Mindful parenting provides an approach to parenting that can serve to enhance both the parent’s and child’s well-being, and it’s catching on.
Get up, get dressed, feed the kids, make lunches, pack the bags, grab some toast and race out the door – a normal morning of chaos. Sound familiar? Raising children is laden with demands that can impact a parent’s level of health and wellness. Approaching parenting from a mindful perspective is a simple avenue that can help promote a healthier level of well-being for a family.
Health, wellness and mindfulness
Historically, health focus has been based on a disease model in which health is defined only in the absence of, or by eliminating, symptoms, distress, and disorder. We are now seeing an emerging trend and shift from the disease paradigm to a wellness paradigm. Whilst there is still debate over what features make up human ‘wellness’, what is evident is that wellness is a multidimensional state of being. Co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, Dr. Bill Hettler, has developed a six-dimension wellness model, which includes emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual elements of wellness. The Institute goes on to define wellness as an “active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” This implies that a more active, self-responsible role is required to achieve individual well-being.
The goal of an alternative therapy is to enhance at least one wellness dimension to increase an individual’s life satisfaction and sense of well-being. Mindfulness practice can have a positive effect on an individual’s spiritual and emotional well-being, enhancing more than one wellness dimension. This interrelated nature means that increasing spiritual or emotional well-being may also boost other aspects of wellness.
Raising children impacts both ends of the wellness spectrum. Children can provide meaning to our worlds, a sense of purpose, unconditional love, joy, and endless moments of amusement, all of which serve to enhance life satisfaction. On the other hand, life with children can be utter madness at times. The constant demands that parenting brings to an already chaotic life can be stressful and challenging. It can lead to exhaustion and increased stress levels, especially when the children are young, which can diminish a parent’s well-being.
Our parenting default mode often relies on negative and positive encounters from our own childhood to help us navigate the ever-changing terrain of childrearing. This autopilot, non-conscious, way of parenting shuts us off from experiencing and connecting with our child. Mindful parenting serves to bridge that gap by focusing on the mutual interrelatedness of both the parents’ and child’s wellbeing.
Mindful parenting is an extension of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness work. According to Jon, mindfulness is the awareness that comes from paying attention to the present moment without judgement. To contextualise this, mindful parenting is the skill in paying attention to your child in a present, intentional, and non-judgemental way. It’s the attention we directly give, as a parent, to the interactions we have with our children.
Benefits of mindful parenting
Mindful parenting is not about removing feelings of fear, frustration or resentment, but more so about acknowledging these feelings so that one can engage greater wisdom, clarity and solutions to problems. Evidence suggests that mindful parenting improves communication between the parent and child, augments parenting satisfaction, reduces stress, and improves children’s behaviours. It is associated with higher quality experiences and can enhance a parent’s compassion, listening, and engagement with their child. Using mindful parenting techniques with my family has infinitely enhanced the moments we share together. It has provided heightened experiences as we focus on what is happening in the now, and boosted the well-being of the family.
Practising mindful parenting
Inner work is required in order to parent consciously, requiring both awareness and attention. Consider an informal practice to begin with. Start with focusing on your breath or immersing yourself, fully engaged, in conversations or activities with your child.
A more formal practice takes time and effort. At the heart of mindful parenting is the ability to nurture a child’s sovereignty through empathy and acceptance. The following exercises are examples you can try to enhance these foundations:
- Take some time to imagine the world from your child’s viewpoint. This will help you understand what they might be experiencing and how they might be feeling.
- Imagine your child perfect, just as they are. Be mindful of their sovereignty and accept who they are with kindness.
- Regularly practise a loving kindness meditation, in which you hold each child in your heart and inwardly express that they live happy and healthy and be free from harm.
The adage ‘practice makes perfect’ holds true for mindful parenting. It’s not practice in the traditional sense or the technique that’s important, its the full-bodied awareness and wakefulness presence that provides the true value and experience. This awareness leads to a more positive existence and an enriched level of well-being.
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