Minding Our Children

by meditative - March 15th, 2015

The skills we cultivate in both our formal and informal mindfulness practice can be very useful in parenting. One of the most fundamental skills we can take from our practice is “paying attention”- to read our children’s communications more accurately- and to be more aware of their emotional states and our own reactions to them. Mindfulness also helps us to increase our capacity to bear discomfort- to ride out mental and emotional disturbances- and when mindfully applied, to stay with our children’s distress empowering us to help them deal more effectively with difficult emotions.

Holding or sustaining attention with our children and staying present with them is especially important as they learn quickly the temporal continuum of past and future. Grounding in the present is a skill that will further the child’s capacity for heightened attention and awareness- to be in the moment. To be constantly distracted while engaged with our children only resonates with their mirror neurons to be as they “see”. Practice gently bringing yourself and your children back to embracing what is happening in the present moment as wandering into the past and into the future will continue to challenge their capacity to remain focused with… being here and now. As a parent, it’s important to understand our children tend to model our tendencies and patterns (e.g. attitudinal, emotional, behavioral, etc.), especially in their early developmental years.

Our interaction with our children, when in “play”, is more about being than doing. It’s more about process than result. Mindfulness helps us to recover our ability “to play”- to be grounded in the moment of what is happening while it’s happening with open awareness- intentional, curious, focused, and caring about this purposeful time with our children. “Minding our children,” means recollecting ourselves & remembering to truly be with them, and accepting them even if they aren’t always behaving as we expect. The more we practice accepting ourselves nonjudgmentally, and seeing ourselves as part of the larger universe, the more we can really accept our children for what they are… and not what we think they are.

Seeing the impersonal nature of our own mind’s activities- in that we are so much more than our thinking and feeling states can help us to extend this attitude or perspective in the way we see our children’s own actions. To be more flexible and less reflexive or reactive with our children’s behaviors, we need to be more mindful in taking “me” out of the equation.

Simply take a moment here and reflect on how it seems more effortlessly to redirect other kids than our own as their behaviors don’t reflect on “me”. By loosening our own preoccupation with “me” helps us to not take our parenting so personally. To respond to our children with greater compassion and objectivity- and by accepting their successes and failures less seriously, we may discover how much easier it is to truly enjoy loving and just being with them.

In our practice, we also cultivate our capacity to take “pause” before responding to a situation. When we routinely “step back” and be still, we begin to recognize the “gap” or “space” between stimulus and response. In this space, we can take note of feeling states that arise and the impulse to act that follows… something we refer to as “urge surfing” before we discern whether an immediate response is appropriate for the present situation. This “pause” in awareness also gives us the free attention to further ground ourselves in being more responsive and less reactive in parenting our children. To be openly aware and freely attentive with our children and ourselves, we are less prone to get stuck in reactionary cycles that ultimately precondition hurt and suffering for both child and parent. The heat of the moment with our children during difficult situations is a very good place to test the resiliency of our capacity to stay with the “spark” before it becomes a “flame”. To simply observe without the judging mind takes a real shift in consciousness for the parent who has been conditioned through automaticity to act almost instantaneously on their feelings.

In the “heat of the moment” with your child or children- remember you always have a refuge in your awareness and in your breath. Falling into repetitive patterns and reactionary cycles like “giving into our kids”, and “yelling or screaming” at our kids is the result of a conditioning process. The practice of mindfulness awakens our capacity to disconnect this reflexive circuitry. It is our mindful awareness that functions like a “circuit breaker”. It helps us to stay with the feelings of disappointing our children from time to time- and with the “empty space” in awareness to alter our course of action in response to them. Taking a brief moment during difficult times with our children to just breathe- noticing our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations can help us to relax into these difficult moments- and to stay with what is happening so that we may compassionately discern the most appropriate response for the situation.

There are always possibilities between “harshness” and “giving in”. How we act within this continuum of response depends upon the confidence we have in ourselves to trust the power of our own mindsight- free attention & open awareness- to simply observe with objectivity and care long enough for what needs to unfold to become revealed. Refined mindsight helps us to “see”- to acknowledge- to recognize- and to illuminate what action needs to be taken. It is this action or response that is free of our own reactionary patterns for awareness has diffused the possibility of allowing our own thoughts and feelings to color our perspective and thereby fueling our impulse to react.

With the right intention and disposition, we can stay in the “heat of the moment” with our children. Mindfully, we don’t have to make our children’s drama our own. We all have vulnerabilities as parents so don’t take the process of parenting too personally. Practice with equanimity-even-tempered care-and loving-kindness can do wonders for strengthening our confidence and capacity to be more flexible and responsive with our children. Difficulties with our children are inevitable. Loss, failure, success, and change are as much a reality for them as for the parents rearing them. Joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain are all apart of the emerging process of becoming as we are… interbeing with other human beings.

Time for reflection as if our life depended upon it can make a significant difference in how we mind our children. Refining our capacity to attend and be aware of what our children are actually communicating (i.e. verbally and non-verbally) takes real discipline and intention to be present. Awareness can help us to bridge good observing and listening skills with appropriate action- it also facilitates our capacity to “see” our level of distraction within the present moment. Attunement with our children and with us is conditional upon our capacity to freely and openly attend with presence of mind-body.

Patience, patience, and more patience seed our growth and maturity as parents. Awareness helps us to tune into and “see” the feelings that underlie the impatience we foster with our own children. The more skillful we are in attending to our own thoughts, feelings, and actions, the more adept we will become in effectively relating and attending to those of our children. Patience in our practice endures to emerge as forbearance. Here and now, it is this kind of caring and purposeful self-control that allows us to be more responsive and less reactive with the ones we so deeply love.