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.
Let’s talk about meditation. Do you meditate? How and when?
Meditation is a challenge for me. I think about my to-do list, and my mind wanders. I get restless. I set my meditation timer, and I’ll be convinced it’s been 10 full minutes, but I open my eyes and see “6:35 remaining”! I try to meditate each night after the kids go to bed. I find that meditative practices that are more active, particularly yoga, are more my style. It is easier to focus on my breath when it is connected to the movements of my body. It’s my “me time” and a great form of self-care.
What would you say to parents who are skeptical of meditation?
I would say that meditation doesn’t mean sitting uncomfortably in lotus pose gazing at your navel for an hour. I love the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, who teaches us that you can bring mindful, meditative awareness to any activity: walking, cleaning, even brushing your teeth. If you’re skeptical, start slowly, just as you would begin an exercise regimen. Try 5 minutes of meditation. Try to bring mindful attention to just one activity each day. Any time you can put aside the thoughts of the past and future, and pay attention to your body, your breath, and the present moment can be meditation and can lead to profound transformation.
Do you think meditation is necessary for mindful parenting?
I think some form of meditation or mindful practice is necessary for mindful parenting. You have to walk the talk. In fact, part of why I call my blog “Left Brain Buddha” is because that was how I always approached mindfulness: intellectually. I read about it. But I’ve come to realize that reading the travel guide and taking the journey yourself are two very different things.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about mindful parenting?
I think a big misconception is that it means being happy all the time. It’s not about liking every single moment of parenthood. It’s about accepting what is. Realizing that just as, unfortunately, the moments of laughter and joy don’t last, neither do the tantrums or the frustration. My favorite parenting mantra is “This too shall pass.”
Nor does it mean that you just accept inappropriate behavior from your children. Practicing mindfulness allows you the presence of mind (in the truest sense of the words) to respond skillfully and find ways to address your child’s behavior that don’t involve habitual reactions that often stem from anger—yelling, shaming, etc.
Finally, it’s important to realize that it is a practice—parenting, meditation, yoga, life—it’s all practice. We will never be perfect. I have my moments when I lose it, when I yell. Mindful parenting is about what you do next: own your behavior, make amends, and notice what led to your unskillfull reaction, so that you can respond better the next time. And then start again.
Can you give an example of how you might manage a situation differently when you are coming from a mindless vs. mindful place?
I’d been having a rough week, my husband was out of town for 12 days, I was behind on my grading, and my children were having a rough night. It was the perfect storm. As they fought in the bathtub, they ended up splashing me and I yelled. Loud. They were scared, and we all ended up crying.
I told them I was sorry.
The next morning, the whining and bickering continued. But I remembered to breathe. I told them that I was feeling frustrated, but I showed them that I was closing my eyes and breathing so I didn’t yell. When I didn’t fuel the tension by adding my own anger, it dissipated. They soon resolved their own squabble and stopped whining.
This demonstrates what mindful parenting is about. Our life is made up of small moments, and mindfulness can bring peace those moments if we are open to it. It can be as profound as realizing the beauty in our children’s laughter, or as simple as a morning without an argument.
What are your favorite mindful parenting resources?
The book that first turned me on to mindful parenting was Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali. If you could only read one book about mindful mothering, that would be it.
I also like Mommy Mantras by Bethany Casarjian and Diane Dillon. It is a great treasury of short mantras to help us through the challenging moments of parenting.
Anything by Thich Nhat Hanh is absolutely beautiful and inspiring.
Sarah Rudell Beach is a mother, writer, and high school teacher. She lives in Minneapolis, MN, with her husband and their two energetic children. At Left Brain Buddha she explores ideas and practices for mindfulness, and shares the challenges and riches in her journey to live and parent mindfully in a left-brain, analytical life. You can follow Sarah and Left Brain Buddha on Facebook and Twitter.