To me, mindfulness is tuning in and being aware of my present thoughts, feelings, and emotions (or lack of) without any judgment. It is being in the “here and now.” I’ve been practicing meditation for many years now, so going inward has become a way of life for me. With this in mind, I enthusiastically embarked upon motherhood feeling that I had it all together. How naïve was I, because as Dr. Shefali Tsabary puts it, “letting go of control over our children is probably the hardest spiritual task we face as parents.” As part of this ongoing journey, here are five tenets of mindful parenting I’ve picked up along the way, as something I not only relate to but also try to live by.
Yes, you can plan all you want – your child’s clothes, the nursery décor, whether you decide to breast- or bottle-feed, when to introduce solids, and your parenting style, too – but you can’t plan your child’s temperament. Each child is different; you’ll have to tailor your parenting style to meet your child’s needs and temperament. I decided to breastfeed for six months and then move to bottle-feeding, but my baby decided to enter my life as a milk snob, refusing all the bottles in the world. I decided to introduce solids at six months, but baby decided he was ready to taste his first fruit at 4.5 months. I got beautifully-crafted wooden toys, but baby was interested in all the overly colorful, loud, and ugly plastic ones! The point I’m trying to make is: tune into your child’s needs moment-to-moment instead of dumping your expectations on them.
“When you parent, it’s crucial you realize you aren’t raising a ‘mini me,’ but a spirit throbbing with its own signature. For this reason, it’s important to separate who you are from who each of your children is. Children aren’t ours to possess or own in any way. When we know this in the depths of our soul, we tailor our raising of them to their needs, rather than molding them to fit our needs.”
—The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali Tsabary
As with any mindfulness practice, give your full attention to that moment instead of thinking of the future or the past. I know, and experience daily, how difficult this can be with today’s fast-paced life. But I always try to be fully present with my child when I’m with him. I’ve found the best way is to encourage independent play and not intervene unnecessarily; it is truly magical to observe them at play and see into their world!
“Play is children’s main way of communicating. To stop a child from playing is like stopping an adult from talking and thinking. To control every minute of their play is like controlling every word someone says.”
—Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen
This was a tough one for me, and something I still struggle with if I do not work on myself. Having a baby makes every person around you believe that they not only have a say in raising that child, but that their way is the best way! As if the initial hormonal overwhelm of having a baby plus keeping the baby alive are not enough, people shower you with their unsolicited advice and comments. This does not seem to stop after the first few weeks of giving birth, but goes on in cycles – how to sleep train, how to potty train, how to avoid toddler tantrums, how to discipline, the list is endless!
Again, try to swim your way out of this ocean of how-tos, step back, observe your child and yourself, and decide what’s best for both of you. It is important to build your own “village” – your network of support and inspiration – but a village that feels safe for both of you. Remember, your true tribe also knows when to shut up and just listen.
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
We often react to tantrums instead of responding to them. Consequences and lessons are ineffective when a child’s emotions are running high. And why just children, it is the same with adults, too. Instead of punishments, using a calm attitude to hold the child through their emotions allows your calmness to rub off, giving way to receptiveness and understanding.
“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.”
Parenting is not hierarchical; in fact, over this last year or so, I’ve learnt so much more from my child than I ever anticipated. Learn together, laugh together, cry together, and grow together! Just like you, your children deserve to feel that they are loved and adored, just because they exist, not when they are disciplined, not when they get straight As, or not when they are successful individuals.
Even as we attempt to do our best at parenting, we cannot fully know where their lives will take them; we can only love our children, accept them and honor the mystery of their being. Do your best, be authentic, and express gratitude for this opportunity to evolve spiritually.
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself… They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”