“Mindful Parenting is the hardest job on the planet, but it’s also one that has the potential for the deepest kinds of satisfactions over the life span, and the greatest feelings of interconnectedness and community and belonging.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindful Parenting is a way of parenting with boundaries in place to protect and contain both yourself and your child(ren) whilst looking at behaviours, thoughts, and experiences, with a sense of curiosity, respect, acceptance, compassion and non-judgment, for both yourself and your child. At the same time being aware of your own process and trusting your child’s process. It is a way of life, an underlying energy influencing every decision, action, and inaction, and requires a conscious choice.
Mindfully parenting during challenging times can be tough, even for those seasoned mindful parents, as, when our own equilibrium is off, it affects everyone around us. It can be extremely hard to support others when you also need support. At times like this it can be easy for us to react instead of respond to behaviours from those around us, both our children and other adults, as we go back to ‘default’ mode (our parents parenting style), while our regular rhythm is under review. During this time, we all need increased support in the form of compassion, love, and non-judgment, from ourselves and others, as we navigate our way through our own process, finding our new rhythm in the sea of uncertainty, effectively needing to parent ourselves while parenting our children.
In mindfulness we can practice finding a new rhythm through a sense of noticing or awareness of what is, gaining knowledge around what is happening through curiosity, then allowing the unfolding with compassion and non-judgment, without becoming attached to any particular ideas or stories of what that might mean for us. Then we accept. We accept what is with an energy of love, compassion, and kindness that we generate within ourselves. Accepting does not mean that we agree with what is happening or that we enjoy it. It simply means we accept what we cannot change, and for those areas we can change, we accept our responsibility for this. Accepting is not really an act of doing, it is a continuance of allowing – a softening, an unfurling, a trusting/faith, a sense that we will be ok, even when things are not going the way we desire.
Let’s take a look at each of these areas in more detail during challenging times.
A challenge can be anything from a child being unable to find the outfit they want to wear to a big change in circumstances – moving to a new house, new spouse/divorce, being in Lockdown due to virus outbreak… The challenge is in the eye of the beholder. Being aware of how we and our children are experiencing a challenge is a great place to start, and we can do this by regularly noticing. We may notice changes in behaviour, tone of voice, needs, body language, thoughts etc… which give us a hint that somethings challenging for them/us. During big changes in circumstances try setting a reminder at times throughout the day to just sit and watch your children with curiosity to get an insight into ‘how they are coping’. Any changes could be exhibiting our coping strategies. There is no right or wrong way of coping, it is just a way for us to ‘do’ something about our situation.
Being curious about ours and our childrens’ ways of coping can allow us to give insight to our thoughts and actions. This can increase our self-compassion, compassion, and non-judgment for ‘out-of-character’ behaviour that might unfold. This is not to say that regular boundaries should be overlooked e.g., not hurting one another… but the ensuing discussion after a breach should be completed with love and compassion and an underlying understanding of why this behaviour developed in the first place e.g., on the surface – A hit B for no reason at all… in reality A hit B because A was feeling overwhelmed and B got too close – A needed more space and didn’t know how to verbalise that. This reaction is not age specific…
Ways of coping may be different for different experiences e.g., when I am facing a small stress like, not having my normal brand of cereal at the supermarket, I may take the ’Positive Re-evaluation’ view and see it as an opportunity to try a new cereal. Whereas, if my daughter and I had just had a big argument, I might take the ‘Accepting Responsibility’ view to repair the relationship. They also depend on other variables at the time e.g., if I was already stressed before going to the supermarket only to find they didn’t have my brand of cereal, my coping response may be ‘Confrontive Coping’, engaging with a staff member to find me some cereal or perhaps ‘having a go’ at them for not having it in stock.
So have a look and notice which way of coping you and your children are currently exhibiting.
Ways of Coping (adapted from The Ways of Coping Scale)
Escapism – wishing things were different to what they were; trying to feel better through drinking, eating or taking drugs; avoiding others; more screen time; more reading books.
Regression – acting from a childlike place or a place of lesser maturity than normal; wanting nurturing; becoming fearful; needing help from others for things you would ordinarily do by yourself.
Accepting Responsibility – acknowledging your part in this and acknowledging things will be different next time.
Self-control – going inwards and keeping things to yourself; maintaining a level of control over what you show/tell others.
Distancing – in denial; continuing as normal.
Confrontive Coping – fighting for what you believe in and taking it into your own hands to discuss your views with those responsible/in power.
Positive Re-evaluation – a rediscovering of what is important in life; experiencing personal growth/renewed faith.
Problem Solving – generating extra energy to make things work; focussing on a solution.
Social Support – talking to others to gain more information or discuss your feelings.
Take some time to sit with the way of coping you feel aligned to now. Close your eyes or soften your gaze. Notice what is happening within your body…. Be curious about how this way of coping manifests itself within your body. Notice areas of tension/pain/discomfort/holding, notice areas of ease/spaciousness/expansion, be curious…. Then turn your attention to your thoughts…. What thoughts does this way of coping ignite within you? Just watch and notice them with curiosity.
Now sit with the way of coping you have identified for each of your children in the same manner. What do you notice?
“If you push against nothing, everything that is beneficial will flow easily into your experience.” – Abraham Hicks
Once we are aware of what we and our children are experiencing we can move into allowing. Allowing requires a sense of trust and faith that each person is capable. With children, this can be hard to fathom because often we take the role of being responsible for our children. Our role is to guide….. trust that they know their own self and if not, give them an opportunity to get to know themselves through allowing their experience to unfold naturally, with guidance.
When you notice conflict, question, is there an area where there is a lack of allowing? This can often be thoughts that ‘things need to be a certain way’ ….
A Story of Allowing
At the time of writing much of the western world was in Lockdown due to COVID-19. We had to stay home. We left our home for short exercise daily around our neighbourhood, but we had to keep our distance from others. Vehicles were only used to access essential services e.g., doctors, supermarkets, etc. This was a drastic change. My husband, two girls – aged 3 and 6 at the time – and I were suddenly living in each other’s pockets. My husband and I started this challenge in Problem Solving, and Positive Re-evaluation coping strategies, as we prepared for weeks of no work and therefore limited income yet feeling positive about this gift of concentrated family time. The girls delved into a state of Distancing and Escapism as they continued playing their normal games together yet were starting to really enjoy time to themselves. As time went on, Social Support came in. We all missed our connection with our friends and extended family and ways around this were created. Confrontive Coping then came in as each of our coping strategies clashed – Self-control and Regression – we denied allowing each other and ourselves to just be and focussed on the negative rather than the positive. The girls started needing help with things they had been doing for themselves for a long time and their play changed to taking turns being babies. My husband and I were defensive as we expected more from each other than each could give. After a couple of days in this space, there was an awakening as I moved into Accepting Responsibility. I accepted responsibility for actioning my own allowing (resting when I needed to, baking & working only when I was inspired, completing projects when feeling creative), and acknowledging to my girls I hadn’t been there for them, like I ‘normally’ am, because I was having a tough time coping too. They replied with hands on my shoulder and an – “it’s ok Mum” …. Moving into this phase changed all our coping strategies. When one is low, the whole group experiences it, and likewise when one rises, the whole group rises.
When we Rest/Relax (allow – physically and mentally), we enable a Reconnection with our true selves and with each other. This reconnection gives us the opportunity to Reflect and Re-evaluate and move forward mindfully.
Destructive Coping Strategies
Allowing is not an opportunity for boundaries to be breached. If the outcome is a breach of a boundary then a mindful conversation, with those involved, one-on-one, in private, is required (see example below). Before you engage, try this meditation on Responding with Compassion
Mindful Conversation (adapted from Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish – How To Be The Parent You Want To Be):
- Develop a connection – expressing gratitude for something they did, engaging with them on current project, etc
- Discuss what you have noticed – stick to noticings, not conjecture.
- Show understanding – “this is not normally like you and I understand things are hard at the moment and we all deal with that in different ways”
- Invite their point of view – “how are you feeling about …… (what you have noticed) ….”
- Listen to and acknowledge others feelings and needs
- Talk about your feelings/needs (keep it short) – “I am here to help keep you, (and brothers, sisters, etc) safe… is there a way you would like me to help you with that?
- Invite to join in search for solutions – may include them needing things from you/others in the situation – you may need to start out with a few ideas.
- Write down all ideas without commenting on whether they are good or bad
- Decide on which ideas you both like and come to a mutual agreement of plan ahead
“Accept – then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it…. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” – Ekhart Tolle
You may have days of to-ing and fro-ing, bargaining with the experience (or with the child), to behave the way you desire, which inadvertently, encourages a ‘digging in of toes’. After you have gained insight into the dance you have been engaged in and begin to allow, you soften, accepting it is their/your journey. When we approach another with acceptance, the push-back is no longer required. The acceptance you feel of the situation is felt by the other. This allows for acceptance of the other, the situation, and you are both then able to move forward with Re-connection, Reflection and Re-evaluation rather than defensiveness. E.g., an acceptance response to “I’m sad” is “yes”, not “yes I am (you are). I don’t like feeling (it when you are) sad, I wish I (you) weren’t sad, but I am (you are).” Try this short meditation to encourage the softening of acceptance.
During a challenging time accept that:
- You and your child are ok – deep down, no matter what happens, know that you are, and always will be ok
- You are the greatest teacher for your child – even on your worst days – yes. In handling yourself with care, compassion, love, and kindness, when you are falling apart, you are teaching them a lifelong skill
- We all need Rest/Relaxation to Reconnect (with ourselves and each other), Reflect and then Re-evaluate. Allow, and the rest will follow
- Nobody is perfect… gaining insight and repairing relationship ruptures through mindful communication (adapt to the situation) are what matters. Your acceptance allows others to move forward and enables a Re-connection
- When we focus on the positive, we feel energised. When we focus on the negative, we feel depleted. You have a choice
- Uninterrupted time between you and your child, where you are present, will heal all
- Awareness – Notice yours and your child’s coping strategies on a regular basis. Be aware that changes in behaviour, tone, body language etc are all indicators to ways of coping. Be curious… How is this being experienced? Be aware that coping strategies change.
- Allowing – Refrain from pushing back and welcome an allowing of what is, to unfold in its own time, with compassion, love, kindness, and non-judgment. If you notice conflict or a ‘pushing back’ be curious about where there is a lack of allowing.
- Acceptance – Accept that you have a choice to how you respond. Accept with love, kindness, non-judgment, and compassion and know that in doing this, you allow others the space to accept.
If you would like to explore your journey in Mindful/Respectful Parenting further, contact us below to find out when the next Mindful/Respectful Parenting course is held.