Mindfulness in Parenting
Mindfulness can be described as being focused on the present moment in a nonjudgmental way. When we are fully present in the moment, we are open to perceiving and responding to situations with greater flexibility and more options.
While conducting a literature review for my book, Parenting for Social Change, I was excited to find research from 2007, in mainstream publications, about the positive and transformative role of mindfulness in parenting. Researchers studied the impact of mindfulness training and practice in parenting and found that mothers of children diagnosed with developmental disabilities had significant positive results from mindfulness in their parenting.
The focus of the research was not to change a child’s behavior, but to have parents apply mindfulness to their parenting lives. Benefits to parents were that they reported less parenting stress and feeling greater satisfaction with their parenting. They also reported more social interaction with their child. A byproduct of introducing mindfulness into parenting was positive behavioral changes in the children as well as the parents. The researchers speculate that transformational change in parents is reflected in children because of the dynamic and interdependent nature of the child-parent relationship.*
An important aspect of mindfulness is unconditional acceptance. Being in the present moment without judgment for what (or who) is right or wrong and accepting what is happening in the moment moves us out of trying to control behavior to being an ally with a child. Unconditional acceptance of a child and ourselves changes the dynamics from control to an interdependent relationship that recognizes the needs of both us and the child.
Often as parents, we can fall into patterns of behavior with children. If a child behaves in a way that makes us uncomfortable and in the past we have reacted to the behavior by trying to control a child, we can find it difficult to not react as we have in the past. Using mindfulness and being in the present moment frees us from patterns of behavior that have developed between ourselves and the children who share our lives. We let go of the past interactions and history we may have with a child and the particular behavior and we are able to respond (not react) in a way that is compassionate and open.
Mindfulness also frees us from spending time thinking about why something is happening and how we can prevent it in the future. It allows us to more spontaneously intuit different possibilities that our thinking, conscious mind overlooks in its need to make “sense” of why something is happening.
There is an important role for critical reflection on our own behavior as parents or what may be interfering in our ability to create an authentic and trustful relationship with children. However, doing this in the moment can often be a barrier to connecting with the children in our lives.
In my own journey, as I reduce my triggers and use other tools to overcome the negative impact of the ways I was controlled as a child, I have found I am able to be more present and mindful. Even though I do not practice meditation, being present and attending to the here and now is a powerful “tool.” I often use my own emotions as a gauge for whether or not I am present and mindful. The more stress, anxiety or frustration I’m experiencing in the moment, the more I know I have moved out of the present and into the past or the future.
As I bring my focus to the children in my life without judgment, without presuming I know what will happen in the future, and without using our past interactions to color the present, the more flexible and caring I am able to be. My goal in being mindful is not to change their “negative” behavior but to be with them in the present so that I am able to feel and see them for who they are in ways that are supportive, loving, and affirming.
*Nirbhay N. Singh, Giulio E. Lancioni, Alan S. W. Winton, Judy Singh, W. John Curtis, Robert G. Wahler and Kristen M. McAleavey, “Mindful Parenting Decreases Aggression and Increases Social Behavior in Children With Developmental Disabilities,” Behavior Modification 2007 31: 749
See also, Myla Kabat-zinn and Jon Kabat-zinn, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, Hyperion (1998)