The Chinese idiogram for “mindfulness” pictured here is made up of two different elements: the top part meaning “presence” over the bottom part meaning “heart.” This makes for a wonderful translation of the word, “mindfulness,” into “presence of heart.”
I chose this translation as this introduction to mindful parenting, because I feel it is a wonderful way of expressing the very essence of mindfulness. If mindfulness can be described as “presence of heart,” I would like to describe mindful parenting as “parenting from the heart.”
Mindful parenting is parenting from the depths of our hearts, rather than letting us be guided by a set of pre-fixed, often unreflected beliefs about what is right and wrong — beliefs about things having to be done or seen a certain way, standards and rules we might have been brought up by and that might even have been around for many generations.
Mindful parenting in a way is about making your own rules — rules that nourish and suit your family’s needs at this very moment of your life. It is about connecting to your heart, to your instincts, to your intuition — all these parts deep down inside of you, which might be hard or even scary to access at times. It is about tapping into these — our own! — very powerful sources of wisdom while letting go of limiting beliefs that might rather blind us and make us prone to getting caught up into the same old drama and vicious interaction circles with our children, over and over again.
Mindful parenting is about looking at your loved ones — and your whole life! — with open eyes, an open heart and a curious mind. It is about taking life and the great and overly important work of parenting one moment at a time. It is about intentionally bringing your awareness to your life as a parent, and with the same intentionality, gently letting go of blinding and limiting judgements that might not serve you and your family any longer.
Once you embark on this exciting journey, mindful parenting will open your heart and mind to all kinds of new and creative views, to greater happiness and contentment. It will lead you to higher levels of compassion for your children, your family, yourself. It will organically guide you toward a way of parenting that is more in sync with what really matters to you as a human being and with what you would like to instill and ignite in your children. It will help you feel connected to your children and those around you at the very heart — naturally instilling a deep, raw and honest sense of interconnectedness and secure attachment.
Mindful parenting requires us to stay present, open, curious, willing to let go of our “inner judge,” who is constantly censoring and judging whatever is going on around us as well as what is going on inside of us — many times without us even noticing.
A wonderful way to begin with mindful parenting is to start with your own breath. Try tuning into your breath at different moments of your day. To start, you don’t even need to schedule this practice into your probably already über-busy days, although you might naturally want to gently make more room for it over time. You are breathing anyways. At any given moment. As long as you live. So start right here! Right in this very moment!
Right where you are at:
- On your next breath in, follow your in-breath. Obeserve it. Can you feel the air flowing into your body? Where do you feel it? At the tip of your nose? In your throat? In your chest, maybe expanding your ribcage? Further down in your belly? What does your breath feel like? Warm? Or rather cold? Does it feel shallow? Or deep? Fast? Or slow?
- Now follow your out-breath as it comes about. What does this feel like? Can you feel the air leaving your body? Where? What does your body feel like while you breathe out?
Explore! Be curious! Ask questions. Your breath can teach you a lot about yourself and your (inter)actions in this very moment. This will, at a later point, help you better understand and reflect on your thoughts, emotions, actions and your interactions with your children.
Once you start regularly bringing your awareness to your breathing, you will notice that you breathe differently at different moments. These variations in your breathing pattern are likely linked to different emotions, bodily sensations, activities or thoughts . They depend on what is going on in your life at this very moment. For example, if your stress levels are just about to skyrocket because it is one of those crazy Mondays, your breathing will likely feel very different in such a moment — can you feel it at all!? — compared to a moment where you are more calm and relaxed.
Can you observe this? Notice these differences? Stay present. Can you stick with the breathing and observing, without judging, or trying to make immediate changes? Give it a try! Start right now. Stick with it for a while. Go with the flow of your breath and see what it tells you and where it guides you.
With some practice, you will soon notice that you become more sensitive toward yourself, your children, your family, your whole environment. You will become more aware of what is going on inside of you — thoughts, feelings, impulses — as well as around you. You might feel a new or deeper compassion for yourself, as well as for your loved ones.
Over time, this will open up a whole new universe of compassion, love, creativity and space. You will notice that no matter how stressful, tense or messed up the situation you are in seems to be, you always have a choice. You have a choice on how you would like to react to a certain situation or interaction with your child, as opposed to reacting on autopilot or jumping into a judgmental mode right away.
Let me know how it goes.