I’ve blogged about mindful parenting before, a long post with lots of practical ways I aim to apply mindfulness as a parent. But this time around, I just want to emphasize one thing: presence.
If you are a parent, maybe you want your child to be different – to change sleeping habits, study harder, be more polite, be more helpful, comply more quickly, be more affectionate, regulate emotions more, demonstrate more gratitude, spend less time on the screen, etc. You can think about this as pushing and pulling on kids, resisting who they are in the moment in your desire for a different reality. This makes it hard to be fully present to who they are and where they are in their growth journey.
Being present means I am not pushing my child to be someone different. Instead, I am joining them in the moment with curiosity about what God is up to in this moment as they (along with me) grow and change. I join with them in goals for a healthy and happy future, but I am present with them right now as the only place that growth and connection can happen – in the present moment.
This usually requires us to slow down and look at our children, tuning in to their experience with compassion and patience. When applied interpersonally, mindfulness asks us to give up our own hurried and controlling agendas with one another – to listen deeply, speak truthfully, and demonstrate compassion for both ourselves and others. So mindful parenting brings this to the parent-child interaction – slowing down, giving up our rigid agendas, listening deeply, speaking truthfully, and showing compassion. And it brings a compassionate presence to our own experience in the process, because parenting can be hard.
I once worked with a family in therapy who was experiencing behavior problems with their son. It quickly became apparent that the behavior issues were related to a significant difference between the boy and his parents – the parents loved soccer and saw full engagement with the sport as the only way to flourish. The boy had no interest in soccer – he loved theater and reading and creative pursuits. Through therapy, the parents learned to notice the pressure they were putting on him unnecessarily to be someone he was not. They learned to slow down, see their son’s interests, and be present to those. As they became more present to who he was, he no longer had the need to push back on their resistance – his behavior settled, and things became peaceful in their household. But it was ongoing work for his parents to remain present to him and his interests rather than mindlessly pushing their own agenda.
Being fully present with our children is a deep and lasting gift, and it reflects the way God is ever-present with us in our own growth journeys.
I am Irene Kraegel. I am licensed as a clinical psychologist and teach mindfulness on a faith-based university campus. I practice mindfulness because it opens me up to God (a.k.a. brings joy). I am writing here in hopes of sharing some of my experiences and thoughts related to the practice of mindfulness in the life of a Christian. Thanks for reading!
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