Technology and Mindful Parenting: Finding the Balance

I recently came across an article on The Huffington Post titled “5 Ways Technology Makes You Miss Your Kids’ Childhood.” The author, Nicole Fabian-Weber, contends that we parents spend so much time trying to capture every last moment or making ourselves accessible to everyone other than our kids that we totally miss the important moments with our children. I agreed with much of the post, but I thought it overlooked the most common ways in which my smartphone pulls me out of the moment with my children: email, Facebook, and Twitter.

Meanwhile, Annie Urban, the author of the PhD in Parenting blog recently re-posted a piece she originally wrote in 2010 on the same topic. However, Ms. Urban offers a more balanced view of the role of technology, acknowledging some of the problems as well as a lot of the benefits of email, Google, and social networking.  (Last spring, I also wrote a piece about my struggles with technology for here.)

I agree with both of them. There is no doubt that I am a better parent and a more sane person because of the knowledge I have gained online, the books I have read on my iPhone while waiting for meetings, and most importantly, the friendships I have developed through Twitter and blogs. I spend less time running errands because I can shop online, and we take fewer trips to the Doctor’s office because I can email questions to our pediatrician.


This Too Shall Pass: Being Mindful in the Moment

When I was a new parent, celebrating a baby who was finally sleeping through the night or bemoaning the challenges of introducing solid foods, a more experienced parent would inevitably tell me that it was only a phase. This response irritated me to no end. Perhaps it was because I didn't fully get what that meant, perhaps it was because I felt patronized, but for whatever reason, I didn't want to hear it.

Over the past four years, as I have watched my daughters grow from newborns to infants and then toddlers, and now that my older girl is a preschooler, I have come to see the wisdom of those words. Yet I prefer to think about it from a slightly different perspective, one that a fellow Mama reminded me of recently.

This too shall pass.

These four words have become somewhat of a mantra for me lately, a reminder that my big girl’s culinary preferences won’t always be limited to macaroni and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches, and that my baby won’t always express her frustration by flinging herself to the floor and crying hysterically. Whenever I get to the point that I feel like I can’t possibly read Angelina Ballerina even one more time, or when I am up all night holding a sick baby who is so congested she can’t suck her thumb, I meditate on those words–this too shall pass.


Mindful Parenting vs. Attachment Parenting

Someone recently asked me about the difference between mindful parenting and attachment parenting. It’s a great question. I’m still working out just what my definition of mindful parenting is, but a good summation is that it involves being present in the moment with yourself and your children, in a non-judgmental way. By being mindful (rather than distracted or reactive), we can create space in our own minds and hearts and in our relationship with our children so that we can be aware of how everyone is feeling, and make thoughtful, conscious choices about how we want to interact with our children.

Attachment parenting (AP) is a specific parenting philosophy, initially outlined by William and Martha Sears. According to the Attachment Parenting International website, there are 8 principles of AP: preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting; feeding with love and respect; responding with sensitivity; using nurturing touch; ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally; practicing positive discipline; and striving for balance in personal and family life. In practice, attachment parenting often involves little or no use of outside caregivers, extended breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and co-sleeping, or some combination of the above.


A Stomach Bug and a Lesson in Mindful Parenting

I heard my 3 year old daughter coughing at about 7 AM on Saturday morning, and I knew. I knew it meant she was about to throw up. I briefly ignored it, and tried to pretend it wasn’t going to happen. But it did, and the next thing I knew, we were comforting our little girl and stripping the sheets from her bed. After we changed her pajamas and got her settled comfortably on the couch with a large bowl by her side, I started canceling our plans for the day.

The weather was beautiful, and at first I was totally bummed to be spending the entire day in the house. But as I watched my daughter, it was clear that she didn’t have the energy to do anything, and we didn’t want to risk infecting any of our friends with whatever nasty little bug had invaded my daughter’s body.


Five Expressions of Mindful Parenting

I recently found this piece on . As I read the article, it seemed as if the author was speaking directly to me as a parent. It's worth reading the whole post, but briefly, the five expressions of mindful living that he outlines are:

1. I don't know.

2. I was wrong.

3. I made a mistake.

4. It happens.

5. How can I help?

Think back to your childhood. How often did...


How I Meditate

Let me be clear about this. I am not the “meditating type,” if such a type actually exists. I don’t wear long flowery skirts, I’m not into mystical rituals, and chanting has always creeped me out. To be perfectly honest, I always thought that meditation was for weirdos who would be better served by a little self-discipline and a well-crafted to-do list.

Until I had kids, and realized that perhaps I had become one of those weirdos, and that self-discipline and to-do lists weren’t the answer. I put on my research brain, determined to find a way to get myself back on track. Virtually every article I read about dealing with the challenges of parenting and balancing multiple roles came back to one idea: mindfulness practice, both formal and informal. (Formal practice includes meditation and yoga. Informal practice refers to those random moments during the day when you decide to purposefully pay attention—I’ll talk more about that later.) Once I started looking into it, I realized that there’s nothing woo-woo about all of it. It’s just about paying attention to whatever is happening, and accepting it without judgment. I found an entire body of research outlining the benefits of mindfulness meditation, including improved memory and concentration, stress reduction, and decreased emotional reactivity. It sounded like exactly what I was looking for.

I found an 8-week mindfulness meditation course, which taught me the basics of meditation, including different types (such as the body scan and focused breathing) and how to sit properly. Now, most days of the week, I sit for 20 minutes or so and just breathe. I don’t have a specific meditation space (we have a small house) or a fancy set-up, just a meditation cushion to help with my posture and a yoga mat that I fold over and sit on to cushion my knees. From there, I close my eyes and simply pay attention to my inhalations and exhalations. I don't change my breathing, I am just aware of it. Every time I notice my mind wandering (which happens approximately every 8 seconds, or perhaps every 6), I bring my attention back to my breathing. And then I do it again, and again, until the timer on my iPhone goes off.


What is Mindful Parenting?

The concept of mindfulness is pretty straightforward. To paraphrase Jon Kabat-Zinn, it’s about paying attention to the present, on purpose, without judgment. That might seem pretty easy, but when you dig a little deeper, it becomes clear that it’s no easy task.
In a world filled with screens and phones and distractions at every turn, paying attention can be challenging, to say the least. The reality is that most of us just aren't good at focusing on anything for more than a few minutes. Even when we do slow down long enough to do one thing at a time, our minds are often elsewhere, worrying about something that’s already happened, or thinking about the next thing we need to work on. Often, we’re berating ourselves (or someone else) for doing something wrong, or congratulating ourselves for finally getting it right. Either way, we don’t often have the experience of just being in the moment, paying attention to whatever is happening, not trying to change anything.

What greater gift could we possibly give to our children than our presence, our full acceptance of them, whoever they are, whatever they bring? We all know what those moments of mindful connection feel like; we are immersed in the present, in the experience of relationship. We’re full of love for our children, and we feel like good parents. It’s easier to remain mindful when we are doing something fun and interesting together; it’s much harder when someone (or everyone!) is feeling angry, frustrated, or bored. Yet that’s precisely when our children need to know that we love them, and that we value our relationship with them.


“Just Stay” – Advice for Meditation and Parenting

In future posts, I'll be writing more specifically about different definitions of mindful parenting, but in the meanwhile, I'd like to share a quote I came across from Pema Chodron, a American Tibetan Buddhist nun and spiritual leader. In her quote below, she writes about the challenges of meditation, and the importance of remaining steadfast with the practice nonetheless. As I read her words, I noticed many parallels with my experience as a parent. Just as we are encouraged to stay with our mindfulness practice, even when we don't want to, we must also stay with parenting, stay present with our children, even when it is boring, painful, irritating, or just plain hard, as parenting often can be. I encourage you to read Pema's words, and please, share your thoughts.

When we practice meditation we are strengthening our ability to be steadfast with ourselves. No matter what comes up—aching bones, boredom, falling asleep, or the wildest thoughts and emotions—we develop a loyalty to our experience. Although plenty of meditators consider it, we don’t run screaming out of the room. Instead we acknowledge that impulse as thinking, without labeling it right or wrong. This no small task. Never underestimate our inclination to bolt when we hurt.


Mindful Parenting at an Amusement Park?

I usually think of mindfulness as a tool to be used in times of stress or anxiety, but I had a new insight this weekend when my husband and I took our daughters to an amusement park. The girls are only four and two, so we went to a park for young children. I know my daughters very well. I know that my older girl tends to be a bit anxious, and she’s not super brave — traits she inherited from me. My baby is a bit more adventurous, but she’s only two. She’s little, and she often follows her sister’s lead. Despite all of this, I decided we'd spend the day going on every single ride in the park.

The girls happily hopped on the mini-train that chugs slowly around the perimeter of the park, past almost every single attraction. As soon as we got on, my big girl very quickly and loudly announced that she would not, in fact, be going on any of the other attractions. Her sister happily agreed.

I was heartbroken.

I spent the rest of the train ride working myself into a minor hissy fit. I alternated between convincing myself that there was no way we could possibly have fun if the girls refused to ride the spinning tea cups, and remembering my own childhood, much of which was spent on the sidelines of various activities. I quickly became obsessed with the idea that I had to get my girls on those rides.


Mindfulness: The Basics

When I first learned about mindfulness, I imagined myself with a  shaved head, handing out flowers in an airport.  Seeing as how I have a serious aversion to drum circles and incense, I immediately wrote the whole thing off. 

Boy, was I wrong.

So, before I jump into the details of mindful parenting, it seems important to clarify just precisely what mindfulness is, what it isn’t, and why it’s important.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m still learning about all of this myself, so please feel free to share your thoughts or questions.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leader in the contemporary mindfulness movement, mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”  There are a number of different aspects to this definition worth exploring briefly.  (I highly recommend Kabat-Zinn’s book, Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment--and Your Life for those interested in additional reading.)  Rather than just acknowledging what you are doing (whether that’s eating dinner, playing with the kids, or folding the laundry) and then letting your mind wander, mindfulness is about consciously choosing to focus your attention to whatever you are doing, while you are doing it.  Your thoughts will drift, you will inevitably find yourself ruminating about something that happened earlier in the day or worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet.  The point of mindfulness practice is to notice when your thoughts wander, be ok with that, and then come back to the children or the dishes or whatever you happen to be doing.