Before I became a parent, I thought I had life figured out. You set a goal (for school, work, or whatever), and if you stay focused and work hard, you will achieve it. This approach to my professional and academic pursuits got me through my bachelor’s degree, as well as my master’s and doctorate in clinical social work. My type-A, slightly (or perhaps more-than-slightly) anal-retentive style helped me stay organized and successful in challenging jobs on an inpatient psychiatric unit and in college counseling. I was working with individuals and families dealing with a range of mental health issues and frequent crises, but with the help of my on-line schedule and trusty to-do list, I got it all done. Like I said, I thought I had it all figured out.
From the moment I discovered I was pregnant, I approached parenting like every other job I have had. Whenever questions arose about birth plans or breast-feeding, sleep-training or pacifiers, I immediately researched all of my options, turning to friends, family, websites, and parenting books for advice. I was sure that I could overcome the challenges of parenting if I just worked hard enough.
By the time I was pregnant with my second child a year later, I realized that my previous life philosophy just wasn’t helpful. Yes, parenting is hard work, but that doesn’t mean that hard work will help you achieve your parenting goals, whatever they may be. The thing is, kids aren’t projects. They don’t come with to-do lists, measurable outcomes, or deadlines. They are their own beings, constantly changing, and constantly surprising us. From teething to stranger anxiety, not every challenge of parenting can be fixed, nor should it be approached that way. Besides, the concrete tasks of motherhood, such as diaper changes and late-night feedings, happen in the context of overwhelming feelings of love, soul-crushing fatigue, debilitating anxiety, and endless self-doubt. At least they did for me. Even if I could have solved every problem of parenting, I was probably too damn tired or stressed to figure it out.
I became convinced that there had to be a better way.
And so I began rethink my approach to parenthood. I took some time to reflect on what my personal and professional experience has always taught me: it all goes back to relationships, to the power of authentic, meaningful connection. I kept reading and thinking about how to truly connect with my children, and I eventually stumbled into the world of mindful parenting. Mindfulness is the practice of staying present and aware, in a nonjudgmental way, regardless of what happens. Mindful parenting is about being in the moment, with our children. Staying present allows us to fully connect with our kids, to truly see, hear, and understand them and all of their opinions and perspectives, which can be quite confusing at times. The non-judgmental approach to mindful parenting frees us, as parents, from having to fix every problem or mold our children into anyone other than who they are. There are a number of other benefits to mindfulness practice, and I will explore them more fully in upcoming posts on this blog.
As with so many of the most important things in life, mindfulness is simple, but not easy. I find myself constantly distracted by dirty dishes, unanswered emails, errands to be run, and the endless places my brain tends to go. There is a time for all of that, but there are also times during the day when my goal in mindful parenting is to let all of that go, and just be with my girls, with whatever they may bring. Staying present continues to be a challenge for me, but I keep coming back to it.
I’m excited to share my journey with you. I’ll be writing about my experience learning and practicing mindfulness meditation, and my attempts to incorporate mindfulness into my parenting. I’ll share resources such as books and websites, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on mindful parents. The good news is that mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, and at any time, and it doesn’t cost a thing. But it will require your attention, and your intention. If you’re looking for a meaningful way to connect with your children in an authentic, joyful way, then I hope you’ll join me on my journey into mindful parenting.