10 Steps to More Mindful Parenting

Father and daughter playing xylophone in bedroom
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One of the fathers who is a regular visitor here at Fatherhood at About.com shared some thoughts with me not too long ago via email.  “I feel like I spend a lot of time as a dad just reacting.  I try to correct behaviors, help with homework assignments and help kids do chores at home, but I get a sense that I should be doing more and at a deeper level.  Am I expecting too much from myself?” he asked.  We had a nice email conversation about mindful parenting and some things he might do to be less reactive and more intentional in his parenting.

I have thought a lot about this idea of mindful parenting.  I know it sounds a little esoteric and zen-like, but it is a worthy goal for any parent.  Being mindful about any aspect of our life tends to revolve around the ideas of being intentional in what we do, present in the events going on around us and attentive to the moment in which we find ourselves.  Many people might feel a little overwhelmed about the idea of mindfulness and being intentional - after all, it can be hard just getting through the typical day of a mom or dad with any shred of sanity left.

But mindfulness is really about being the best parent you can be. When we are mindful, we think about what we are doing and why we are doing it.  If we are grounded in principles, it is easier to be more aware of what is happening at the moment and to be more observant.  Connecting with the deep reasons why we chose to be a parent can help us see what is going on in a clearer light.

So, what can we do to become more mindful parents - more intentional and more engaged?

Be present in the moment.  There have been so many times that I have been distracted while parenting - maybe more focused on the television, the computer or what I was reading than I was on my children.  When we rivet our attention on what is going on and boot the distractions to the side, we can be a lot more intentional and mindful.  If parenting is our most important role, then we owe it to the kids to be fully present and not distracted.

Worry less about outcomes and more about the experience.  Quite often as parents, we find ourselves more concerned about the outcome of an experience and less about the process. In no other situation is this more visible than when a child is throwing a tantrum.  Our entire focus is often to get the child to stop being out of control and to stop feeling embarrassed about how others might perceive us as parents.  But the tantrum will often stop more quickly if we focus on what is happening and why our child is out of control than it will if we focus on getting the kids back under control.  Thinking through what is happening and helping the child express their frustrations in more acceptable ways will get us to better outcomes than just focusing on the desired outcome itself.  

Be human and vulnerable.  Our mindfulness as parents is enhanced when we allow ourselves to be both human and approachable.  Intentionality often goes out the  window when are not authentic and real.  The front we put up for others often withers in the heat of the role we play as parents.  We have so much to gain with our families when they see us being real and less than perfect.  If our families know that we are genuine and vulnerable, they will appreciate us more and we can focus on what is really going on, not what we perceive is going on.

Teach more by example than by talking.  Intentionality involves walking the talk - of being consistent and predictable.  When we listen actively (in the true sense of active listening), we can be much more mindful and intentional.  Carefully choosing our actions to create a good example for our children is one of the key hallmarks of mindful parenting.

Meditate and connect to deeper levels daily.  Many parents I work with have developed a habit of daily and affirmations.  It can be hard in the daily grind to sacrifice other things to sit and meditate, but the investment can bring enormous dividends in terms of mindfulness and intentionality.  When we connect to the deepest within us, we can be more aware of ourselves and our situations and thus better for our children.

Strip out the non-essential.  A big part of mindfulness is to minimize distraction so that we can focus on the most important aspects of life and parenting.  Getting rid of the stuff that wears us down and that is not critical to our lives and our parenting leads to more mindfulness.  Simplify your life and get rid of the unimportant so that you can focus on most important.

Step outside yourself and watch.  I remember a parenting experience from my early father years that still pains me to think about.  I made some really poor choices disciplining one of my children.  I wasn’t physically abusive, but I made some comments that I regret to this day.  So many times since then, I have tried to imagine being the “fly on the wall” and see how I looked and how I sounded to my child.  Replaying that issue over and over again has helped me not make that same mistake twice, speaking out of my own ego instead of out of love and compassion.  Debriefing bad experiences can help us learn what not to do the next time.

Accept who you are and be at peace with that.  Mindful people know who they are and they accept themselves as flawed and imperfect.  Getting to peace around who we are, even if we are striving to become better, is an important step in becoming a more intentional parent.

Create safe environments.  Being more aware of what we are doing as parents involves creating safe environments where our families can share feelings and seek affirmation.  When we create times and places where kids can feel safe with us leads to better communication and focus in our families and our parenting.

Slow down and make time to see.  Finally, we need to slow down our fast paced lives in order to live more mindfully as a parent.  When we slow down the pace of life, we have more time to be more intentional and to see the connections in our relationships.  Mindfulness requires a bit of peace and a little time so that we can intervene between stimulus and response in our parenting.

Being a more mindful parent is a critical goal for fathers and mothers.  We will be more loving, committed and intentional as parents if we slow down a little, observe better what is happening in the moment, and eliminating distractions in our interactions.  A few simple approaches can help us be more mindful and connected parents.

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