Congratulations, you survived another summer!
As a parent of two youngsters, I’m well aware of the effort it takes to manage the highs and lows of summer. From orchestrating vacation to managing scuffles over screen time to all the unseen things in between, there’s no doubt you did a lot for your family this summer.
Both in my own life, and in my work with parents, I’ve found it’s important to take stock of the zillions of ways you support and enrich your children’s lives each day. Even with mundane or expected tasks, such as taking the kids to school or making a bottle, it’s vital to slow down and appreciate the effort, energy, and time you tirelessly devote to raising children.
It may sound silly or trite, but in a fast-paced, competitive culture, it’s entirely too easy to ignore, downplay, or focus your attention on what you haven’t done – or didn’t do. For example, you may find yourself replaying scenes from when you were too grumpy, impatient, or distracted instead of appreciating times you were generous, caring, or engaged.
Have you noticed how easily you can resort to holding yourself hostage to your imperfections as a parent? It’s like there’s an unwritten rule that says you should value what went wrong and de-value what went well in order to parent successfully.
But, what if noticing and appreciating the ways you’re inherently awesome was just as valuable to your well-being, learning and growth?
In light of this, I’d like to invite you to join me for a challenge this back to school season. Make a commitment to notice – and soak in – what’s going right as you parent and live your life. Note: no task or event is unworthy of recognition.
Orient Your Attention to What’s Right with Mindful Parenting
Since mindfulness is a tool that builds awareness, it can support you to keep an eye out for what’s working while helping you notice when your attention is unhealthily preoccupied with what’s wrong.
Below I’ve outlined 4 ways mindfulness can support you with this challenge as you transition to a new school year.
Form the Intention to Stop Feeding the Negativity Bias
A key aspect of mindfulness is intention setting. Dr. Shauna Shapiro said intentions are like a compass in that they point you in the direction of your values and aspirations.
If you want to spend less of your precious time and energy ruminating on problems, it’s important to form an intention to stop going down this rabbit hole. It may sound easy, but overcoming this negativity bias, the mind’s natural tendency to focus on what’s wrong, takes practice and diligence.
Here’s an example of how you can keep the negativity bias at bay. If you catch yourself worrying at a time you can’t do anything productive, stop and re-focus your attention and energy on something more pleasant or interesting.
Learn how mindful parenting can help you be more present with your child in eM Life’s 7 Days of Mindful Parenting
For instance, if you’re driving down the road and you start to spiral into negative thinking about how your children won’t cooperate before school in the morning, you can deliberately choose to stop this train of thought.
Bring yourself back to where you are, and gently scan your environment for a picture or object in nature that catches your attention. Study it until you start to notice the shape, color, and texture in some detail. Another option is to crank up the tunes or move your body in a helpful way to keep your mind from spiraling.
Address Challenges in a Relaxed, Stable State
Spinning your wheels about problems, whether you do this consciously or unconsciously, isn’t the best use of your time or energy when your system is already overwhelmed or taxed.
Instead, and especially since most problems aren’t a true emergency, it’s helpful to prioritize feeling better. You can always revisit an important problem once you’ve returned to a more grounded, settled state.
For example, instead of repeatedly thinking about how your child, who’s sensitive to change, will do poorly at a new school, sit down when you’re in a good frame of mind and plot out 2-3 specific ways you can support him. Maybe you could read a children’s book about starting school or build in extra time with him before bed for the first few weeks of school.
Bring Curiosity and Energy to What’s Right
A foundational quality of mindfulness is curiosity and interest. In the same way you regularly attend to your to-do list, practice bringing consistent energy and presence to pleasant experiences.
Notice when you’re generous with your time and energy or share a sweet moment with your child, and let it register fully in your awareness. You can also experiment with bringing “what’s right” attention to your children.
Tune in to the next Mindful Daily and learn how mindfulness can help you better connect to the power of your words!
Deliberately let go of expectations and should’s for a few moments – as in, “she should get ready for school this way.” Then allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised by the creative, capable being she truly is. Oh, and before you move on to your next task, tell her what you appreciate about what you observed!
Adopt an Attitude of Compassion
Mindfulness can help you remember to be patient and kind to yourself as you explore the practice of noticing what’s right. Remembering our collective conditioning, the continual, but subtle prompts we’ve received to focus on what’s wrong, means that even with the best of intentions, you’ll inevitably forget!
When you’ve overindulged in thinking about the times you messed up, remember, you’re human, and it takes time to build new pathways in your brain! Prioritize being compassionate and understanding of yourself in these moments, so it’s easier to pick up where you left off.
As with any other skill you’ve learned, such as learning a new language or musical instrument, it takes practice and repetition. And, since it’s been ingrained in you to believe that a focus on problems is the only – or best – way to bring about change in your family, it’s going to take a willingness to keep practicing even when it seems hard, silly or unimportant.
Let us know how it goes; knowing you’re doing this work alongside other parents is vital to your sanity and success!
Written by Breon Michel