"Present with presence." That's how Frumet Raskin-Miller describes being a mindful parent. In our busy, micromanaged lives it's sometimes hard to appreciate the overall joys of children and parenting. Being a parent is hard work; it takes planning, scheduling and negotiating and we often find ourselves so wrapped up in the details of what's coming next that we don't notice what's happening right now.
As both an Early Childhood Special Educator and a devoted meditator, Raskin-Milller sees the power of applying the principles of mindfulness to child-rearing. "From a very simple place," she says, "taking a moment to be mindful when your kid is acting up or needs a serious conversation, gives you a chance to unhook from the drama, see more clearly, and act from a place of deeper wisdom and compassion." Taking that moment to be mindful is, however, more than just a parenting technique.
"What we know about the mind is that its function is to churn out thought after thought after thought," states Raskin-Miller. "Most of those thoughts have very little to do with what is actually going on in the present moment." Being mindful requires us to observe those thoughts, not through the lens of past experience, not with criticism or judgment, but merely as they are in the present moment. Scott Rogers, Director of the Institute for Mindfulness Studies and author of the book Mindful Parenting: Meditations, Verses, and Visualizations for a More Joyful Life, is careful to point out that while practicing mindfulness can change the way you parent, it's really a way to experience your whole life differently.
"Mindfulness is all about grounding ourselves in the present where, when you're really there, there are no frustrations, there are no worries, there are no anxieties," Rogers explains. "Those are the things that happen when we let go of this present moment and our mind begins to wander around in places of fear and hope." He notes that as parents we tend to think and worry about what might happen in the future and regret the mistakes we've made in the past. The Zen of parenting is about finding ways to pay attention to and appreciate the here and now of the moments with your children.
It's not always easy to be a mindful parent. Acknowledging this in their book, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn suggest that parents start the process by asking themselves the question, "What is truly important here?" Rogers explains it as responding to the moment instead of reacting to it. "When you react differently or begin to respond more genuinely you begin to become a very different kind of person and your relationship with your child begins to take on a very different type of quality--a more joyful quality--even though you're still grappling with some very challenging issues." Sometimes, he says, that response is to be firm and to tell your child what to do at that moment, but it comes from a place of compassion, not frustration. Raskin-Miller agrees. "When we begin to make choices about our thoughts instead of letting them run rampant," she says, "we can become steadier and less reactive, more intuitive, more compassionate."
So, how can parents get started on their journey towards a state of Zen? Rogers suggests two simple meditations to try in your everyday life:
- When walking, pace your steps to your heartbeat and recite: With every step/ My child’s heart beats.
- When hugging your child, imagine yourself as one and recite: I return/To myself /One heart.
Rogers offers more exercises to quiet the mind and be present with your child at www.themindfulparent.org.