Episode 12: Mindful Parenting | A Path to Mindfulness

Mindful Parenting

Hi Friends. Maria and Jackie here with another episode of Becoming Mindful. In this episode we continue our series exploring the different paths people take into mindfulness. This episode, we explore how the journey of parenting leads people to seek our mindfulness practices. 

Show Notes & Links

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Maria: Hello, and welcome to the becoming mindful podcast. Today, we want to talk about another path to mindfulness, specifically parenting, how parenting can lead you to mindfulness. I’m Maria.

Jackie: And I am Jackie and we are becoming mindful.

Maria: All right. I think at the beginning again, little check in, how’s it going? Mindfulness practices?

Jackie: For me, I haven’t been doing great in the last couple weeks. I am getting ready to have a baby. And so I feel like there’s just so much logistical stuff and I’m just pulled in a lot of directions.

Jackie: I’m busy and I haven’t made the time for it. I need to carve it out. And especially now you know, waiting for my baby to be born. I need to kind of get my mind into a better place. So this is a good reminder for me to prioritize it and put it back at the forefront of my mind because I’ve let all the other things kind of take priorities.

Jackie: So I’ve been doing some meditation and breathing exercises here and there, but it’s just so easy to get caught up in the to-do list. So how about you, Maria? How are you doing?

Maria: I think I’m still doing pretty good. There’s days where it’s not in the forefront. I still don’t really have a very good routine around it.

Maria: I have the tendency to constantly do things a little bit differently, or that’s not really true. I mean, I have my routines, but somehow mindfulness practices are still not really something where every day at this time I do this or something. So that’s not there yet, but I have definitely been doing mindfulness and I’ve been experiencing some of this.

Maria: So specifically recently more in like the yard and garden, you know? Tending the garden, just being in the garden. And I’ve also taken to some of grounding techniques where you are just running barefoot, you know? Touching grass essentially. That’s what they say now, right? So, I think it I’m fine.

Jackie: I feel that too, that I do have some routines, but I do tend to just kind of take the day as it comes. I do not know. Maybe, you and I can hold each other a little more accountable and we can check in with each other.

Maria: And it should not be so hard because, for example, I make coffee every day in the morning, and I do not have a problem forgetting that. We maybe must do something around that: to make it more into a mindfulness practice. You can make coffee making into a mindfulness practice. And as I said, what I also did now was letting the dogs out and then just going barefoot into the grass every time. I think I am going to try and keep that up too. I think that helps. Cause the dog needs to go out, that is not going to go away.

Jackie: right. Just your mindfulness partner.

Maria: Right, they can be my mindfulness partner. Okay. Well, let us get into it. You are going to be a parent. I am a parent of a five-year-old and so the path through parenting to mindfulness, I think is valid for both of us. Maybe a little bit more for me because I am a parent already, especially with a kid in the age range where mindfulness becomes even more important.

Maria: So why do people find mindfulness? Talking from my experience and from how I draw the dots between the parenting books and the mindfulness research that we have done, it is just like with stress in our last episode. Usually, you have some sort of turbulence, you have stresses, right?

Maria: And you need some sort of calming environment. And I think also as parents, we want to give our kids an enriching experience and give them some sort of tools to become a well-rounded, happy, and good person. And a lot of things that you find to do that are, are really pointing towards mindfulness techniques, coping with emotions and connection and enriching things that you can do for your kid.

Jackie: Being a parent, there’s so much external influence and demands on us, like judgements and expectations. And then there are schedules in school, and it is hard to be grounded because you are being pulled in so many directions. So, I think mindfulness has to be really intentional for a lot of people, at least. I do not think it is an easy thing in your life as a parent to just be mindful and present in the moment all the time, because there’s so many things begging for your attention,

Maria: So, essentially it leads you to mindfulness because you need this intentional approach because it is not there automatically, right. Because there are so many things that drag you into many different directions. Just even the changes in the beginning. So many things change all the time as a parent.

Maria: So there’s a lot of volatility in life as a parent. Then there are also stressors your child is provoking in you, right? Especially if there is some sort of trauma from your own childhood that is unresolved, and I think a lot of people, at least at my age, I think have this.

Maria: There are quite a few things where they thought, “okay, if I am a parent, I’m not going to do anything like that.” Which obviously had an effect on how we deal with things.

Jackie: I know, looking ahead, as I’m not quite a parent yet, I’ve been studying mindfulness practices well, before I started my family. So going into it, I know that I want to soak it up. I want to be as present as possible, and I know that that is going to be really challenging. I have definitely utilized mindfulness practices throughout my pregnancy and to prepare for parenthood and what that’s going to be like.

Jackie: Because like you said, everything throughout pregnancy has changed so much. You go through all these phases and then having a kid, you can’t just get into one routine and lock in and get into a groove. No, because kids grow and they’re changing all the time and they’re learning how to be a person.

Maria: Oh, like when you can’t lay them down anymore and have your quiet. Suddenly they’re crawling around and they’re walking around, and you have to be on them. Routines change. Suddenly they don’t do naps anymore and now your complete day rhythm – when you do things at what time you get up, at what time they go to bed – all these kinds of things change all the time. And within a very short period or relatively short period.

Jackie: So it’s the whole spectrum of growing up and becoming a person.

Maria: Right. And obviously as a parent, you not only want to make sure that your kid gets what it needs and that you can be the best parent for your child, but also that you have a good relationship and, and also take care of yourself.

Maria: This is obviously very stressful for the parent and there’s, as you said, so many outside influences too, a lot of expectations and shame. But we also have the timing, as we said, things change so much that without the mindfulness practice, time runs faster too, right? Suddenly they’re five or suddenly they’re 10 or whatever. And how do you not lose out on these moments? You don’t have only stressful moments that you’re trying to manage, but you also have all the good moments that you want to cherish and make last as long as possible and really experience them.

Jackie: For sure. And I think about my childhood too. Some of my best memories are those with the most present experiences that we had, things like going camping in the north woods or something without other distractions. Moments where we’re just all present together are the best memories, even though they might not be super exciting or anything specific. Just being able to be present as a family is so wonderful.

Jackie: I think another reason why parenting can bring people to mindfulness is teaching it. I’d love to teach my kid mindfulness as well and teach them how to be mindful. As a yoga teacher and meditation instructor, people have had asked me to teach students or children yoga and meditation, because it has such great effects for kids as well. It is something you can pass on as well.

Maria: Absolutely. Also, there may be certain shortcomings in the parenting style of your parents. You have this generational trauma, or even just certain things that were expected of children in the past. And these these things come up when you parent. If you’re looking just from a trauma side, there’s a lot triggers that happen as a stress response.

Maria: That you do not necessarily know about because they don’t come up when you are not a parent. But they do come up when you have a child because your child does something or acts in a way that you maybe acted as a child as well. Of course. And maybe the reaction of your own parent was some sort of stressor or was not safe or you weren’t heard, or your needs weren’t met. Right? Then this will definitely bubble up when you are a parent, if you haven’t learned the emotional regulation, which most of us have not, because that was just not part of the parenting style. And I think that’s a big one. This is was what led me to mindfulness. Not only do I want to be able to regulate my own emotions, but also help my child get this emotional regulation.

Maria: For me personally, is even more important because my child was a preemie and I think she’s slightly behind in the emotional regulation or emotional development than her peers in her school. So, this makes it even more important learn these practices or techniques to allow her to become a more well-rounded person. Because I don’t want her to have to deal with this when she’s an adult, right?

Jackie: That’s such a good point about trying to heal each generation because we hope that we can learn from the way we were raised and then hopefully we can l raise our kids a little bit differently, according to whatever we’ve learned from, from our parents.

Jackie: And then hopefully our kids learn from that, and it just keeps improving. I think that mindfulness is required in order for there to be any space for that to happen. Giving our kids permission to observe the way that we’re treating them and the way that they’re living in the world and finding their own way, because we are really likely to parent in the way that we saw modeled, whether it’s how our parents raised us or maybe it’s pop culture or something.

Maria: You are right. Obviously, you’re going to repeat that because that’s how you learn.

Jackie: So we really have to be mindful so that we can even have any progress because if we just turn on autopilot, we do the same things the last generation did, or the way TV did it, you know?

Jackie: Also taking into account the way the world has changed or the things we’ve learned or the progress we’ve had. I don’t know, I look at pop culture too, and mindful parenting or gentle parenting, the only time you really see it in pop culture is when it’s being mocked.

Maria: It is. But what I find interesting is that it does seem that the younger generations are much more aware of this. Not so much in pop culture and TV, but if you look at apps like TikTok, you see that quite a bit that people are really going into this, this realm of finding out about mindful, gentle, or intuitive parenting.

Maria: The biggest piece of what I have seen that relates to mindfulness is the slowing down and the responding instead of reacting, which really is what we’ve discussed in other episodes as well, like with the stress for example. That really the core is that you pause before you respond. There’s a stressor, there’s something going on and you pause, and you listen to your child and figure out what what’s going on and objectively evaluate if it’s not just something that makes you uncomfortable because you weren’t allowed to scream around in the hallway or something as a child or if it’s really something that’s important to correct. And then also the way of how you correct it. Gentle parenting has this respectful approach. Just like we see with all our mindfulness research, where you have the kindness.

Maria: Responding to someone with kindness and with empathy. That you have empathy with the child and that you can put yourself in the shoes of the child of what are their reasons and feelings are. Like when the ice cream fell down and they’re going to scream bloody murder. As a grown up you probably think “okay, well it’s not that bad. We can get another one.” But if you can put yourself in the shoes of the child, then that moment really feels like the end of the world because they also just have a lack of reference. They likely never had anything worse happen.

Maria: So if they stub their toes, it’s really bad, because they didn’t have my experience of breaking my leg. So it really is important to listen and having that in mind, having that empathy and that kindness towards your children, because they are also people. There’s a person there. I think is a problem with previous certain generations. That a child was not really looked at as an equal person with the same amount of respect due to them. But as lesser than.

Jackie: Absolutely.

Maria: Sure, a child doesn’t have much experiences, which is why you are their caretaker and you have to make sure they’re safe and can’t let do certain things, but I think that the approach is that you can do this in a kind way. You can set these boundaries in a kind way, and you don’t have to react to their feelings or take on their feelings. Which I think is also one of the big things gentle or mindful or respectful parenting looks at.

Jackie: That’s really bringing up a lot of what I’ve read in Brene Brown’s work. When you respond in a way that, that you’re talking about, it gives a kid an opportunity as well, to understand how they’re feeling, instead of just feeling like it’s wrong or shameful. If they’re just punished yelling in the supermarket or if they get really upset that their ice cream fell, and you yell at them and say, that’s not an okay reaction. It’s just ice cream. Then they just know that that emotion is wrong and don’t have an opportunity to even understand how they feel or why they feel that way or put it in perspective or anything.

Jackie: Like you said, respecting the kid as an, as a human being and allowing them to figure that out for themselves and without putting that shame on them right away.

Maria: And if you have to remove them from the situation, because they are being destructive or loud, you can do that, but you don’t have to treat them badly for it. It’s important to not be punished for emotions, let’s say it this way. This was a big takeaway for me from a lot of the parenting books that are around this topic and relate to mindfulness. It’s all about responding, reacting, listening, observing the child and understanding their needs.

Maria: But then I think there’s also the kind of the environment you provide and the experiences you provide, which means that you can include them in a lot of the mindfulness practices as well. So they can learn these techniques. Especially being out in nature and allowing them to do things like caregiving tasks. Being able to try and dress yourself and giving them the freedom and the time to explore things. This goes into the whole slowing down direction.

Maria: I also think kids have some innate mindfulness in them. So when they explore and they can really be in the moment. That also has an impact on how you’re structuring your days and how you do everything slower and less things. That’s probably better for your child to be able to be in the moment and not have to take on this out of the moment, planning, rushing, being already at the next thing with your thoughts type of mentality that we’re fighting against now in our adult life. Kids are really innately in the movement all the time.

Jackie: They’re little gurus.

Maria: They all mindfulness gurus. They’re always in the now. Right. So, to be able to provide a safe environment that’s challenging and nurturing and that they can take their time and do their thing and experience things, that can be a mindfulness practice as well. Like let them make their own bread or whatever. It probably takes forever and is a super mess, but that can also be a very good mindfulness practice of letting go of that everything has to be neat, everything must be in a certain structure, a certain rhythm or we have to follow these eight steps. And instead, just let them explore. And maybe that can also be something that you can join in in and play in the mud.

Jackie: It’s good to point out the possible messiness of it. I think, especially when I’ve seen mindful parenting mocked on TV it’s all about just smiling at the kid and everything’s okay. And everything is spiritual bypassing almost. But that’s not what it is.

Jackie: Really what we’re talking about here is really getting into the weeds of letting the kids get messy. And whether that’s messy, literally, or messy with emotions. And it’s being there for it and being present for it.

Maria: It also does also involve them exploring relationships with their peers for example. I know that’s definitely mocked, like “oh, I see you are pushing Jimmy. Oh no, you are pushing Jimmy into the pool. Oh, now you are drowning Jimmy and I’m not interfering.”

Jackie: That’s not how this really works.

Maria: One of biggest gentle or mindful parenting topics is to let your child interact with other children by themselves, to figure it out themselves, where you don’t have to go and pull them apart right away or make them apologize.

Jackie: Right. Let them make mistakes, but it’s still our job as parents to keep them and everyone else safe.

Maria: Exactly. So, the mock is a little bit over the top.

Maria: In both ways. Right? Another topic where I think mindfulness comes into play in parenting is to be able to let go of this shame in comparing to other parents. I think that’s one of the big ones. This fear of being seen as a bad parent if you don’t do it a certain way or if your kid is misbehaving. Then you have this urge to intervene because of your own childhood and because of social norms. You get this kind of fight, flight or freeze response. It’s a stress response. A survival response because you need to make it stop somehow, quickly. You need to do something. And that’s where mindfulness comes in. Where you can pause and say “okay, do I need to do something? Or is this just my fear of not being loved or liked or people thinking badly of me” And I think that’s a very hard one to overcome.

Jackie: And that must come up a lot in parenting, whether that’s because you’re in a social situation or because you didn’t sleep well the night before, or maybe your kid is sick or maybe they say something really provoking and that fight or flight stress response gets triggered. Then it’s hard to say let’s just be mindful. Let’s breathe.

Maria: It’s tough. And kids sometimes don’t really understand things the same way. You put your own values and your own thought into it but you just have to step back. Like the other day when my kid said: “I can get my own dog when the dogs die.”

Maria: And I’m like “woah”. But I know, it doesn’t mean anything. Of course as an adult you just immediately think “oh my God”.

Jackie: Right, the stress response is triggered. We just go into patterns

 in old habits and it’s hard to back out of it and see it from the 10,000 foot view and give it space.

Maria: I think there is a lot in parenting that links to mindfulness. For sure. Do we want to talk about the benefits?  We’ve talked about some of the benefits already, or if we want to talk about some of the books, maybe?

Jackie: maybe resources. We talked about the kid actually being a resource. Being present and a teacher when they trigger you and things like that. That’s a great resource. Also there’s so many great books out there for parents, but also for children as well. I’ve gotten a lot of books for my upcoming baby and a lot of them are things like yoga books and breathing exercises because I’m a yoga teacher, but also a lot of them have to do with emotional intelligence and teaching kids about their emotions and how they feel and what they mean.

Jackie: And I love it. They’re such a great resource for me as well. So when I’m reading them to my kid, I can learn how to better connect with them and their emotions and what they’re going through. So even though they’re kids’ books, they’re totally for me too.

Maria: No, definitely.

Maria: I know you gave me those meditation / Mindfulness cards for kids. But there’s, there’s a lot out there. Definitely anything about breathing and naming and understanding feelings, like the facial expressions matched to the feelings, is great.

Maria: About how do you feel in your body? Teaching that to the child. For each emotion, what kind of healthy coping mechanisms or techniques are there? There’s a lot out there. I think from a, from a parenting perspective there is quite a few books on this whole mindful or gentle parenting.

Maria: I wrote some, some down here that, that I’ve read myself. One of the authors, I know I mentioned them before in previous episodes, is Janet Lansbury. Some well known books from her are “no bad kids” and “elevating childcare”

Maria: Then there is the “whole brain child” by Dan Siegel. We talked about this before, I think.

Jackie: My partner and I are reading that one. It’s great.

Maria: It combines the whole brain development, emotional and how to respond to some of the challenges in parenting. Another good one is Alfie Kohn’s “unconditional parenting”.

Maria:  Janet Lansbury actually bases her all her resources, her teaching off of Martha Gerber, who back in the seventies invented develop the RIE method. Which stands for resources for infant educarers (educators and caregivers). This method talks about having a safe and challenging environment for your child and giving your child the time and the freedom to explore and involving them in caregiving tasks to foster their independence as well as observing the child to understand needs and giving the child a lot of consistency.

Maria: It also talks about setting limits and expectations. Very, very interesting technique. There are some pros and cons to it. Depending on how far you want to take some of these recommendations. I think if you take it with some common sense, you find really good tips.

Maria: And then the last thing I wanted to mention is the Montessori method. My child is in a Montessori school. I’ve looked into Montessori quite a bit because I really like this method. I feel that it’s also very mindful of the child’s needs. The framework is that it’s about the observation actions and the interests of the child and providing an environment that fosters those interests and that the child can learn most of it by themselves with some instruction.

Maria: They have materials that the child can use and explore, and then depending on the age of the child, the material changes based on the specific developmental stage they are in. It lets them pretty much choose what they want to learn which also fosters learning.

Maria: There’s a lot of intrinsic rewards with that, where the child is able to do the lessons and gets correction by doing. The lessons are designed in a way where you don’t really have to do tests. It’s more, once the child knows the material and can do a lesson consistently correct, they can move on to other things. So it is more child led. I think that fosters mindfulness by being mindful  of what is currently the need or the focus of the child in development and learning. Now there are things that need to be fostered. Things like emotional intelligence, because the Montessori method is more of the academic side of it, because if a child learns independently, they’re not going to learn social skills because for social skills, you need other people.

Maria: It also involves much of learning about and in nature. How things work in the world.

Jackie: I’m really interested in that method of learning. It seems like you provide the resources and the space for them to, to develop.

Maria: A lot of it is also about the kid being able to focus not having too many things in the environment that you provide. Obviously that’s why the teachers or the parent needs to observe what the child is interested in. So they can provide the environment or change the environment in a way where appropriate materials are safely available, but it’s not overwhelming.

Maria: The calm and focused way of working with the materials is also related to mindfulness in my opinion. There are no big sounds and crazy lights. Am I doing this enough at home yet? No. I mean, we’ve already accumulated a lot of toys, which is kind of stressful for me too. Clutter is definitely stressful.

Maria: I don’t know how easily you can avoid that.

Jackie: It just happens.

Maria: Right?

Jackie: Those are, those are some great resources. I know for me, expecting a child, the book I’ve really loved, that I’ve I keep turning to, is called “mindful birthing” by Nancy Bardacke. And it’s about mindfulness practices throughout pregnancy and then for labor and delivery. But it also talks about how to establish a mindfulness practice and then how to translate that into parenting. It really is a great resource as well, whether you’re brand new to mindfulness or you’ve been practicing it for a while. So I am applying it to the whole parenting spectrum in the beginning. I’ll link that in the show notes as well.

Maria: And I think one of the biggest resource is nature. Getting out in nature with your child, just being outside, going on a hike, letting them play in the yard. If you have a yard, if you can garden, but even if you, live in a city just going somewhere where there’s some sort of nature where they can just be in nature.

Jackie: For sure. Kids in nature are so fascinated by it. Just looking for bugs, looking in the dirt, just walking around barefoot. They don’t need much. It’s just so grounding. I feel like I could learn so much from them if I just take the time and the patience that they do to just observe everything that’s going on. They find the littlest details of the smallest bugs.

Maria: Little ants running around.

Jackie: Right. They, they see so much. There’s just so much going on that you can appreciate.

Jackie: Just to round out this conversation: Does it work? Does mindfulness in parenting have a positive effect? I don’t have any personal data on that, but I did find a lot of studies that talked about how it can reduce parenting stress and improve youth psychological functioning. It can strengthen the parent child relationship. It can lead to more positive emotional intelligence in both the parent and the child. There are endless studies out there. Actually. I was surprised at how much research has been done. And how positive results were that have been found for kids who are raised by mindful parents.

Maria: Absolutely. I’ve read so many studies as well about it. Even in the parenting books that I mentioned, they referenced studies and even personal results from people that have done programs likethe R I E method and so on. That it results in improved emotional regulation, less impulsiveness and helps breaking of trauma cycles. Supports us letting go of shame and being less critical of yourself and your child. I definitely notice personally, whenever I do apply techniques, especially the pausing and listening techniques, that I react better. You don’t get as angry or you don’t yell at your kids. You at a point where you’ve been able to think about it for a second and then you can constructively comfort your child and talk about what the issue was.

Maria: Also to for the child. I definitely noticed when it’s a day where it’s slower and calmer. The child is not as wound up. We don’t have as many tantrums and as many emotional outbursts.  Sometimes when she has some sort issue where she gets angry or impulsive over something not working and if I am able to stay calm through that and just let her have that emotion and not then it calms down a lot quicker. Just letting that happen and letting it be. They are children, so sometimes you need to lower your expectations.

I definitely noticed that being out in nature and, and just doing more mindful things has a profound effect on the mood and the emotional regulation of my child.

Maria: I think one other thing to consider is screen time. When you have something crazy going on on the TV, then that has a negative effect. However, I’m not discounting screen time always. I’m not one of those people that says, no screen time, because I don’t think that’s necessarily feasible at times. We don’t really have the village to raise our children anymore. Even with two parents, it’s a lot. So for your own mental health, it sometimes is needed. Maybe another option is finding like-minded people that want to be mindful in a group and parent together. As we discussed with the role of community with mindfulness, I think the same goes for parenting.

Jackie: The studio used to work at as a yoga teacher would do parent and kid yoga classes. That’s a great place to meet people like that appreciate the same kinds of mindfulness techniques with your kid. If you can find other people who share those values, like we said, you’re going to probably mimic the kinds of behaviors that you see around you. So surrounding yourself with the same kind of people is probably going to make it a little bit easier.

Maria: I would say the outcome when you apply mindfulness techniques to parenting is that you will have a calmer and more peaceful time and you will also have a closer relationship with your child.

Jackie: Sounds perfect. Easy peasy. 😊

Maria: Yes, of course. Let’s get back to the shadow work, right?

Okay. I think we rounded this out pretty well.

Jackie: We can link the resources that we talked about in the show notes below. If you want more information, you can check that out or follow us on social media and let us know if you’re a mindful parent. If you have any questions or anything you want to chat about, just start a conversation.

Jackie: We’d love to hear from you.

Maria: Yes. Any feedback is welcome. We likely continue this series with the next topic of another path that leads to mindfulness.

Jackie: Find us on social media at @becomingmindfulpodcast. Or check out our website becomingmindfulpodcast.com. Otherwise, until next time.

Be well.

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