I recently read this quote by Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. Parenting isn’t easy, and as any child will tell you, being a kid isn’t either. Sometimes it just feels hard to be kind, but I believe mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness is about being aware of the present moment, without judgment. It’s about knowing how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and what’s going on, without criticizing yourself or wishing things were different. But there’s more to it. The context for mindfulness and the natural outcome of it is kindness. In his book, the Mindfulness Solution, Ronald Siegel used the example of a sniper who is highly focused, aware, and in the present moment. That ability may make him an incredibly successful sniper, but it’s not the kind of mindfulness I want to cultivate. I want to cultivate kindness.
In an earlier post, I offered one possible definition of mindful parenting, which includes the following five factors: listening with full attention, nonjudgmental acceptance of self and child, emotional awareness of self and child, self-regulation in the parenting relationship, and compassion for self and child. The last one, compassion for self and child, is highly related to kindness. So, what precisely does it mean to be kind to your child?
Kindness is about acting from a place of compassion and love. It’s easy to think of kindness as being nice, but there is a significant difference between the two. Being nice is about how other people perceive your behavior—is is pleasant, is it friendly, it is agreeable? My four year is quick to point out that when I put her or her sister in time-out, I’m not being nice. The truth is that she’s right. It’s not fun or nice when someone ends up sitting on the stairs because she threw a doll or hit her sister. But am I being kind when I discipline my girls?
Theoretically, I believe that setting limits in order to keep everyone safe and teach my daughters how to behave appropriately is a kind thing to do. In practice, though, it may not always work out that way. The difference has to do with my intention. Am I coming from a place of compassion, from a place of accepting my child’s feelings and experience, even as I am disciplining their behavior? Or am I reacting to a tantrum or bratty behavior with frustration or even anger? In the first instance, I believe it is absolutely possible to be kind even as I am doing something that my daughters would insist is not nice. In the second, I am being neither kind nor nice. Assuming that both responses are effective in stopping the annoying behavior, what’s the difference?
The most obvious difference is that the whole experience is more pleasant for everyone involved when I am able to interact with my daughters from a place of kindness, when I am able to speak to them with calm words and a kind voice. I also find that we are all able to recover more quickly and get back into a positive space when I am kind. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I am teaching my daughters important lessons when I am kind to them, even in the most difficult moments. I am reminding them that my love for them does not depend on how they behave. I am modeling a lesson that I hope will stay with them for the rest of their lives—that it is possible to set limits and say no while still being kind. Hopefully, in my better moments, I am being the kind of person I hope they will become someday, the kind of person they already are at times.
The Dalai Lama has said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” The truth is that he’s right—it is always possible to be kind, but it isn’t always easy, at least not for me. I get tired, I get frustrated, I get distracted, and I don’t always take advantage of every opportunity to be kind. But it’s a goal, one that I work on every day. Whenever I miss the mark, I try to be kind to myself and refocus my intention of kindness towards my daughters. I try to stay mindful.