Following the interest in my Belfast Telegraph parenting article about being an older mum, I thought I would share a bit about my approach to being a mindful parent. I want to stress this does not mean being a perfect parent, I’m a big believer in being ‘a good enough’ parent.
Fortunately, I got the gift of mindfulness, long before I became a mum. Once you’re in the midst of the mayhem of motherhood (or fatherhood for that matter) the idea or even the very chance of time to practice can be elusive. How can you fit in on top of everything else?
So, I offer these wee tips with a great deal of empathy and understanding for just how challenging life with children can be, but also with real belief that mindfulness practice really helps.
1. The first and key thing to do is to practice for yourself. Don’t try to get your child to be mindful. Transmitting and fostering mindfulness is simple (and incredibly hard) – you just must do the work yourself. We need to practice being present, non-reactive (except in dangerous situations which happen a lot with a 2-year-old!) and calm. It’s not easy but the most valuable gift we can give our children is to be a positive role model.
2. My teacher Thich Nhat Hanh famously said “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” So, this is another hugely important tip – be present physically as well as mentally. Take the time, put your phone away. It seems obvious but it’s so easy to get caught up with busyness and important stuff, yet every single person with older kids I know frequently says ‘it goes so fast’. So, while you’re in it…create opportunities for quality time and connection with your child. Engage in activities they enjoy, such as playing, reading, or going for walks together. Show interest in their interests and engage in open and meaningful conversations. It can be fun to learn what’s going on in their wee minds . For example I love to go to a coffee shop with my wee girl she loves being in a new environment and I get to sit down and have a coffee!
3. Children look to their parents for emotional guidance. Model emotional regulation by managing your own emotions mindfully. Take deep breaths, use calming techniques, and express your emotions in a healthy and constructive manner. They do literally do what we do, not what we say.
4. When the Plum Village monastics were in Belfast recently (June 2023), I had a chat with Sister Tam Muoi about the challenges of parenting. She offered “Thay said the best gift you can give children is ‘non-fear’.” So, another really simple and difficult tip is to ‘be not afraid’. Offer the children your joy and happiness show them the good in the world. This will help both of you.
5. Another helpful tip I like and that mindfulness fosters is ‘non-judgement’. Allow your kids to be who they are even if it’s very different from you or against your expectations… Rather than labelling their actions as “good” or “bad,” try to understand the underlying emotions and needs that might be driving their behaviour.
6. Set Clear Boundaries – all the advice tells us this. My daughter has only just turned two, so I haven’t fully got into this one. I am a bit indulgent with her because she is my wee precious but I do believe it is wise to establish clear and consistent boundaries for our children and their behaviour. Communicate these boundaries calmly and respectfully. Help your child understand the reasons behind the boundaries and offer alternatives when redirecting their behaviour.
7. Self-Care: Prioritize your own self-care and well-being as a parent. Take time for yourself to recharge and rejuvenate. Engaging in self-care activities helps you stay balanced and better equipped to meet the demands of parenting. We’ve got to put our own oxygen mask on first. (Check out my upcoming classes which you can use as your self-care time!)
8. Practice patience: all kids learn and grow at their own pace. Cultivate patience and understanding as you guide them through their development. Remember that mistakes are opportunities for learning and growth. They’re also opportunities for us to practice calm acceptance.
9. Embrace Imperfection: Let go of the expectation of being a perfect parent. Embrace your imperfections and recognize that making mistakes is part of the parenting journey. Practice self-compassion and offer the same understanding to your child.
10. Reflect and Learn: Take time to reflect on your parenting practices. Notice what works well and what could be improved. Continuously learn and adapt your approach based on your child’s individual needs and your evolving understanding of mindful parenting.
Remember, mindful parenting is an ongoing practice that requires patience and self-awareness. Embrace the journey and enjoy the deepening connection with your child.
My 8-week self-compassion programme (for everyone with or without kids) starts on Wednesday 19 July. Early bird pricing ends on 30 June. For more details go here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/638839134047