What does it mean to parent mindfully? There are many definitions on mindful parenting, and while they are indeed valid, I often feel they end up sounding vague. For example, “Parenting mindfully means parenting consciously with awareness of what the present moment requires.” Now while this certainly is true, what exactly does this mean? Another definition I have heard is, “Mindful parenting means parenting with open eyes and an open heart.” Sounds simple, right? But, um, how exactly do you do that? I am not putting these definitions down because I do wholeheartedly agree with them, but when sitting to write this blog, I thought how could I best convey mindful parenting to the people reading it? I came to the conclusion that it might be more helpful for me to give an example from my own life. Now I am certainly not the “perfect parent,” and by the way, I will gladly pay you a million dollars if you can introduce me to one, but I have been practicing mindfulness for quite sometime now (notice the word practice, because mindfulness is a practice that you never perfect). So here is one example where I was able to some definition in my mindfulness muscle:
My daughter was 13 and smack in the middle of that awkward stage that most teenagers go through. We were shopping for eyeglasses to house her new prescription when she noticed this pair of thick black ones and exclaimed, “These are them. These are the ones!” Personally, I did not feel they were feminine enough for my baby girl, and they certainly were not cheap, but when I saw the excitement in her eyes and the smile on her face as she held them, I caved and ordered them for her. It seemed like every day after that she would ask in anticipation if her frames had arrived. “No, not yet,” I would reply. The day they came in I excitedly presented them to her. She smiled brightly, put them on and went over to the mirror. She looked at her reflection for a moment, and then abruptly threw the glasses on the floor screaming, “These aren’t them! I hate them!” She ran off to her room crying. My first instinct was to yell something like, “What do you mean these aren’t them! Of course these are them. Come right back here and pick up these glasses young lady! You are in big trouble for throwing them so carelessly. You could have broken them!” But instead… I paused. I took some deep breaths in and out of my nose. I did a quick body scan and noticed I was clenching my jaw. I consciously released it. I took some more breaths. I asked myself, “What just happened? What is important here? What does this moment require of me?” I took some more breaths. I stretched my body. Then with a clearer head, I was able to put myself in my daughter’s shoes. These glasses came with a huge expectation. To me they were just overpriced glasses, but to her they represented a way to feel confident. She was going to put those frames on and magically lose all her insecurities. When the glasses didn’t make her feel the way she had anticipated; she was devastated. She was still her, insecurities and all. My mindfulness practice enabled me to see this. I was able to parent her in a much different manner then had I reprimanded her for throwing the glasses on the floor. I was able to talk with her about how disappointed she felt, and have an authentic conversation about how hard it is to be 13 years old. Four years later she still remembers this conversation. This is mindfulness.
Now you might remember at the start of this blog that I mentioned that mindfulness is an on-going practice. Many times parents mistakenly believe that while this sounds like a valuable way to parent a hormone-fluctuating teenager, it doesn’t apply to parenting an infant. But nothing can be further from the truth. When you go to engage with your baby because you have be told that eye-to-eye contact and narrating help attachment and brain development, but the moment you picked to do this is a moment when your baby is turning her gaze away from you, so you pause and say this isn’t the time to interact, you are being mindful. You can see that right now your baby is saying no. There will be another opportunity for you and her to play. When you take a minute in your busy day to imagine what the world must be like from your baby’s perspective, how it feels for him to be put in his car seat, have his diaper changed, or be handed off to grandma, you are being mindful. When you wait patiently for your toddler to painstakingly figure out how to make her puzzle piece fit into its slot on the puzzle board, and then delight in her huge smile after she has accomplished the task, you are being mindful. Start exercising your practice today. I doubt I will ever fear having to shell out my imaginary million dollars to you, but I guarantee that by the time your baby is a teenager, you will have some pretty solid mindfulness muscles, and you will have enjoyed the journey so much more.
By Jill Campbell, Psy.D., Staff Psychologist at The Pump Station & Nurtury
Disclaimer: The Pump Station and Nurtury is a presenting sponsor for the Pregnancy Awareness Month (PAM) Campaign 2014. The opinions expressed by The Pump Station and Nurtury, Jill Campbell, and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of PAM or any employee thereof. PAM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by The Pump Station and Nurtury, and Jill Campbell. Always consult with your medical provider regarding any personal health questions or decisions (including nutrition, diet, and exercise).
baby, Dr. Jill Campbell, mindful parenting, mindfulness, Parenting, practice mindfulness, Pregnancy, The Pump Station and Nurtury