October 20, 2014

Shift Happens: Mindful Parenting.

Shift Happens

Am I the mama that wears flowers in her hair and carries magic in her heart?


The one that is readily open and available to tend to her little chickadee?


The one who longs for more freedom?


The one who has learned to stop reacting in the ways that cause harm?

Not yet.

This initiation of becoming the parent I want to be can bring me to my knees.

Parenting can be the thing that calls up every pain that is asking to be healed— you know, the reactive and intolerant states, the places that keep us locked in power struggles and unable to locate compassion.

It calls up the unattractive parts of ourselves that if ever accidentally posted on YouTube, would cause us to die of shame.

So how do we become that parent we’re proud to be? As I say to my daughter, “That’s the million daughter question.” The answer? Mindfulness.

Mindfulness, schmindfulness. It’s the new black, the new “it” word, but it’s just the practice that can help us to become better parents—better people for that matter, the ones with magic in our eyes. It’s a practice that can help us to shift even the most deeply rooted ways of thinking and responding.

I use it daily, as do many of my clients.

What is this thing called mindfulness, and what does it have to do with being a good parent?

Let’s say it’s an awareness that allows us to relate to our Self and our children (and every other part of our life) in the here and now.

Call it a “right now” practice.

Without this “right now” awareness, we are left to our habitual patterns of reaction, say shutting down or yelling. And despite all the wishing in the world, or our greatest intentions, these habits just don’t seem to disappear.

When we begin to embrace this “right now” way of living, we may still cause harm (hopefully less over time), but at least we know we’re causing harm. The knowing makes all the difference in the world.

The knowing is the medicine that shifts us away from harm.

Learning to live in “right now” can really come in handy because if you’re anything like me, your children are going to call up every uncomfortable part of you. And when that happens…not fun. Think of your children as your guru, only smaller.

“Right now” is a daily practice that can increase our ability to develop a different relationship to the unfolding moments, especially the not so pretty ones, like when we promise ourselves we’re not going to yell at our child, but no matter how many times we count to ten, the angry words still spill out.

This practice offers a chance to create new habits, to meet these moments with a different choice, like the choice to press the pause button and not react; or the chance to see things as they are, before adding our likes and dislikes to the story; or from traveling at the speed of fearful light back into the past or into the future in order to stand open hearted in “right now.”

Mindfulness asks that we get to know ourselves really well, which means considering our inner life (with all of our needs) together with the needs of our children.

You. Them. Everyone is important.


In order to experience “right now” we may have to cultivate a bit of stillness, which takes a commitment to return again and again to our breath. Imagine choosing five minutes a day to cultivate this practice. It could be just the thing which loosens the deeply ingrained patterns of shutting down or yelling or blaming or…

Look at anger for example. We are pretty likely going to feel this toward our kids. Perhaps, it might even happen by the end of today. In a flash we can forget that ten-year-olds do ten-year-old kinds of things. The triggers come in and everything can get angry-colored. Followed by big watery frightened eyes staring back.

I know this can be the case in my family.

I’m absolutely sure I have a rich and powerful mindfulness practice, especially when I’m alone. Throw in a strong, highly spirited child…well, sometimes I’m the most beautiful mom that my daughter has ever seen, the one with magic in her eyes. And sometimes I’m not.

If only in this “right now” moment we can acknowledge our own reactivity and attempt to choose a different response, one in which we look at both our own needs, and with what is actually happening within our child. If only…

It’s not always easy to unlock our ways, to remember to press the pause button. It takes having the wherewithal to take a much-needed time out. You. Not your child.

I picked up my daughter from school today, and am overjoyed at the thought of seeing her. We have the most beautiful running in slow motion moment that ends with a great big hug. Not more than one moment later, she is begging, no pleading with me to take her for ice cream with her friends and their mamas.

This is so not part of my plan.

I’m now under siege and rapid fire from this highly spirited take-no-prisoners of a girl. I’m pleading, “Stop! No!” I feel beaten down by her persistence; in this moment her desire to be with her friends, and my desire to be home. So many times she and I have been here “right now,” and it feels anything but fun.

I’m furious. I take a deep breath. Here are my choices. I can stay rooted to my attachment to go home. I need a moment. I have to pull the car over. I have to walk through the sledge of thoughts racing through my mind.

I breathe the sledge of thoughts in. Am I being pushed? Do I give into her too easily? Why do I say no so often?

Another deep breath.

But this time, in the breath I find the faint memory of joy when I do say yes. I breathe again. Am I being pushed to find more joy from watching my daughter and her friends celebrate the end of the day with ice cream? I start to drive again. I can turn right toward my home or I can turn left to the company of the mothers I love.

Cut to, I am sitting among my women laughing and talking. My daughter whispers in my ear, “You always start with ‘no,’ and when you change your mind you end up having so much fun.” She speaks to me from her gentle voice—the guru of my heart.

When I recognize that I’m hooked and remember to pause, the payoff can be layers upon layers of openings. Unhooking is the key.

Believe me, change doesn’t just happen in three simple steps, but even just one of these suggestions may be helpful:

1. Start with bringing curiosity to all your messy parts, the parts that you would hide from YouTube.

2. Get to know your triggers. Like being asked the same question over and over again…top of my list.

3. Check in and acknowledge what you’re feeling and needing, and then do the same on behalf of your child. If you arrive at, “I feel angry and I need my child to be different,” keep going.

For me, it can sound like this:

What am I doing right now? Well, I’m yelling at my child for god’s sake.

Why am I reacting so strongly in this situation? Because I have a belief that she should be acting a certain way.

Where is this going to take me if I keep going in this direction? South, into no man’s land.

What do I need right now and what does my child need from me in this moment? How do I negotiate so we both get what we need?

Wow this takes a lot of patience. I rather have her do exactly what I need her to do…That doesn’t seem right.

What choices do I have here? I can choose to be the parent I so want to be…Is it a lot to ask in such moments to consider the possibility of opening our hearts right here and now?


But this is how shift happens: from the dark black habitual realm to the light of possibility; gracefully, and not so gracefully, one difficult magical “right now” moment at a time.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photos: Author’s Own / Nadia Romanova at Pixoto 



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Carrie Dinow, MFT