Parenting isn’t easy! And if you throw in the uncertainty flavoring today’s world with the stress that comes alongside the holidays, it’s a real task. Truthfully, life’s a struggle for many of us right now, and it doesn’t help that the air’s thick with seasonal tension. In fact, surveys show that as many as 50% to 70% of us are facing anxiety and depression during a time that should be riddled with holiday cheer.
In reality, many caregivers are holding onto a delicate thread at the moment, tending to their little ones’ wellbeing while also trying to hold onto their own mental health. Parents have faced everything from ambiguous school schedules to constant fear of quarantine and looming anxieties surrounding balancing a career with their roles at home.
So, if you’re a parent and you’ve slipped up, you certainly aren’t alone! Just today, I screwed up pretty royally in a less than savory rushed communication with my budding adolescent daughter. You see, I come from a long line of sharp, bullet-point style communicators; not a lot of room for the “feelers” that come alongside healthy, supportive communications. A habit that’s taken quite a bit of weight to break over the years.
Regrettably, a perfectly normal bid for my attention was returned with a less than spiffy response as I rushed to get my little teenager out the door to fight holiday crowds. And while I didn’t think twice about it at the time, her sassy, blunt rebuttal clearly spelled out that I had hurt her feelings. However, instead of taking the opportunity to engage in an argument, I sat quietly for a moment, gathered my thoughts, and apologized.
The thing is, my role as a parent isn’t to be perfect. It’s to help my children grow into healthy adults. How I carry myself is critical to their success. That means that when I mess up, I need to show humility and take ownership of my actions. But that’s just a tiny piece in the mosaic of something called mindful parenting.
What is mindful parenting?
Mindful parenting is about showing up imperfectly for our children and embracing every moment as a chance to grow together. It’s about being self-aware and accepting that sometimes, you will become upset or confront difficult emotions when you engage with your little ones. However, with practice, as a mindful parent, you can learn to become less reactive and objectively embrace each situation for what it is. Over time, you can learn to have more compassion for yourself and others.
What are the benefits of mindful parenting?
With practice, mindfulness can significantly improve every aspect of your life. For caregivers, The Gottman Institute has identified the following six benefits of mindful parenting.
Becoming more aware of your feelings and thoughts
Becoming more aware and responsive to your child’s needs, thoughts, and feelings
Becoming better at regulating your emotions
Becoming less critical of yourself and your child
Becoming less reactive to situations and avoiding impulsive decisions
Improvement in the relationship with your child
How do you become a more mindful parent?
Make space to experience your emotions
Have you ever heard the saying, what we resist persists? Well, it’s a real thing! The only way we can process complicated feelings is to experience them. But, we don’t have to let them sweep us away. When challenging thoughts surface, allow yourself to step back and feel them without judgment. Notice the events that triggered you and explore the roots of your emotions.
As difficult as it may be, it’s important to accept things as they are. Not everything will go our way- we’ll burn dinner, our kids will misbehave, and those around us will be unsavory. But life is never perfect. And truthfully, we expend an awful lot of energy trying to control our environment and the people within it. Something that often only leads to burnout and the harvesting of negative vibes within us.
Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t parent our kids. That is absolutely our role as caregivers! However, it does mean that we accept our little ones as perfectly imperfect humans, regardless of their behaviors, and love them unconditionally.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a creature of habit! And it’s not just me! Routine creates the structure that, as humans, we all crave in our worlds. We want to know what’s coming next, to feel like we have some sense of control over our universe. The fact is that when life starts to feel chaotic, it’s perfectly normal to cling on to what we know and, in doing so, display less than attractive behaviors.
Too often, we become rigid, difficult, and even combative at the first hint of anything that will disrupt the fabric of our structured daily lives. And you know what? Our kids are no different! That’s why it’s critical that we role model behaviors we want to see in our little ones. So, the next time life throws a curveball at you, step back and resist the urge to react immediately. Examine your emotions, and respond in the way you would want your child to respond.
There’s a quote that reads, “People who need love the most, often ask for it in the most unlovable ways.” And it couldn’t be more accurate! When we’re struggling, we often don’t put our best foot forward. Our less than savory side shines through- we become challenging, rigid, and even at times, unkind. Truthfully, our kids are no different. When they’re hungry, tired, or the security of their daily routine is disrupted, they often don’t let their best colors shine through.
That said, to be compassionate is to have grace for ourselves and those around us, to understand that we’re all subject to the same imperfect qualities that make us entirely human. What our little humans need during their challenging moments is our empathy and support, not punishment.
Find space to forgive
Do you want to learn forgiveness? Just look at the relationship between a small child and their parent. Every day as caregivers, we make mistakes- we become angry, get frustrated, and say or do things we don’t mean, yet our children love us regardless. Their hearts have yet to become heavy with the weight the world places on them.
Really, we have so much to learn from our little ones. Life is too short to carry grudges. When we hold resentments, we’re only hurting ourselves, not the person who wronged us. To be mindful is to understand that each of us, including our children, make mistakes, and no one wants to be chastised for that.
Have you ever heard the saying that what you water grows? Truthfully, the mindset you bring into each day is a choice. Now, that’s not to say that life isn’t hard at times, that there isn’t plenty of reasons for us to complain. But there’s also a whole lot to be grateful for in our worlds! Like every aspect of mindfulness, orienting ourselves towards gratitude is a discipline. It’s about making a conscious choice to see the good instead of wallowing in the bad.
To get started, begin each day by making a list of reasons you are grateful. And when you find yourself getting stuck in the negative with your little ones or anything else in life? Try to find five positives for every complaint. With time, you’ll find that you’re not only a happier, more peaceful parent, but also a more mindful person.
Live in the present
It’s hard to appreciate what you have when you’re busy wadding in the past. The truth is, what’s done is done, and what will be will be. Don’t expend your energy on things you can’t change. Every misstep was a learning opportunity that led you to the present.
That said, you only have this moment with your child once. Pretty soon, they won’t be little anymore. And while each stage holds its own joys, every second with your kiddo should be appreciated because soon, each moment will become a memory.