Mindful parenting is essential to raising children and growing spiritually ourselves. Here are 5 tips on how to parent children in a mindful way.
Mindful Parenting as a Spiritual Practice
Parenting is, in some ways, like creating and maintaining a spiritual practice. Parenting is an everyday activity, and we never know to what degree today is going to call upon our parenting skills. We want to bring our A game to parenting; we really want to do the best that we can all of the time. Life sometimes distracts us from parenting well. In parenting and in my spiritual practice, I want to do it every day, I want to do it well, but sometimes I get distracted.
Step Eleven of the AA program tells us to use prayer and meditation as tools for building a spiritual life. I think these tools work for parenting, too. I started including my children in my prayers and meditations. Especially when I don’t pray for specific outcomes but pray only for God’s will, I can bring together my spiritual practice and my parenting practice. This is also true when I listen to God in my meditation. God has told me things and asked of me many things in my meditation, but never has God told me what my children should do. I have learned what I can do to support my children’s growth, but not what they should do. That is between them and, well, God.
My parenting and my spiritual practice call on my faith. I have faith in my kids and in my God. I also have faith that my kids have a God, no matter what their relationship. My life is punctuated with glimmers of the truth, tickles of insights, jaw dropping revelations, and shudders of realizations. I have cultivated a spiritual life that leaves me wide open to these daily redirections that help me understand my purpose, the meaning of my life, and my role in my communities. Like punctuation marks, they help me read my life.
I try to take this same faithful openness and awareness into my parenting. However, when my children are involved, it is a great deal more difficult to just let go. That seems like I am handing over part of my job. Aren’t I supposed to fret, to set the direction, to lay down the rules, to keep them safe? No, not entirely. When I am fretting, controlling, and afraid, I am not very open or aware of God. These typical parenting behaviors tend to block me from the Light of the Spirit. To stay open and aware of the Spirit, I cultivate a few attitudes toward parenting that move me away from the command and control forms of parenting and toward a more spiritual practice, one that respects that of God in my kids.
Mindful Parenting Is Not About Control
First, I step away from thinking I can control destiny. My children are in God’s hands. I don’t need to compete with God to figure out what is best for them or what they “ought” to be when they grow up. They have their own Higher Power, and it isn’t me.
I also take a hard look at what scares me when I parent. Of course, I am afraid for them – that they will be hurt, that they will have some scarring experience, that they won’t be the best and brightest. The more telling fears are the ones I have for myself. I am afraid that I will lose them, that I’ll look bad if they have some scarring experience, that I will have unhappy and unproductive children to support forever. These selfish fears are much less flattering than the noble fears I have for my children, but these selfish fears are the ones that drive my parenting when I don’t see parenting as part of my spiritual practice. These fears literally block the Light of the Spirit out of my parenting.
However, when I understand that I am not God and when I own my selfish fears, the Light of the Spirit pours into my parenting practice. I make parenting decisions that are reflective, respectful, and loving, not just reflexive and fearful. Marti Woodward and I wrote about this kind of parenting in our book Slow Parenting Teens.
We developed five attitudes for parents to practice as they move away from reflexive, “fast” parenting and toward responsive, “slow”, mindful parenting. Here they are:
5 Tips On Mindful Parenting
- Steward your children. When I let go of having to keep my children safe, I instead look for ways that I can steward them. In my prayers, I ask to see how I can support my children in their growth. What do they need from me at this moment? I have to know my children very well and be curious about them to be a good steward. By the way, stewarding is a great deal more fun than worrying about every possible danger.
- Respect their personalities. When I understand that there is that of God in my children, I quit trying to change them into some ideal I have in mind. I have faith that their personalities are just fine the way they are. Kids go through lots of changes, whether I orchestrate them or not. If my children want to change in a particular way, then I can help them, but it is not my job to remake them in my own image of perfection.
- Catch them doing it right. When I understand that God and life will provide most of the lessons my kids need to learn, I step away from criticizing, correcting, and judging. I freely compliment them on those things that they do well and leave the rest until they ask me to correct or to criticize. I am also able to appreciate the thoughts and deeds of my kids that I never, ever would have thought of myself. I am joyous about their successes. That I steward them and respect them is crucial because I know what is going on in their lives and when to watch for celebratory moments. When I don’t judge, they tell me even more.
- Listen to your children. I resist telling my story in a lecture and just listen to my children without interrupting them, without asking them questions, and with all the attention I can muster. I listen for what they want to learn or accomplish, listen for how they need me to be, and I listen because they are brilliant. I listen for the voice of God speaking to me through them.
- Parent every day. To be able to practice all the preceding attitudes, I must parent every day. I must be available and, more to the point, curious about what’s going on in their lives. If I want to parent well, then I must avoid being distracted away from it.
With prayerfulness, meditation, and the help of the God of my understanding as suggested in Step Eleven, I use these attitudes to make parenting part of in my spiritual practice. Just as Step Eleven helps me see Spirit moving in my life, the attitudes of Slow Parenting Teens help me see Spirit moving in my parenting and in the lives of my children. I improve my conscious contact with God and with that of God in my children. I am open to the surprises, the joys, and the terrors. I receive more of those spiritual experiences that guide and delight me as a parent. And just as my life works better with a regular spiritual practice, so do my family relationships work better when my parenting is part of that practice. I’d like to restate Step Eleven to say: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand God, in ourselves and in our children.