It’s a familiar morning scene in most families: starting your morning with a smile, making your way to the kitchen to brew your coffee.
But then the kids wake up late, nobody wants to get in the shower. They don’t want to eat their breakfast, nobody cares about the time. And you’re still left running around trying to get all things in order.
You’re exhausted. You’re tired. And then you have to do it again tomorrow, and in the next few days.
Welcome to your morning madness.
Stress is a common aggressor among parents who have to contend with the rushed mornings, baby potty issues, traffic on the way to school and everything that keeps domestic life too much to handle.
Yet, you feel obliged to hold it all together no matter how heavy the burden of understanding how your kids react to situations that also stress them.
You can either let your children’s attitude and behavior press your buttons… or you can look at reality as it is.
Accepting your situation is the first step towards taking control of what’s happening in your life. Between all the chaos that surrounds your domestic duties, you’re most likely to be frustrated and hopeless.
But by making peace with yourself when you become aware of your presence in each situation, you can develop a healthier relationship with your family through mindful parenting.
This parenting strategy takes its inspiration from Buddhist meditation. It requires parents to listen to their children with their full attention, become less judgmental with themselves and their children, practice emotional awareness, regulate their reaction in stressful situations, and develop more compassion.
Mindful parenting is all about being present in the moment and dealing with everything around you with a more positive approach.
You need to be calmer and accepting. You and your children are not perfect, and that’s okay.
On some days, you’d laugh over burnt banana pancakes that your toddlers made. But on some days, your repeated warnings to your kids to stop spatting would only fall on deaf ears.
But you live in the moment and acknowledge what’s going on around you. Instead of flaring up, you take a step back and think about what reaction can best help you deal with the situation.
My daughter Maya just turned a year old a few weeks ago. And having two dads at home practising mindful parenting seems easy at least for now. We’re a work-in-progress, and we’re trying our best to take things slow and be aware of our feelings.
Soon, we need to accept that there’ll be days when we’ll have to deal with her tantrums, force her to eat her greens for dinner, and refuse to give in to her whims like buying a $200 teddy bear.
But instead of getting things out of control, we’re preparing ourselves to accept both positive and negative emotions and balancing them in the hopes of nurturing her in a more mindful process.
As of now, we’re trying to put ourselves in her tiny shoes so we can understand more about her experience. After all, we’ve also been through the same childhood situation many years ago.
So the best response is to always be constructive and understanding.
I’ve read a lot about mindful parenting and experts all agree that it strengthens parents’ relationship with their children since they can prevent anxiety and mood swings from taking full control of their reaction to stressful situations.
Stefan and I have also noticed how Maya has very little aggression when she insists on doing things her way. Her reactions are much calmer, and she’s less anxious when she can’t get what she wants.
And since we’re still not yet on the stage that many parents have to confront when disciplining their five-year-olds, we are not worried about it when the time comes. I’m pretty sure my husband and I will do our best to be more understanding and compassionate when responding to our daughter.
We’re not perfect parents, and we accept it. There are days that we come home tired from work and we can be caught off-centered. But we can always be aware of the present moment and think first about what would be the best response to make instead of overreacting and yelling at her.
Not all things will turn out as expected. And that’s okay. We cannot be too hard on ourselves for falling short at times.
Parents who try to be mindful of their reactions to their children’s behavior would admit that it’s a lot easier said than done. You can tolerate the incessant pleas for another chocolate before bedtime, but once the screaming, whining, kicking and hitting start, then it’s another story.
Distress tantrums are still best dealt with mindful parenting. You need to really listen and observe how to take in the situation without being judgmental to yourself and to your child.
But how do mindful parents practice it?
In Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Hours, the character Clarissa Vaughn (which was played by Meryl Streep in the movie) mentioned that when she woke up one day, she thought it was the beginning of happiness. Only then she realized that it wasn’t the beginning after all, but instead, it was happiness at that moment.
In mindfulness, we need to control our minds from living in the past or anticipating too much for happiness to occur in the future. Be present in the moment. That is your reality. That is your happiness.
When the situation is starting to get the best of you, stop what you’re doing and take repeated deep and slow breaths. Be aware of your breathing and focus intently on it. Feel how the airflow in and out of your lungs and nose. This will help you to calm down and let you assess what’s going on much better.
Surrender your desire for absolute control of the situation. Let go of your false attachment to being right all the time. Your high ground won’t help to understand your child’s behavior. Answer that voice inside your head that’s goading you to stick to your impulse negative reactions.
Sure, there’s no denying that you’re in an unpleasant experience. But you have to bring your awareness to it instead of denying it, be open to it and acknowledge that it’s not the way you want to start or end your day with. This does not mean that you won’t be taking action anymore. Mindful parenting is not about being passive or helpless. When you accept the situation, you can allow yourself to make the right choice on how to respond to it properly.
As I’ve said, we’re still in the process of fully embracing mindful parenting. What we’ve realized is that mindfulness in any situation requires a lot of patience to master this method. But the effects are easily observed. I feel calmer with my renewed sense of perspective with the situation.
Suppose your toddler suddenly throws her fries at you in the restaurant. It’s embarrassing, to say the least. So, what do you do as a mindful parent?
First, be aware of your feelings before you react. Remember, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. You don’t have to act impulsively on it. Pause for a moment, slow down and collect yourself. Regulate your emotions in front of your kid.
Then recognize that your child is still learning to control her feelings and reactions. Try to understand what caused her to hurl those fries at your face.
Then speak to her in a calm reassuring tone of voice. Express your emotions clearly and honestly. Make her feel that you are upset but she has to trust you this time to correct the situation.
If she’s gotten used to kicking and screaming to get her way, hold her and keep her away from the situation. Oftentimes, a change in environment can calm down a child in rage.
It’s important to discuss with her that it is your duty to teach her to accept and follow rules.
And don’t forget to be kind to yourself too. Be sure to be as compassionate to yourself as you would be to your child.
Remember, it’s not about perfect parenting. We will never be perfect parents. But when you’re stuck in a situation with your kid that can test your patience, take a deep breath and be aware of your feelings and impulses.
Don’t let stress and anxiety rule over you. Pay full attention to your kid and be compassionate and emphatic right at the moment. You’ll experience calmness, clarity and peace of mind.