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When I told my brother I was pregnant with my second child, he looked at me and in a dead-pan voice said, “You sure that’s a good idea? You’re kind of struggling with the first one.”
We were at a wedding. I was so excited to share my news with my family, and yet deep down I felt the same way. My son was difficult at the time: colicky, a non-sleeper, and slowly driving me to insanity. But I was raised with siblings and I wanted him to have one, so insanity be damned—I was going for it!
I share that story because all of us who are parents have thought, at one point or another, that we might be making a mistake. Or we have that one reoccurring thought that plays over and over in our heads at times:
“Am I screwing my kids up?”
I don’t have that thought anymore (well, at least not weekly). And I no longer look to other parents to measure myself against to determine if I’m doing the right thing with my kids. I’ve learned to go within myself and ask the question, “What do they need? What can I do to support them in becoming their happiest and best selves?”
I don’t strive to have perfect kids. I want them to be kind and compassionate. Not just to others, but to themselves.
I want them to be inclusive and accepting. Not just to others, but to themselves.
I want them to have integrity and grit and to seek the truth about what is right for them. Not from others, but from within themselves.
So, we have five mindful practices in our family that we attempt to do daily. On the days life gets in the way, we do our best to aim for a modified version of them, but we aren’t perfect.
If you’re looking for simple ways to bring more mindfulness into your own family, I hope what is working in ours will work for yours:
My kids are no different than most. I need a crowbar to pry them away from their phones and devices at any given time of the day. But at night before bed, we take just five minutes to get still, breathe deep, and pray. I was raised Catholic, but we don’t say a mindless Hail Mary. Instead, I have them think of three things they’re grateful for or that made them happy. Sometimes it’s playing with a friend or snuggling with mom, but it gives them something positive to go to bed with.
2. Setting an Intention for the Day
Every morning at breakfast (or sometimes the night before), I have my kids set one intention for the day. My daughter is eight, so intentions are simple: “I want to play with my friend Kayla today” or, “I want to be picked by my teacher to do a special task.” But they have to come up with one thing, no matter what. When they can’t think of one, I encourage them to keep it simple and set the intention that they will find joy and have fun in whatever the day brings.
3. Speak it into Existence
I taught both my kids about manifesting at a young age. I told them, “Your words are powerful, so say only what you want to bring into reality.” When they go to the Debbie Downer place and say, “This is so hard, I can’t do it,” I respond with, “What? You just said you can’t do something so guess what’s going to happen?” I try to encourage them to reword the thought so it doesn’t include the words can’t, never, or always.
For example, my son hates math and used to say things like, “I hate math and I’ll never get it.” We changed that to, “Math is hard right now but I know I’m capable of learning it and acing the next test!” Well, guess what happened? My struggling math student brought home his first two A’s last week. Teaching kids to say only what they want to happen and not what they don’t can be powerful.
4. Body Intuition
No matter what question children have about something, they typically also have the answer. This might be the answer to a question on their homework, doubts about a friendship, or whether they want to participate in an activity. When my kids ask a question, I ask them, “What do you think?” They always have the right answer but typically are second guessing themselves or looking to us for validation that they are making the right choice. When it’s a question about a person or situation, I ask them what they feel in their body. If it feels bad, I tell them to trust that. If it feels good, I tell them to trust that too. Then, of course, as their mom I weigh in but it teaches them how to seek the right answer inside themselves, not from others.
5. Compromise on Everything
If I hear one more fight over who has had more time on the phone or iPad I may scream. When fighting ensues in our house, I don’t get involved until I have to. As soon as they scream “Mom!” hoping I’ll come in and bust some balls, I scream back, “Work it out yourselves. Someone better compromise in there!” Then I hear the negotiating happening. If one of them is being a total tool, then I intervene. But I’m trying to teach them how to work with others by realizing they can’t always have what they want and learning to compromise. This is nearly impossible when they are under the age of seven, but it’s never too early to start teaching it.
My kids still behave like other kids: they fight, they’re selfish at times, they roll their eyes at me. But in the end, I hope they take these practices into their lives as adults and use them to make their lives, and the lives of others, better.