Mindful Parenting (written 2002)
Parenting is, without a doubt, the most difficult role I’ve taken on in my life. And mindful parenting is both indescribably difficult and indescribably rewarding. To be present in those wonderful moments my children bring each and every day, not to lose those moments in the haste to be on with the next task, in distraction with some difficulty or worry, in planning for something else I wanted to do or share with this child, is a gift to myself. It does not mean that I have found a way to make these moments linger…as I still often want to do. But I am in them more fully when I am mindful. And what is more, the children feel this and respond. The story my little one tells me at the end of his school day meanders off when I am distracted. It grows and he glows when I am there for him, attending to his words. It seems so simple. But like many simple things in life, it is hard to do.
So too has mindfulness taught me to walk over the toys on the floor and to rein in my tone of voice and to let my children do some task imperfectly but unaided when it is needed. But in no other case have I found this so consistently difficult either. When a child speaks with disrespect it is difficult to hear the unspoken message instead of the tone. Is he hurt? Is he tired? Is he frustrated? It is difficult, when those little egos are working so hard to shape themselves in this world, not to respond from one’s own small self. To breathe and be and listen. And difficult to know that even if I am successful in keeping this mindfulness in my response, this will not bring a magical end to the confrontation. If my adult friend speaks irritably to me and I respond with mindful concern…her irritation may vanish and I may well receive mindful communication in return so that a breach may be healed. Not so with a child. My calmness and compassion may be met again and again with anger. He is just learning to be him and not willing yet to give this up to something as amorphous as “us” and “we”.
What I try to remember is that this is as it should be. A child is newly risen from the ocean of being. A small wave gathering momentum on the way to its crest. His task is to grow and to become. Somewhere in the climb, at the peak, as the wave curls, he too will begin to see the water from which he came and so to curb the ego. For the small child, guidance and protection are needed, but as a parent, I must also see that each child is travelling on his own path towards the shore. And he may test out his growing powers against whatever rocks he encounters. But a parent should be a wave too, traveling beside him, not a rock to break his growth prematurely. This is what mindful parenting means to me.