The Mindful Parenting Dozen

The following are 12 exercises that can help us parent in a mindful way:

1. Try to imagine the world from your child’s point of view, purposefully letting go of your own. Do this every day for at least a few moments to remind you of who this child is and what he or she faces in the world.

2. Imagine how you appear and sound from your child’s point of view; imagine having you as a parent today, in this moment. How might this modify how you carry yourself in your body and in space, how you speak, what you say? How do you want to relate to your child in this moment?

3. Practice seeing your children as perfect just the way they are. See if you can stay mindful of their sovereignty  from moment to moment, and work at accepting them as they are when it is hardest for you to do so.

4. Be mindful of your expectations of your children, and consider whether they are truly in your children’s best interests. Also, be aware of how you communicate those expectations and how they affect your children.

5. Practice altruism, putting the needs of your children above your own whenever possible. Then see if there isn’t some common ground where your needs can also be met. You may be surprised at how much overlap is possible, especially if you are patient and strive for balance.

6. When you feel lost, or at a loss, remember to stand still, as in the following poem, “Lost”,  by David Wagoner:

Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Meditate on the whole by bringing your full attention to the situation, to your child, to yourself, to the family. In doing so, you may go beyond thinking, even good thinking  and perceive intuitively, with the whole of your being( your feelings, intuitions, body, mind and soul) what really needs to be done. If that is not clear in any moment, maybe the best thing is not to do anything until it becomes clearer. Sometimes it is good to remain silent.

7. Try embodying silent presence. This will grow out of both formal and informal mindfulness practice over time, if you attend to how you carry yourself and what you project in body, mind and speech. Listen carefully.

8. Learn to live with tension without losing your own balance. In Zen and the Art of Archery, Herrigel describes how he was taught to stand at the point of highest tension effortlessly without shooting the arrow. At the right moment, the arrow mysteriously shoots itself. Do this by practicing moving into any moment, however difficult, without trying to change anything and without having to have a particular outcome occur. Practice seeing whatever comes up  is “workable” if you are willing  to stand in this way in the present,  trusting  your intuition and best instincts. Your child, especially when young needs you to be a center of balance and trustworthiness, a reliable landmark by which he or she can take a bearing within his or her own landscape. Arrow and target need each other. Forcing doesn’t help. They will find each other better through wise attention and patience.

9. Apologize to your child when you have betrayed a trust in even a little way. Apologies are healing. An apology demonstrates that you have thought about a situation and have come to see it more clearly, or perhaps more from your child’s point of view. But we to be mindful of being “sorry” too often. It loses its meaning if we are always seeing it, or make regret into a habit. Then it can become a way for us not to take responsibility for our actions. Be aware of this. Cooking in remorse on occasion is a good meditation. Don’t shut off the stove until the meal is ready.

10. Every child is special, and every child has special needs. Each sees in an entirely unique way. Hold an image of each child in your heart. Drink in their being, wishing them well.

11. There are very important times when we need to practice being clear and strong and unequivocal with our children. Let this come as much as possible out of awareness and generosity and discernment, rather than out of fear, self-righteousness, or the desire to control. Mindful parenting does not mean being overindulgent, neglectful, or weak; nor does it mean being rigid and controlling.

12. The greatest gift you can give your child is your self. This means that part of your work as a parent is to keep growing in self-knowledge and in awareness. We have to be grounded in the present moment to share what is deepest and best in ourselves. This is ongoing work, but it can be furthered by making a time for quiet contemplation in whatever ways that feel comfortable to us. We only have right now. let us use to its best advantage, for our children’s sake and for our own.

– from Everyday Blessings by Jon and Myla Kabat Zinn.

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