Mindful Parenting? First, Self-Care!

This blog has been quiet for a few days, as I have been sick. I've had a head and chest cold for almost 4 weeks, and it got bad enough to land me in urgent care yesterday. One chest x-ray and a blood test later, it was determined that while I don’t have pneumonia, my asthma has been triggered for the first time in years. I came home with prescriptions for some heavy duty meds, including prednisone (an oral steroid), two inhalers, and cough medicine with codeine.

The good news is that my cough disappeared pretty quickly. The bad news is that the prednisone kept me up all night long. As I lay in bed, trying to sleep, I meditated, first by following my breaths, then by counting backwards from 100—anything to keep my concentration focused and my mind from wandering to the past and worrying about the future, which is where it naturally wants to go. (For the record, I never got lower than 75 before my thoughts got the better of me, and often I wouldn't even make it to 95. But the point of mindfulness practice isn’t to get right, it’s just to keep coming back.)

After almost an hour of that, I got to thinking. I’ve been sick for quite awhile now. For the past 3 weekends, my husband has had to take on the bulk of the parenting while I rested. I’ve had to cancel plans, and I certainly haven’t been able to be fully present or available for my family and friends. My body is clearly trying to tell me something, and it’s not good news. Yes, I’ve been meditating somewhat regularly, and working out a few times a week, but clearly that’s not enough. Something else needs to change.

Book Review

Mindfully Parenting Children We Didn’t Expect

"All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves."

I read these words in the description of Andrew Solomon's latest book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. I haven't yet read the book, as it just came out, but it's on my list. In it, Solomon (who won the National Book Award for The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression) draws on interviews with over 300 families in which the children were profoundly different from their parents. He spoke with families dealing with schizophrenia, deafness, and other disabilities, as well as those with transgender children and prodigies. (For more information, you can also visit the book's website.)

The quote above caught my attention, as it is one that I struggle with on a regular basis, in small and big ways. My daughter doesn't seem interested in math and science, but that would be a good career for her, so should we push it? She's an anxious child; do I embrace the anxiety (a genetic gift I gave to her) and make life easier when I can? Or do I push her to face it, and hopefully overcome it? And of course, there is the obsession with Hello Kitty and the Disney Princesses. Do I accept my fate (and their love of all things girly and pink) or push forward with my wish for them to be strong, independent girls, unphased by the glitter and glam of pop Americana?

And what about the bigger questions, the future? As much as I'd love to tell you that I don't have plans for my daughters, that I am willing to follow them on whatever path they may choose, it's not entirely true. I expect them to be healthy and functional, contributing members of society. I hope they get an education, find life partners, start families, and work hard at careers that inspire them. I want them to be happy, and make the world a better place.

Now that I've written it all out, it seems like an awful lot to expect of another person. And yet, I can't imagine wanting anything less for them.


STOP: Creating a Mindful Pause

I initially became interested in mindfulness practice because I wanted to be a better parent. Specifically, I didn't want to be so reactive to my daughters' fits and challenging moments. I found myself snapping at the girls when I wanted to be calm and patient. I was grumpy when I wanted to be kind. I knew I wanted to be a different parent, but I wasn't sure how to get there. I kept reading websites and books telling me to take a time out or count to ten when I was feeling frustrated, but the problem was that I didn't even realize I was upset until I was already in the middle of my own little tantrum.

Mindfulness practice, both formal meditation and informal practice, has helped create a pause in which I can become aware. I am able to step out of my own agitation and into the present moment, into how I am feeling and what I am doing. In that space, I can make a better choice.

Book Review

Mindful Parenting Reading List

I recently attended a lecture through my local Community Education program, and the presenter offered a great list of books related to mindful parenting. I haven't read all of them yet, but I'd like to share them with you, along with their author's websites (when available).

Raising Happiness by Christine Carter, PhD
A Pebble in Your Pocket by Thich Nhat Hanh, Phillipe Ames, and Nguyen Thi Hop
Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindful Movements by Thich Nhat Hanh and Wietske Vriezen
Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Jon and Myra Kabat-Zinn


Tips for Being Present With Your Kids

I recently came across two great lists of ideas for how to stay mindful and present with your kids.

The first one is from Gaiam Life, entitled, "Calm Mom: 5 Ways to Be a Present Parent."
All of the suggestions are great, but my favorite is #5: Breathe. It doesn't require any planning or changes to our schedule or routine. I'm always breathing; the trick is remembering to...


The Mindfulness of Mermaids

Yesterday I wrote about lessons in mindfulness from Cinderella, and a reader left a comment asking about the Little Mermaid. It’s such a good question that I wanted to answer it with an entire post.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, it’s about a mermaid named Ariel who is fascinated with the human world, and even falls in love with a Prince. Ariel’s father, King Triton, forbids her from ever having contact with humans again, which drives the young mermaid to the lair of the Sea Witch, Ursula. Ariel agrees to give Ursula her beautiful in exchange for a pair of legs, and Ariel has three days to get her Prince to fall in love with her or else she turns back into a mermaid and has to live with Ursula forever. The ending is predictable—Ursula tries to screw everything up, there’s a big fight between good and evil, and in the end, the Prince kills Ursula and poor Ariel is still a mermaid. King Triton is left with a heartbreaking decision. Does he keep his daughter with him in his underwater kingdom, knowing that she will be deeply unhappy, or does he turn her into a human, knowing that she will be happy, but they will spend the rest of their lives in completely different worlds?


Lessons in Mindfulness from a Disney Princess?

My daughters recently discovered Cinderella and the rest of the Disney Princesses, and within a few days they were obsessed. We read the stories on a daily basis, they’ve seen the Cinderella movie, and when they play, there’s a lot of “discussion” about who gets to be Cinderella and who has to be the prince.

The egalitarian feminist social worker in me is a bit horrified; I don’t love the idea of my daughters learning that the way to a better life is being swept off your feet by a handsome man. After the first twenty readings of Cinderella, I realized that I had two choices: I could either suffer through the books time and again, or I could apply what I’ve been learning about mindfulness to story time.

So, I tried to suspend my judgment and just be present. Instead of obsessing over all of the negative messages my daughters might be getting about female empowerment or body image, I decided to just read, notice, and accept. I focused on the feeling of my daughters next to me, the innocent curiosity of their questions, the colorful images on each page and the weight of the book in my lap. After a few readings, I started to notice some different, more positive messages emerging from the story of Cinderella. Is it possible that I was learning about mindfulness from a Disney princess?


Informal Mindfulness Practice: Being Present for a Few Moments at a Time

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about how I meditate; meditation and yoga are examples of formal mindfulness practices. But we don’t have to be sitting with our eyes closed or twisting ourselves into pretzels in order to practice mindfulness; we can choose to reconnect with the present moment at any time. Any of our daily activities—from brushing our teeth to drinking coffee or washing the dishes—represent an opportunity for informal mindfulness practice. Regardless of what we are doing, we always have a choice: we can pay attention to what we are feeling, thinking, and doing, or we can be a million miles away in our own mind, ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.

Informal mindfulness practice is essentially the opposite of multitasking; it is making a conscious decision to singletask. It’s remarkable how much time we spend multitasking; we eat in front of the TV, talk on the phone in the car, and make dinner while helping our kids with an art project or their homework. Even when we’re physically doing just one thing, our minds are often multitasking for us—running through our task list, worrying about a sick child, or rehashing a conversation with a spouse.

We like to tell ourselves that we benefit from multitasking. We’re so productive! We’re getting so much done, and so quickly! We’re solving the family’s problems, roasting a chicken, and planning a birthday party all at once! But research has found that we’re actually less efficient and effective when we’re doing more than one thing once. Furthermore, life isn’t just about getting things done. Parenting certainly isn't.


Mindful Parenting Thoughts by Elisha Goldstein

I recently found a wonderful post by my fellow PsychCentral blogger Elisha Goldstein, a clinical psychologist, author, and mindfulness teacher. Last April, Dr. Goldstein wrote about mindful parenting, including these words of wisdom:

The fact is, one of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is their presence, validation, and security. When we’re present with our children it lays the path for attunement and resonance. Attunement is...


Why I Deleted the Apps on My iPhone

My name is Carla. I am the mother of two young daughters, and I am addicted to my iPhone.

I am also a clinical social worker, which means I don’t use the word “addicted” lightly. There are many different ways to understand and define addiction, but the one that has always made the most sense to me focuses on the extent to which the possible addiction interferes with an individual’s ability to function in relationships and work and to keep themselves and others safe. After careful (and somewhat reluctant) reflection, I have come to see my relationship with my iPhone as an addiction.

Although neither my daughters nor I have ever been physically injured because of my smartphone use, I suspect it’s just a matter of time. Despite the fact that texting while driving is illegal in my home state of Massachusetts (as it should be), I do, on occasion  text or check Facebook, Twitter, and email at red lights. I would like to tell you that I never do it when my daughters are in the car, but that’s just not true. Studies have found that talking or texting on the phone while driving is roughly the equivalent to driving drunk, yet I would never consider getting behind the wheel tipsy. Even if I were to put down my phone in the car, that's no guarantee of safety. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal speculates that the rise in childhood injuries may be due to distracted parents—distracted by their iPhones. I've certainly spent hours at the park with my head down, staring at a tiny screen, and the fact that one of my daughters hasn't yet been injured falling off a slide or the monkey bars is probably just a matter of luck.