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Mindfulness and Being a ‘Present’ Parent

Parenting is a privilege and a gift that I treasure daily. If there is one thing I have learned as a parent to my three children, it is to be present and fully engaged when I’m with them. My experience as Bialik Himel’s School Counsellor reinforces my belief that there is no such thing as perfect parenting; as parents, we simply do the best we can. Now that we are living through the COVID-19 pandemic and are at home 24/7 with our families, it is even more pertinent to be aware of our “parental presence.”

The essence of mindfulness

Mindfulness is our ability to be aware of what is going on both inside us and around us. It is the continuous awareness of our bodies, emotions and thoughts. By practising mindfulness, I believe one can learn to fully engage with the present, develop gratitude and gain perspective on our lives. It can also have the benefit of helping us to be non-judgmental, practice empathy, compassion and kindness to oneself and others.

Mindful parenting is about attunement or emotional congruence

Being present means doing one thing at a time and being in the moment. While this can be challenging, children feel your presence when you give them undivided attention. Creating the space and dedicated time for each child is fundamental for parental presence. Conscious parenting is not easy and it takes practice. We have to find a balance. Forgetting to be mindful, or being distracted gives you the opportunity to make a different choice — the choice to be present. To be a “good enough parent” is a great goal, instead of setting unrealistic expectations of being the “perfect parent.”

Parental modelling is the best way to teach mindfulness 

By embodying present moment awareness you can help your children learn to cope with tough situations, make decisions independently, and foster resilience. Regulating and managing your own emotions and behaviour is the key to teaching children how to self-regulate effectively. 

The way you respond to your child during this time at home is crucial for how they perceive you — they are watching you and picking up on your emotions. Living mindfully by being a conscious parent is vital to your child’s well-being.

 As Holocaust survivor and renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” 

  • Practising self-care as a parent and prioritizing your own needs is critical, especially at this time. You cannot serve others from an empty bowl and it is important to develop self-care techniques to cultivate personal and professional resilience. In order to practise mindful parenting you need to become familiar with your emotional triggers, when you are more vulnerable and when less emotionally available.
  • Teaching your children to control themselves is far more effective than trying to control your children. 
  • Children often challenge and frustrate us. We cannot control the way they behave. What we can control, however, is how we respond. There is a difference between reacting and responding. Reacting is impulsive, based on emotions and often unhelpful. Responding is based on reflection. It’s thinking. It’s calm and appropriate And it is hard. 
  • When parents yell, it silences their message. You can be more effective when you speak quietly so that your children can hear your words rather than your voice. 
  • Listen to yourself and listen to your child. By developing an inner calmness and a calm presence, you develop a calm disposition. This is a wonderful presence for your child to witness. Setting aside even a few minutes daily for a mindfulness practice will help you build this capacity.
  • The power of being present with your children is immense. Be there.

Setting up a daily mindfulness practice

Mindful parenting focuses your attention on what’s happening and how you are feeling. Even while we are confined to our homes at this time, it is important to set aside a few minutes daily for mindfulness practice. The simple routine of sitting, being quiet and focusing on your breath each morning can help set the tone for the day and is a reminder to nourish yourself. 

Letting go is an important part of being mindful. When you catch yourself clinging to an idea or angry feeling, remind yourself to let it be. Your breath can be a reminder, as every time you take a breath in you have to breathe out and let it go, or there will be no room for the next breath. It’s a natural part of life — to receive and then to release. 

Creating sacred space and family time

Cherished memories and stories of quality time together can become the legacy of your family. When you remain present and attentive to your needs and your children’s needs I believe you maximize your parental presence. Mindfulness is a simple way of being that enhances your well-being and that of your family. Keep a gratitude journal or a joy jar in your house. Fill the jar with messages of gratitude and let your children do it too. When you express gratitude to your spouse and children everyone benefits.Your mindful choices will shape the way your children remember this period of learning online, while at home and from you. Your presence is a present!

Debra Danilewitz B.Soc.Sc. (S.W.), M.Ed., M.A., RSW 

School Counsellor