The Gift of Presence
Mindfulness is defined as non-judgmental present moment awareness.
It is a skill that helps us wake up to life and all that is going on both externally around us and internally within us. It is a process that takes time, commitment, and faith. Through this process we learn how to wake up from the trance of unconsciousness that rules over all of our thoughts, actions, and experiences.
Mindfulness is particularly useful in parenting because it is where we are triggered the most. We are so invested in our children and truly concerned with their well-being. Our intentions are in the right place however when we are not conscious of our own feelings, false beliefs, and underlying agendas, our intentions are not good enough. We need to have the willingness to look deep within ourselves and heal all of the wounds that are children are triggering so that we can be in our true essence and connect with our children in their true essence.
Our children don’t want fancy gifts, luxurious vacations, or unlimited access to TV/video games. What they really want is our full, embodied presence.
To say mindful parenting is challenging would be an understatement but anything that is worth our time takes effort. We as parents have the ability to transcend our old patterns and free ourselves from all that holds us back from experiencing unconditional love and connection. It is the ultimate gift to ourselves and our children to take the steps and wake up.
I believe that if we raise children who feel connected, worthy of love, accepted and grounded that we can significantly decrease the amount of fear our world is experiencing, such as school shootings, addiction, terrorism, and bullying to name a few. We as parents have to be committed to healing ourselves and committed to creating the conditions for our children to thrive. We need to allow them to be who they are meant to be in this world and not who we want them to be. Their purpose is not to fill an unmet need of ours. Once we realize that they, like us, have their own journey, we can free them of the burden to fulfill ours.
So how do we start?
We start by embracing exactly where we are on our journey. We acknowledge that this is the time to change and not tomorrow or after you leave your job or after you move but NOW. Start creating space for your internal growth. Find a mediation group, go online and find guided mediations, read books, join groups, seek help. We want to learn how to be present in our body (not just our mind) and feel whatever feelings arise so we can heal. We need to learn how to be with things just as they are without wishing they were different. Overtime we develop the skill of being fully present with all that is, even the uncomfortable feelings, and gradually with kindness we learn to turn toward all feelings and let them move through us.
When we learn how to contain our emotions and be fully present, our children will follow our lead. Actions speak louder than words. Our children learn by example.
I will you give you a mindful parenting example from my personal experience. We recently took a family vacation to Puerto Rico and given that we were all in one room, my daughter and I shared one bed and my husband and son shared the other. My daughter loved cuddling at night and feeling safe with me next to her. Upon returning home, she had a hard time getting back into her routine of going to bed by herself. She wanted me to lie with her or at the very least sit on the floor in her room while she fell asleep!! I did oblige her request for the first few nights.
However, we talked about the fact that it was time for her to go back to settling herself at night and falling asleep on her own. She “promised” she would; however, another night came and it was time for her to go to bed. We did our usual nighttime routine of reading, praying, and telling a story about when she was a baby. I thought this was too good to be true — and I was right. She started crying and refused to lie in bed. I immediately could feel that I was triggered. I tuned into my body and felt the tightness in my chest and the tension in my shoulders and was very aware that I was feeling irritated and anxious knowing that my already long day was just about to get even longer.
I was also very aware of my agenda that I wanted an easy night and to go to bed early after a long day of work. I chose to stay present with my feelings and not push them away. I focused on my breath to anchor me into the present moment. By staying present in the body and connecting to whatever is present, we can skillfully choose our responses and get out of reactivity. Without awareness, I would have most likely yelled and expressed my frustration in a not so helpful way.
However, I remained calm and asked her why she didn’t want to go to sleep. She told me she was afraid. She told me that her stomach hurts when she is nervous. Kids are very tuned into their body and our job is to help them navigate through their feelings. I told her that I understood what it felt like to be nervous and that I still get nervous too. We talked about how it is normal to feel nervous at times and that it is important to find ways to soothe our uncomfortable feelings. We came up with suggestions about giving our belly a hug and taking deep breaths. We said a little prayer and then she got into bed and lied down. She called me back in the room a few times and each time I came in and softly assured her that she was so brave and doing a great job.
My irritation and anxiety were present during this whole experience but they naturally let up because I gave them space and did not push them away. Eventually she fell asleep on her own and when she woke up in the morning, she couldn’t have been prouder.
The power of our presence is limitless. When we are able to navigate our inner landscape, we can then help our children do the same. Mindful parenting is a process and takes time develop. No time is better then right now. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to be exactly who we are here to be.