Mindful Parenting Helped Me See I Was Totally on Autopilot

Everywhere I go, I see articles about the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness, a concept that has been applied to psychological therapies since the 1970s, is making a big play across several disciplines.

If you open a wellness magazine, you’ll likely find an article on mindful eating. Mindful eating is listening to your body for actual signals of hunger and fullness, rather than following the ticking clock (it’s noon, time to eat lunch!). Fitness blogs also apply the concept to exercise. (Focus on your breath and movements during exercise to reap the most benefits!). In essence, the mindfulness philosophy places importance on your awareness without judgment.

There’s also mindful parenting. In mindful parenting, we are encouraged to pay close attention to how we – parents and children – are feeling. Also, we’re not supposed to judge these feelings. Sounds like a thought-provoking experiment, doesn’t it?

With our busy lives – work, family, school - it’s easy to go on autopilot. Sometimes, I can’t recall how I actually went from point A to point B – my thoughts run into one another and time gets blurry. For example, I know I drove straight to the dry cleaners after drop off this morning, but I cannot recall a single thought that I had along the way. Autopilot.

The other day, my daughter asked to play “stuffed animal doctor” together. We went up to her room, pulled out dozens of stuffed animals, and lined them up in the imaginary veterinarian office waiting room. This is one of her favorite games and we’ve played it together over a dozen times. She grabbed her medical kit and toy computer, as well as her toy telephone and some random objects she cleverly repurposes for the various surgeries and procedures. Did you know a headband doubles as a sling for broken bird wings?

“Mommy, you can be the nurse and I’ll be the doctor,” she said. “Sure,” I responded and reclined back against the foot of her bed. I put my “nurse princess” gloves on out of habit. A few minutes passed when it dawned on me: She requires so little of me to experience complete and absolute joy. Her favorite activities almost always involve the two of us, in the comforts of our own home, engaged in some kind of pretend play.

She bounced with delight, scribbling lengthy prescriptions and diagnosing Hannah the hippopotamus with “purple-eye.” I administered the flu shot to Clarissa, the ailing rabbit and we called in the next patient.

As I looked up at the bubbly young girl whose smile told me everything I need to know about her ability to be in the moment with me, I realized how my own thoughts drifted in and out consistently. I responded to my daughter when prompted, and listened to her commands to take Teddy’s vital signs, but I had not been fully present.

As a mindful parent, I’m not supposed to judge my feelings. I simply recognize that I am, indeed, going through the motions. I notice that I don’t feel good about this realization. I’m with my daughter physically throughout the day, but mentally, I’m not always with her in the way that I would want to be.
Mindful parenting encourages us to ask the following questions:

  • What were you doing together?
  • What were you thinking about?
  • How were you feeling?
  • How did your thoughts and feelings impact your interaction with your child?

We can’t expect to play with our children at all possible times. That’s neither realistic nor healthy. Today, my daughter goes directly to her room after school where she can unwind and process the day in solitude. She eventually comes out, eats a snack, does her homework, and confides a problem or occurrence from the day. But generally, she takes the time for herself and it happens organically. So when she does ask to play with me, I want to be present.

Mindfulness isn’t about meditation or being a Zen mama. It’s noticing how you are feeling and accepting those thoughts without feeling badly about them. The second half of that statement may be more difficult for some of us. Many parents are guilt-ridden about not giving enough, not knowing enough, not being more X or less Y.

But as a challenge, perhaps we can aim to remove the self-judgment and simply pay more attention to how we feel. There will be times when I cannot be both physically and mentally present with my child. However, I’d like to make a greater effort to tune out the distractions and be more present since everybody always tells me, “Enjoy this time now,” “They grow up so fast,” and “She will be out of the house before you know it.” Sigh.

Do you practice mindful parenting (or at least try to)? What efforts do you make to be more present and less distracted when you’re with the kids? Share your thoughts with us.

Tags : conscious parenting   mindful parenting   

Suzie Mason
This really rings true for me. I've felt like I've been on autopilot for years now and definitely need a change