I really wanted to go.
I’ve wanted to go to this retreat for three years. It happens in late August every year in Northern California, and it’s led by two experienced and amazing mindfulness teachers.
It’s six days long. When you add in a day on each end for cross-country travel and a day to visit my family and editors nearby, that’s nine days.
I’ve never been away from my girls for nine straight days.
My husband is incredibly supportive; every year he tells me I should go. He tells me he’ll be fine with the girls, and I know he’s right. He’ll be more than fine. He’ll be great. The girls will mostly be great. Except for when the toll of Mama being away so long starts to wear on them, as it does on me.
My girls are 4 and 5.5 this year. I decided they were old enough, so I checked the refund policy and signed up for the retreat.
I was excited. Thrilled. And completely ambivalent. I just couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that it wasn’t a good idea, that I would be away for too long.
My five-year-old daughter flipped out this morning when she learned that she needed to get a blood test. While I’m not a big fan of tearful wailing at 8:00 AM, I have to admit that flipping out is a perfectly reasonable response to the thought of having a complete stranger stick a needle in your arm. Especially when you’re just five years old.
We’ve been through our fair share of flip-outs, and they usually end with some variation of either snuggles or shouts (from both of us), but this time I tried something new. Perhaps it’s because I actually got eight hours of sleep last night, or perhaps it’s because I’m working on a new book about teaching mindfulness to children, but I actually had an idea.
Earlier this morning, my daughter has asked me if I had meditated after I woke up, and it just so happens that I had, so I knew meditation was on her mind. As she sat at the dining room table, sobbing into her cereal, I told her that one reason I meditate is so I can practice choosing my thoughts, so I can get better at keeping the ones I want and getting ride of the ones I don’t.
One of the core ideas of mindfulness is acceptance. When we adopt a mindful stance towards life, we make a conscious choice to accept whatever is happening in the moment without judging it or wishing it was different.
Thus, one of the core ideas of mindful parenting is about accepting whatever is happening for our children or ourselves, without judging it or wishing it was different.
I don’t know about you, but there are many, many times each day when I wish something about my own parenting (such as my tendency to snap at my girls when they throw tantrums) or my daughters (their bickering, whining, and nagging come to mind) were very, very different. The reality is that I often do want things to be other than they are. I want to be a calmer, kinder parent, and I want them to be better communicators and problem-solvers.
At first glance, this does not seem to be a particularly “mindful” stance.
A few weeks ago, I was on a retreat as part of a year-long course I recently took on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. (For the record, the course meets in person in the Boston area and online for those of you around the world, and it’s fantastic. If you’re a mental health professional interested in integrating mindfulness into your practice, I highly recommend you check it out.) Anyway, we spent about 36 hours of the retreat in silence, during which time our goal was to meditate on whatever we were doing: sitting, walking, washing dishes, and eating.
At each meal, I tried to focus on eating slowly by chewing carefully and paying attention to the flavor, smell, and texture of each bite. This doesn’t come naturally to me; even before I had kids, I tended to shovel my food in as though a baby was crying or a toddler was nagging me to wipe her tushy, and once I became a mother, well, things just went downhill. If I wasn’t careful on the retreat, I quickly reverted back to my habit of speed eating, even though there wasn’t a kid in sight.
And then I remembered a tip I had read somewhere about how to eat more slowly: put down your fork between bites. As I thought about it, I realized that I can’t be fully present for any one bite if I’ve got one hand wrapped around a fork, poised to take the next one. It’s taken me a long time to fully understand this, and I’m still fully figuring it out, but what we’re doing with our bodies at any given moment really does influence how our brains are working (or not). Merely holding a utensil in my hand triggered my mind to think about what was coming next, which meant I wasn’t thinking about the bite I was working on.
I am absolutely honored to host Karen Maezen Miller on the blog today. Her writing never ceases to dazzle and inspire me.
They don’t make it past spring, the camellia flowers, but oh, what a beautiful spring. Their blooms appear in one energetic burst, when the winter’s color has dulled to gray. They arrive when it’s dark and cold, and you’ve ceased to believe in the promise of April or May. They pop up when time has frozen and you have turned blue, yes blue, with the sad certainty that nothing ever changes around here. You see a wink of color, and turn to see a lady dressed in red. She tosses off her beauty in the hour of its perfection, and the flowers carpet the ground where you walk.
Flowers are love’s perfect offering. They do not ask to be appreciated. They expect nothing in return. They just let go.
I don’t have to do anything in my garden and yet there are flowers appearing all the time: azalea, jasmine and wisteria in spring; water and day lilies in summer; camellia, bird of paradise, and orange blossoms in winter; floribunda roses and gardenias nearly all year long. Even the dandelions count. By some mysterious and unerring hand they all appear right on time. They seed the fruit. They feed the bees and butterflies. They sweeten the breeze. They are subtle and selfless, here and gone, appearing and disappearing, part and parcel of life’s perennial display. By this definition everything is a flower; by this lesson, all is love. Life is indeed love, continually pouring itself into itself—for my benefit and delight, I might add—but by my egocentric thinking I can be blind to the gift.
If I had to pick just one rule of parenting, it wouldn’t be “never wake a sleeping baby” or “just love your children enough and it will all work out.” It wouldn’t even be “there are no rules.” Rather, it would be this:
Learn how to pay attention, and what to pay attention to.
Many of us move through life assuming that we either have the ability to pay attention or we don’t, and if we don’t (or, more likely, if our energetic six year old child doesn’t) then we need to medicate ourselves (or our little one) back into paying attention.
Actually, most of us move through life without ever paying attention to whether or not we pay attention.
The reality is that paying attention is a skill we can cultivate. In fact, it is a skill we need to cultivate, especially once we become parents. Our brains just aren’t designed to pay attention to any one thing—they’re composed of about a billion little neurons, happily firing away, willy-nilly (yes, that’s a scientific term), with blatant disregard to whether or not we actually need to focus on something.
In addition, our minds are constantly scanning the environment for modern-day versions of saber-toothed tigers that might eat our babies, even in relatively safe environments. (Since I became a mother, I can spot a butter knife too close to the edge of a counter from a mile away.) To top it all off, almost everything in our lives, from smartphones that won’t stop beeping and flashing to curious kiddos who insist on peppering us with questions from the other side of the shower curtain, conspires against our ability to keep our attention on just one thing.
I’m so pleased to host Debbie Blicher on the blog today. Debbie is a writer and mother of two children, and one of the most thoughtful parents I know. My husband first read this piece on Debbie’s blog, Two Adopt Two, and suggested I post it on my Mindful Parenting blog, and he was right. There are many, many examples of mindful parenting in this great piece.
“GIVE ME BACK MY LOLLIPOP!” M yelled, chasing K across the parking lot to my car. It was 6 PM, the pickup from Hebrewschool. Dinner was getting cold at home.
“IT’S NOT YOUR LOLLIPOP!” shouted K, scrambling into the car.
The argument continued as they buckled in and I started the car. I usually stay out of their arguments, but the volume of this one was beyond my endurance. Something else bothered me about it as well, but I didn’t know what.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Tripping over each other, they explained that their teachers had given out lollipops as prizes in a vocabulary game, and each of them had had one, and K had started sucking hers when M snatched it out of her mouth and ran, and….
“So where’s yours, M–?” I asked.
“In my hand,” he admitted.
“So you stole hers even though you had one?”
In a small voice, he said, “Yes.”
“You each have one now?”
“Yes,” they said.
So I let it go.
But the situation didn’t feel right to me. I don’t know whether the source of my discomfort was them or me. I did hear M tell K, “You hurt me when you tackled me!” and, like I said, I was already reacting a little too much to something unknown to me.
Dr. Jessica Michaelson of Honest Parenthood is one of my favorite parenting experts – her perspective is honest, funny, supportive, and refreshingly down to earth – not to mention super helpful! Needless to say, I was thrilled when she asked if I would record a podcast with her about mindful parenting! Other than my man-voice (which I will never quite get over), I’m pretty pleased with how it came out. If you have questions or thoughts about mindful parenting, please take a listen.
I recently had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Brian Leaf’s latest book, Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi: Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting. Now, to be clear, we are a Pampers and cribs kind of family, and kombucha has never once crossed my lips and yet I loved this book nonetheless. Leaf’s reflections on his first years as a father are honest and hilarious, and he seems to have mastered a particular skill that I think is key to surviving parenthood with even a shred of sanity intact: he takes the work of child-rearing seriously without taking himself seriously. It’s a great read, and I highly recommend it. Meanwhile, I’m so happy to share this hilarious post by Brian Leaf:
Mindful Parenting: I am aware that this shit is happening.
Cloth Diapers: Shit happens and then you scrape it.
Permissive Parenting: Shit happens. Is that OK?
Helicopter Parenting: Shit happens. Where? I’m on my way!
Young Dad: Shit happens. #gross.
Authoritarian Parenting: Shit happens. But not on my watch.
Tiger Mom: Shit happens. Now spell it!!!!
Nursing: Shit happens. And it’s liquidy and yellow.
Playful Parenting: Shit happens. Tickle, Tickle.
Cry It Out: Shit happens. Shh. They’ll get over it.
Free Range Parenting: Shit happens and my kids can handle it.
Elimination Communication: Shit happens, sometimes on my lap.
Hypnobirthing: Shit happens. Keep calm and keep breathing.
Mommy wars: Shit happens, and mine’s organic.
Cosleeping: Shit happens, but at least we’re together.
Simplicity Parenting: Shit happens and it makes for a nice playdough.
Jewish Parenting: Shit happens. Oy.
Adam Mansbach: Shit happened, so did pee, you’ve had two snacks and three drinks of water, now go the F**k to sleep!
Louis CK: Shit happens, now pass the Cinnabons.
Bill Cosby: Doody happens. Keep it clean, people.
Brian Leaf is author of the new memoir, Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi: Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting.
“The way we think about our lives affects how we live them.”
KJ Dell’Antonia wrote these words in a recent post on her New York Times’ Motherlode blog. She was responding to a reader’s comment questioning why our generation of parents seems to complain so much. The reader isn’t entirely wrong (nor is he or she entirely right), and I am just as guilty of kvetching about child-rearing as the next guy. KJ ends the post by asking her readers to share what they love about parenting, which elicited some lovely responses.
I had other questions in mind.
First, why do we parents whine so much about parenting? I have several hypotheses: