The Emotional Gifts of Mindful Parenting
Being a mindful parent involves cultivating a personal mindfulness practice.
So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is about having a mind that can be in the present moment, intentionally and without judgment. Mindfulness is gaining traction in multiple areas of life including in hospitals, schools, corporations and the mental health arena. Having the internal capacity to pause and experience awareness of our inner thoughts, feelings and body sensations can become the most significant liberations from our default modes of emotional reactivity. If we can see that we are not made of our thoughts and feelings, that these are merely impermanent internal experiences, then we can begin parenting with more ease, groundedness, and equanimity. But it begins with the parent, from the inside out.
Meditation is the formal practice of mindfulness. Neuroscience sheds light on the profound brain changes that can occur with a consistent meditation practice. We possess the capacity to forge new neural pathways that support our parasympathetic dominant nervous system (characterized by rest and relaxation). Additionally, through meditation, we can decrease the density of our amygdala, the part of the brain that encodes negative emotions and acts as an alarm system. And through mirror neurons, parents have the ability to gift emotional homeostasis to their children, as mirroring is one of the most impactful ways that parents affect their children. Essentially, we can train our minds to be a still point in a turning world — and there’s nothing more beautifully chaotic than the journey of parenthood.
So how do we practice Mindful Parenting? First, it’s important to know that the primary intention of Mindful Parenting is about cultivating attunement and emotional congruency. This is a bit different than the traditional intentions of a personal mindfulness practice which can include more individualized goals — particularly in an era where self-improvement is emphasized. Here, we’re practicing mindfulness within the role of a parent which means including interpersonal relationships into our consciousness practice.
Here are 3 key tenants to Mindful Parenting:
1 — Become aware of your own feelings when you’re in conflict with your child. Allow your self-observation to emerge and track the ebb and flow of your own internal emotions. This will allow you to practice increased emotion regulation in a moment of tension, frustration or anger.
2 — Learn to practice the sacred PAUSE in a moment of anger. Anger ignites our impulsivity, but if we can learn to pause and take 5–10 deep belly breathes, we can stay intentional about our word choice and how we want to respond. In other words, pausing mindfully gives us that liberating space between the stimulus and the response. In this space, we choose what kind of parent we will be.
3 — Listen intentionally to your child’s viewpoint without disagreeing. Automatic disagreeing or correcting breeds shame and silence. Deliberately embody spaciousness when you listen (even if you disagree) to help your child feel comfortable forming their voice in the world.
When we can be more intentional and self-aware in moments of parenting, we can align more intimately with our parenting goals — exuding that calm, direct, nurturing presence that we seek. Mindfulness meditation can become our most transformative tool to step into parenthood with the skills we need to handle the ever-fluctuating inner and outer weather of life.