Parenting is one of the most challenging, demanding and stressful jobs on the planet. It is also one of the most important; how it is done influences in great measure the heart and soul and consciousness of the next generation, their experience of meaning and connection, their repertoire of life skills and their deepest feelings about themselves and their possible place in a rapidly changing world.
Creatively responding to the challenges of parenting requires new ways of thinking about how to develop inner skills to navigate and mediate these challenges.
Although many stressors are out of our control, when parents have the inner strength and skills to build positive relationships with their children, they can mitigate some of the individual, family, neighborhood and societal factors that put children and youth at risk. Young people are then less likely to develop serious problems that can diminish their well-being and opportunities at school and in the community. They develop resilience and a flexible posture within their world.
The parenting skills involved in achieving this are called “mindful parenting”. Mindful parenting draws out and strengthens the inner capacities of parents; it is not simply a new skill set, but rather a different way of thinking, perceiving and knowing. Mindful practices occur in every culture and across faith communities, suggesting wide applicability of mindful parenting.
Mindful Parenting: A Working Definition
Mindful parenting can be defined as the ongoing process of intentionally bringing moment-to-moment, non- (or low-) judgmental, open-hearted awareness as best one can to the unfolding of one’s own lived experience, including parenting. Cultivating mindfulness in parenting starts with self-awareness. It grows to include:
- recognizing and keeping in mind each child’s unique nature, temperament and needs;
- developing the capacity to listen and creatively engage with full attention when interacting with one’s children;
- holding in awareness with kindness and sensitivity, to whatever degree possible, both one’s child’s and one’s own physical, emotional and mental states and motivations – including inner feelings, thoughts, body sensations,intentions, expectations and desires;
- developing the reflective capacity to make links between physical/emotional/mental states and behavior in self and others;
- developing an effective set of parenting skills, including greater self-regulation, which in turn can positively affect one’s child’s ability to self-regulate and can lead to more positive parent-child interactions;
- bringing greater compassion and non-judgmental acceptance to oneself and one’s children while establishing a relational foundation that is thoughtful and discerning; and
- recognizing and protecting against one’s own reactive impulses in relationship to one’s children and their behavior and responding in ways that are decisive and developmentally appropriate to a child’s needs.
This approach helps parents to hold their present-moment parenting experiences within the context of the long-term relationship they have with their child, and a vision of relational health, trust and happiness.
If you would like to learn how to practice mindful parenting, you are warmly invited to join Kara’s Mindful Compassionate Parenting Course.