Mindful Parenting - It's Not an Oxymoron
Susan Kozak, Occupational Therapist, Mental Health | January 6, 2020
Being neither an expert in mindfulness nor parenting, I write this piece with a cautionary note; this column is based on my own experience of using my limited mindfulness repertoire during the limitless opportunities presented to me by my two teenage daughters. Others may have similar or different experiences in their own lives.
Having practiced mindfulness myself, participated in our unit’s staff mindfulness practice, and introduced mindfulness to the patients in groups and individually, I thought it was worth a try to use some mindfulness skills with my daughters at home. Like many, I found that transferring our work to our home is not always met with thanks or appreciation, so I decided to focus on my own skills and forget (for now) about suggesting strategies for the girls. Focusing on the breath became my preparation before a potentially heated conversations. Body scan became my cool down and my reward after difficult discussions. If I found myself sliding towards a battle with one of the girls, I would STOP before moving on. And what better informal mindfulness exercise is there than slowly, purposely focusing on and enjoying a good cup of coffee? These relatively simple skills became a part of my life, including my interactions at home.
Of all the mindfulness skills I’ve used as a parent, the most effective in communicating with my daughters has definitely been mindful listening. I have been guilty of losing the message my child was trying to give me in the emotion I was feeling at the time, or being so busy planning my response, I wasn’t really hearing a word my child said. Mindful listening has taught me to focus completely and without judgement (which can sometimes be tough) on my daughter’s words, and has saved her and myself from any escalation in the conversation. When my eighteen year old informed me that she would be home “around 2ish” because “a group” of her friends had rented an airbnb for a party, I had the opportunity to choose from two paths. One would lead to ugly and loud dialogue, and the mindfully curious one could lead to mutual understanding. I choose the latter and life went on. My daughter didn’t get everything she wanted, but as I mindfully listened, showed real interest, and asked questions, she was willing to adjust her plans. This one mindfulness tool has been noticed by my girls and I see them trying to mirror back the same skill. In the party discussion, the quiet, respectful listening and curious questioning I modeled caused my daughter to communicate in a quieter, more respectful, thoughtful manner. Not all, but many important conversations that once led to anger and hurt feelings are now calm and manageable.
All these things, and more, I’ve tried many times at home. Difficult encounters with my daughters have been at best avoided and at worst made more manageable. Sometimes it just hasn’t worked and sometimes I just haven’t taken the time to settle myself into a mindful frame of mind, often when it would have helped most. Nevertheless, I practice daily for myself and have found it beneficial. One of my daughters has learned some mindfulness exercises of her own, and has also found it helpful. More than once I’ve seen her STOP (even whispering the steps to herself) when facing a difficult school assignment, conversation, or text. I think, at the end of the day, parenting can be a wonderful, confusing, messy adventure and we’re all doing the best we can. For me, mindfulness practice has helped to make the job of parenting teenagers just a little easier.