my attention. I’ve been ruminating on it for weeks now.
I often think of mindfulness as a way to stay present in the moment and be less reactive in difficult situations. But the reality is that mindfulness can also help with big decisions as well. I recently wrote about how my journey into mindful parenting and meditation helped my husband and me make a pretty big decision for our family.
The whole article is over on Kveller.com, and here’s how it starts:
Just over a year ago, I wrote about my ambivalence about having a third child. In that post, I said that we had always wanted a big family, but after having two kids in less than two years, we were exhausted and not so sure. I also said that I hoped we would make a decision by the time our younger daughter turned 2.
We celebrated her 3rd birthday almost two weeks ago.
I think we may have come to a decision last week. Maybe. Probably. I’m pretty sure…
Has mindfulness ever helped you make a big decision, or understand a big situation more clearly?
I am so pleased to share an interview with Sarah Rudell Beach, the author of Left Brain Buddha, which is one of my favorite mindful parenting blogs.
Your blog is called Left Brain Buddha. How did you come to that name?
I have always been intrigued by Buddhism, going all the way back to high school. The challenging part was quieting my mind. I love thinking! As a teacher and a reader, quieting my mind felt like a loss. Mindfulness practices, as difficult as they can be, are so helpful. They make me more patient with my children, and I yell less. “Left Brain Buddha” is about mindfulness and quieting the mind, but also loving the life of the thinking, or left-brain, mind.
How would you define mindfulness, and how do you see it interacting with your parenting?
Mindfulness sounds so simple but it can be so hard. I define it as nonjudgmental awareness. Being fully aware of and accepting “what is” in the present moment. If I’m happy, I know I’m happy and feel it fully. If I’m angry, or tired, I notice it, but I don’t berate myself for it.
It’s a wonderful practice for parenting. It’s easy to smile and be joyful with our kids when they are laughing and giving kisses. But mindfulness helps me through the challenging parenting moments. Instead of yelling when I’m frustrated with my children, I pause, breathe, and respond skillfully: “How about we both pick up your toys?” instead of “Pick up your toys now!”
It also helps me be more compassionate with my children. Just as mindful awareness of my thoughts and emotions teaches me that I am not my anger, it teaches me that my children are not their tantrums. They are little kids in little bodies struggling to control powerful emotions. If I can respond with compassion to the little Buddha inside, and not react forcefully to the outward behavior, it helps us all calm down sooner.
It has been a tough week, and I am exhausted. I live just outside of Boston, and the bombing on Monday shook me to my core. I’ve cried every day this week. I’ve cried for the three people who died (including a young boy), I’ve cried for the hundreds who were injured, and I’ve cried for the individuals who will never be able to erase the sights, sounds, and smells of that terrible incident from their memories.
And I’ve cried for myself, for the fear that has overwhelmed me since I first heard the news of what happened, in the middle of a lovely afternoon at the park. The sun was out, the weather had finally warmed up, and the girls and I were having a great time. And then another mother told us that two bombs had gone off at the finish line.
I haven’t been able to find my footing since then. I was sitting in meditation this morning, and every time I closed my eyes, I felt as though I was going to fall over. I finished my meditation with my eyes open.
My daughters, just two and four, have no idea what happened, and I have no intention of telling them. I’d love to tell you that even as my mind and heart are reeling, life at home has gone on as usual. But it’s not true. I’ve been feeling anxious and scared. Not unlike when my daughters feel similarly, I have been a bit crispier, a bit more fragile, a bit more likely to crumble around the edges. When that happens, I lose my patience, and I snap at the girls.
That is the painful irony of, course. I take out my stress on the people most important to me, the ones I am most terrified of losing when something like this happens.
The reality is that just as I will never be the same person that I was before 9/11, I will never be the same parent that I was before the marathon was bombed. More than ever, I am inspired to find …
3 Things for Mom is one of my new favorite Mommy blogs. (Sorry, Dads, but this one does seem geared towards the maternal crew.) Each post features a truth, a tip, and a find by different writers, and many of them are truly inspirational. In honor of this great new blog, I thought I’d offer a Mindful Parenting version with a truth, a tip, and a find, about kindness and parenting.
“The way we talk to ourselves influences the way we parent. So often we don’t understand what our child is expressing because we’re caught up in our own thoughts or feelings . . . We see how we generate much of our own suffering through what we tell ourselves or through our desire to have things be different from how they are now . . . May we pay attention with kindness to what is happening within us and within our children.”- Denise Roy, MOMfulness: Mothering with Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace
My older daughter (age 4) and I have been talking about my meditation practice lately. She knows where my meditation cushion is, and she understands that I use it to sit and pay attention to my breathing. She also knows that meditating helps me stay calmer, happier, and less likely to get frustrated and snap at her and her sister. I’m happy to talk to her about it, but to be honest, I wasn’t really expecting her to meditate yet. Then I did a Google Images search for “child meditating” and came across a range of amazing pictures of children sitting “criss-cross applesauce” (as my daughter would call it) with their eyes closed. They’re pretty incredible.
Needless to say, I was thrilled to find out that my daughter is also learning about these concepts from her daycare providers and preschool teachers. She came home the other day talking about a book in which a cow gets really mad and then learns to meditate from his grandfather. (I mentioned it on my Facebook page and got a great response!)
Our copy of “Moody Cow Meditates” by Kerry Lee Maclean arrived yesterday, and my daughters were excited to read it. It’s a lovely story, and was very age appropriate for my 4 year old. Some of the concepts may have been a bit advanced for my younger daughter (she’s not yet 3), but she seemed to enjoy it quite a bit anyway.