Raising a child is for many, one of the most responsible and intense tasks of our lives, but one we do with love, pride, and satisfaction. It might be one of ‘the most important’ jobs we will ever have and many aspire to be a good father or mother. At times it can be a difficult and tiring task, other times it will be highly rewarding and fulfilling. In the daily hustle of our lives, parenting can sometimes turn into ‘managing’ children and the family, instead of being with the children and the family in the moment. When this happens, parenting becomes one of the endless things on our to-do lists and we may lose the experience of being ‘in the here and now’ with our children and family. Parenting will then go into auto-pilot mode.
With child-rearing, stress comes along with it, and not only for reasons that we want to do it so well. The transition in adulthood between taking care of our own lives, to having children and also taking care of their lives, comes with an immense change in how we divide our time, attention, energy, and resources. While taking care of our children and family we might forget to take care of ourselves and get exhausted. This may lead to symptoms like being overly tired, irritable or depressive moods, physical complaints, or even psychiatric problems that stand in the way of child-rearing.
Psychiatric problems in children or parents pose a challenge or obstacle to parenting. A child that can’t be left alone with siblings because of aggressive behavior, can’t go to bed alone because of fears, shows defiant or stressed behavior when confronted with new situations, engages in risky behaviors, skips school, poses another stressor in parenting. Symptoms of psychopathology within the parent can also complicate parenting or be a source of parental stress. A parent with depressive symptoms might find it difficult to give their child positive attention.
Another factor that can make parenting stressful is the fact that children are always developing, which means that they are constantly changing. In turn, this means that parents are continuously adjusting to their developing children. Relationship problems between parents and divorce are also sources of parental stress. Lastly, child rearing has become more stressful in our more individualistic western society where child rearing has become a task for one or two parents. While it has been in our evolutionary history to raise children in a community. Remember: ‘It takes a village’.
So given all of this, how can parents become more ‘mindful’ parents and apply ‘mindful’ parenting? Mindful parenting is defined as: ‘The ongoing process of intentionally bringing moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness as best one can to the unfolding of one’s own lived experience, including parenting. Cultivating mindfulness in parenting starts with self-awareness. It grows to include:
- Recognizing and keeping in mind each child’s unique nature, temperament, and needs;
- Developing the capacity to listen with full attention when interacting with one’s children;
- Holding in awareness with kindness and sensitivity, to whatever degree possible, both one’s child and one’s own feelings, thoughts, intentions, expectations, and desires;
- Bringing greater compassion and non-judgmental acceptance to oneself and one’s children;
- Recognizing one’s own reactive impulses in relationship to one’s children and their behavior’
What it means to be a ‘Mindful Parent’, means parenting in our conscious attention rather than getting overwhelmed by your own emotions and reacting in a way that can be detrimental to the parent-child relationship. It means learning how to train our attention, be more in the here and now, and more often ‘being’ than ‘doing’. Training your conscious attention helps with stress management, within ourselves and within the parenting of our children, in the partner relationship, and in the family. We can then be more aware of both the joy and the difficulties that come with parenting. We become more empathetic towards ourselves and our children. When we parent with attention, we have less reactive/ automatic responses towards our children, partner, or family. Which helps us with attention, organizing, planning, and seeing things from different perspectives. We become more aware of any negative responses that stem from difficult experiences in our own childhood. And we can choose to react in a more positive or effective way. Being a ‘mindful’ parent can help change and improve the quality of our relationship with our children.