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What does mindful parenting mean? (Hint: self-love!)

stone heartRecently, there is a lot of talk about mindfulness, and the idea of mindful parenting is becoming popular. Since my focus at Harvard Divinity School was on mindfulness, this is a particular interest of mine. If you’re interested, read on…

Mindful parenting is about taking a moment to honor the important spiritual practice of parenting. It is to take parenting as a spiritual discipline, so that in the challenging moments, we have an unwaivering intentionality to work with whatever situation arises. In the joyful moments, it means taking a moment to be present, relish and enjoy them! It is like holding a question through the day: how can I be more aware of the present moment with myself and with my child, nonjudgmentally and open-heartedly, with whatever arises (the good and the bad, pleasant and unpleasant)? How can I engage more fully in my parenting, whole-heartedly endeavoring to embody love, compassion, peace, and respect for myself and my child moment by moment, as best as I can? What a wonderful gift to offer our presence to ourselves and our children, and full acceptance of whoever they are!

Mindful parenting is also about being realistic. Parents and children are perhaps more stressed today than ever before! Thus, simply having the intention to move towards greater emotional well-being and stress reduction for both us and our child/children is mindful parenting, recognizing that we are imperfect and human. Like working for world peace and economic justice for all, we strive with faith towards the goals, recognizing we can only do what we can do. Not judging ourselves means not judging if we are doing a “good” or “bad” job as a parent, as a mindful parent, etc. Success isn’t measured by achieving the goals, but continually recommitting to the process of working towards the goals with humor, patience, and self-love. It is a process-oriented and value-oriented approach to parenting.

Mindful parenting does provide guidelines, grounded in neuroscience and psychology, of ways to work towards these goals of being aware of the present moment, fully engaged, fostering emotional intimacy and emotional well-being, as well as stress-reduction. For example, children learn more from how we embody being, and how we handle grief, disappointment, and stress, than what we say to them. So it makes sense to think consciously about how we are modeling and responding to our own challenging emotional states. Remember that we all experience challenging emotions like stress and anger, but if anger always leads to violence or disrespect, that emotional reactivity would be part of what they learn. Instead, by recognizing and acknowledging our emotions, taking a deep breath, and taking a moment to offer some love, acceptance, and relaxation to oneself in the moment, that will help us to respond in more loving, intelligent, and non-reactive ways.

Self-compassion and self-care are therefore primary building blocks of mindful parenting, although we often have to practice on the go! By doing this, and embracing rather than trying to push away our challenging emotions, we model wholeness and self-love to our children. We are also practicing the way we’d like to respond to our children, as well – loving and validating whoever they are and, whatever their emotional experience, it is OK. Being conscious and deliberate about this increases the likelihood we will come back to remembering this more quickly when we inevitably forget, slip up, and get angry or snappy or whatever.

  • Where do you feel you could benefit from a little more awareness of your own thinking and emotions in parenting? What thoughts and emotions do you struggle with? Where do you judge yourself for parenting or wish things were different – and how might you practice a more non-judgmental, loving stance of acceptance toward yourself, your partner, or your child?

Want to read more? Here is an interesting link on moving towards a scientific definition and research. Or just take a moment to relax and enjoy your life either by yourself or with those you love…

Chris Scheller, M.Div.