Do you secretly wonder if you are messing up your kid?

Over the past 12 years I have had the privilege of listening to hundreds of parents. I’ve heard their funniest moments, their deepest joys, their points of anger/frustration and their secret fears. No matter what part of the country I’m in, there is a common thread of parents secretly wondering if they are doing something to mess up their kid.

I’ve seen stressed-out parents trying to be perfect and struggling with never feeling good enough. I have my own 4-year-old and also know these feelings. If you’ve felt this way, what I can tell you is that you are human. Our kids don’t need us to be perfect — they need us to be present.

Mindfulness, or present moment awareness, practices can help us be present with our children, drop the agenda and meet the need in front of us. Mindful parenting skills help us to cultivate our awareness to see clearly the tools we’ve got — keeping the tools and strategies that work, and releasing the ones that do not serve us or our families.

Parents most often are doing the best they can with the tools and strategies they’ve learned. The greatest wisdom and growth in a family often comes from noticing the moments of disconnection and looking for ways to reconnect or repair the relationship.

I’ll share a personal example. We all know that moment of getting the kids out the door for school. My moment was at 8:53 a.m. on a Tuesday. I was miraculously dressed for work, my kid had managed to get his shoes on the correct feet, and we only needed 5 minutes to get to school. Rushing out the door, holding my bag, his backpack, lunchbox, keys, hot tea and a sweet potato in a jar for his science class, I felt like success was near. I threw it all in the car and turned around to see him standing firmly with arms crossed on the front porch.

Stop – Stop what you’re doing and take a step back.
Take a breath – Try taking a few moderate deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you are able to take a longer break from the situation, you also could try setting a timer for 3 to 5 minutes and breathing in a way that feels natural and supportive to your body.
Observe – Notice your experience (thoughts, feelings, body sensation) as information. Then notice your child’s experience (thoughts, feelings, body response) as separate information from your own.
Proceed – Use your information to wisely take a meaningful action step. That might look like self-care or creating a nonreactive moment to be present with your child and help them through a challenging moment that they have difficulty regulating.

I yelled from the car, “Come on! I don’t want to be late!” He yelled, “No!” And there we were. I wish I could tell you I immediately helped my kid. Instead, I yelled again for him to get in the car, and he burst into big gushing tears. When I saw my kid in distress and felt the rush of anger and fear in my body, I realized we were swimming in reactivity rather than connection.

Here’s where mindfulness, or present moment awareness practice, comes in. My reactive brain was exploding with thoughts related to teacher disappointment, missed work, lost money and him turning out to be a juvenile delinquent. My reactive brain also was telling me to get angry and yell more to make him submit. Fortunately, I learned a mindfulness practice at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center for a moment such as this. It’s called STOP:

Practicing STOP allowed me enough space to go to my child and check in. I held his hands and asked how I could help. He asked for a hug and told me he was scared to go to school because of getting his feelings hurt the week before. We talked and hugged and were 10 minutes late to school — but he went to school a whole person, ready for his day and feeling connected to his mama.

Our busyness can disconnect us from the people we love most, and the path to reconnection becomes clear when we learn mindfulness-based skills to access our natural capacity for dropping in and being present.

This journey of connection with our kids changes and grows with every year and developmental stage of life; what remains consistent is the need. Whether our child is a newborn or an emerging adult, they need us to see them clearly and be a healthy mirror for their own development. You are not far from this place. It is your most natural state of being and you are wired to connect in this way.

Learn more about mindful parenting at a free event!

Join Shelly Sowell and our next “Parent Talk” class on Tuesday, April 25, 6 to 7 p.m. She will talk about how to grow presence in parenting and practice self-care too. Learn more and register here.


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