Ask the Expert: What Does Mindfulness Look Like in Parenting? - Mothering

Last updated: 06-30-2018

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Ask the Expert: What Does Mindfulness Look Like in Parenting? - Mothering

Mindfulness is helping people of all ages and walks of life to reduce and manage stress. Some schools have even replaced detention with mindfulness exercises!

“Mindfulness” is a trendy word right now, but it’s been around ages in many world cultures. It has steadily grown in awareness since its Western introduction in 1979 and is becoming an evermore larger part of everyday life, including parenting.

Mindfulness instructor, Inga Bohnekamp, is here to share her suggestions about incorporating more mindfulness into your family life.

A: Being mindful is described as paying attention in a special way, namely purposefully focusing on the present moment without being judgmental about whatever arises. The latter includes thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and so on.

What does this mean?

To me, the essence of being mindful is a lot about being connected to ourselves, to our heart, to our core being. It means reflecting on our own behavior, and over and over again doing our best to stay present in the here and now — no matter if we enjoy whatever currently unfolds in front of us, or not! It means to be more of an observer and less of a judge. Most of the time, we might not even notice that the judging is happening. And mindfulness is to stay focused on the task we are currently performing or on the people we are currently interacting with.

What does this not look like?

Furiously racing around like a mad person, trying to get done a gazillion things at a time with our thoughts monkeying around from past to present to future and back again, worrying about work tomorrow to what to cook for dinner to that memory of when we were five years old and this mean kid pushed us off the swing just like this mean coworker belittled our work in front of the boss, and how this makes us so mad right now, and then trying to remember what we were actually wanting to get done in this moment in the first place. Was it locating the car keys? Dropping off the mail? Picking up the kids from school? Buying groceries? Checking email? Picking up a latte while we’re at it?

We’ve all been there, more than once for sure! Is this a pleasant state to be in? Does this behavior allow us to effectively and satisfyingly get anything done or to appreciate the company of the person we might currently be interacting with — child, partner, or friend? Not really.

A: The more often we manage to be mindful, the more often we give ourselves the opportunity to really show up in our lives — for ourselves and our loved ones — to truly feel connected to ourselves and those around us.

Ultimately it enables us to live our lives with open eyes and a curious, learning, growing mind and heart as opposed to feeling like some disconnected outside observer of our own life, watching it float by like some movie while remaining in a semi-conscious, foggy state and then maybe waking up one day and sadly realizing that it’s almost over and we have not really, truly participated in it at all.

A: It’s never too late to get started, and you can take baby steps to get there. A couple minutes on a regular basis of practicing deep breathing, allowing yourself to feel into your body and connecting to your heart and belly, while letting your thoughts and distractions float by like soap bubbles or clouds, over and over again bringing attention to your breathing when it wanders off because it probably will. This is a good start.

A: Mindful parenting, to me, means parenting from the heart with open eyes and ever curious mind — seeing our children afresh every time we look at them, trying to let go of those oftentimes very limiting preconceptions that our brains love so much — from a point of introspection, intuition, inner wisdom, and reflection as opposed to blindly following someone else’s rules or advice, which might or might not be a good fit for your current family situation.

If we can manage to, over and over, reconnect to ourselves, we can experience parenthood much more authentically and intensely. We will really show up and be there for our children, as best as we can in any given moment.

If we can parent from this open, connected point of view, that attachment parenting will come to us very naturally and organically, simply because parenting mindfully will enable us to see our children’s as well as our own needs much more clearly and to be able to easier attune and react to them in ways that encourage nurturing, love, and growth.

A: Becoming a mom or dad for the first, second, third, fourth time can be extremely challenging, overwhelming, and for many of us, a stress- and anxiety-inducing experience. All of the sudden, there is this tiny human being growing inside our belly and then lying in our arms, and now it’s our job to keep it alive and happily thriving and do the very best you can every single day for the rest of your life.

The least we want is to mess this up. But how will we manage to do a good job? And how will we actually know if we are doing a good job in the first place?

A regular mindfulness practice can help us stay grounded and develop a sense of trust in ourselves. It will also naturally sensitize us to our child’s as well as our own and our partner’s needs. It will help us understand when something is really not working out or when is a good time to actually reach out for help and support — because we cannot do it alone — and when to put all those parenting books and well-meant advice aside and confidently trust our inner intuition in order to find answers to the daily arising challenges of parenting, be it in those first few months or anytime when reaching a challenging point on our parenting journey.

Parenting is rarely a matter of one-size-fits-all solutions. There is no manual to go by and simply follow the steps A to Z in order to obtain a “favorable, successful, happy outcome.” We are all unique, and so are our children and their needs, as well as the situations we find ourselves in. The best we can do, as parents, is to develop this inner trust, this ability to see and reflect without judging whatever it is that is currently unfolding in front of us and challenging us, and to stay connected to our inner wisdom.

Many of the answers you need are already inside of your somewhere. You just need to uncover them, which might at times be scary and require us to face our own childhood experiences. Being mindful will make it so much easier to tell whose support we need or which advice might be worth exploring further in those extra challenging moments where we might need outside support or guidance.

When practiced in a mindful way, yoga will help us connect with our body, to feel our breath, to move with our breath through poses, find stillness and some form of peace of mind, and access our inner source of trust, wisdom, and intuition if we are willing to be quiet, to look with open eyes, and to really listen without a mind clouded by preconceptions.

A: Formal options to practice mindfulness include yoga, a breath meditation practice, meditating by focusing on an object such the flame of a candle for a certain amount of time, or following a standardized mindfulness program like MSBR. But you definitely do not have to practice yoga or any formal mindfulness program in order to practice mindfulness.

In fact, every moment in your day provides you with the opportunity to practice mindfulness. We can walk and move mindfully, have a mindful conversation, eat mindfully, breathe mindfully, play mindfully, love mindfully, even do the dishes mindfully — by simply focusing on whatever we are doing right in this very moment.

Take washing dishes: Feel the warmth of the water and the shape of the dishes, and smell the soap, without judging, and over and over bringing our attention and awareness when it wanders off back to this very moment and very activity.

Inga Bohnekamp is the founder of the MAPLE MINDS program at the Children’s Hospital in Eastern Ontario and the MindBodyFeel program for the Canadian Cancer Society. A native of Berlin, Germany, she’s the author of several children’s yoga books, including her latest The Colours of My Rainbow, merging her dual careers as a clinical psychologist and yoga teacher to help others benefit from mindfulness.

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