Mindful parenting involves keeping in mind what is truly important as we go about the activities of daily living with our children. Much of the time, we may find we need to remind ourselves of what that is, or even admit that we may have no idea at the moment, for the thread of meaning and direction in our lives is easily lost. But even in our most trying, sometimes horrible moments as parents, we can deliberately step back and begin afresh, asking ourselves as if for the first time, and with fresh eyes, “What is truly important here?”
In fact, mindful parenting means seeing if we can remember to bring this kind of attention and openness and wisdom to our moments with our children. It is a true practice, its own inner discipline, its own form of meditation. And it carries with it profound benefits for both children and parents, to be discovered in the practice itself.
For us to learn from our children requires that we pay attention, and learn to be still within ourselves. In stillness, we are better able to see past the endemic turmoil and cloudiness and reactivity of our own minds, in which we are so frequently caught up, and in this way, cultivate greater clarity, calmness and insight, which we can bring directly to our parenting.
Like everybody else, parents have their own needs and desires and lives, just as children do. Our needs as parents in any given moment may be very different from those of our child.
Rather than pitting our needs against our children’s, parenting mindfully involves cultivating an awareness, right in such moments, of how our needs are interdependent. Our lives are undeniably deeply connected. Our children’s well-being affects ours, and ours affects theirs. If they are not doing well, we suffer, and if we are not doing well, they suffer.
This means that everyone benefits when we are aware of our children’s needs as well as our own, emotional as well as physical and, depending on their ages, work at finding ways for everybody to get some of what they most need. Just bringing this kind of sensitivity to our parenting will enhance our sense of connectedness with our children. Through the quality of our presence, our commitment to them is felt, even in difficult times. And we may find that our choices in moments of conflicting and competing needs will come more out of this heart-felt connection, and as a result will have greater kindness and wisdom in them.
Excerpt from Everyday Blessings, the Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn. Revised and Updated edition, Hachette Books, October 2014; from the chapter “What is Mindful Parenting?”