Mindful Parenting for Busy Parents – Parade

Mindfulness is having its moment. It’s heralded—all over the Internet, in magazines and bookstores—as a panacea for this modern madness we call life. Which is why Carla Naumburg, PhD, a social worker by training and a parent by fire, chose not to include the word “mindful” in the title of her new book, Parenting in the Present Moment. And that choice belies the genius of her easy to understand, easy to relate to, and easy to implement guide to being more present as a parent.

This is a not a book filled with meditation how-tos (although there are a few tips to get you started), or demands that you start a gratitude journal or embark on some other unrealistic time suck.

No, this is a book written by a parent in the trenches who gets how hard it is to parent (and how hard it is to add anything to the to-do list) and offers some gentle and immediately impactful suggestions on how you can make the experience easier and more enjoyable for you and your kids.

I am not exaggerating when I report that reading it has changed my life. I have slowed down. I breathe through tense moments. I yell less. I check my phone less often (no, she didn’t tell me to do that, it’s just a natural byproduct of paying more attention to the moment in front of me), and I have made some big decisions about how I want to spend my time in order to connect with and enjoy my kids more.

My four life-changing takeaways from the book:

Parenting is a practice

“Rather than seeing child-rearing as something we either get right or wrong, or as a skill we can acquire if we just read enough or work hard enough, I believe that parenting is a practice,” writes Naumburg. “When we actually practice something (instead of just hanging out on the sidelines), we get hurt. We get it wrong. We fail our children, and we doubt ourselves.”

So failure, rather than being a misstep on the path to being a good parent, is baked into the process of parenting. It is an inevitable part of walking the path. Phew.

Acceptance will bring freedom

“Mindful parenting is about making a choice, over and over again, to pay attention to whatever is happening in the present moment without judging it or wishing it was different,” writes Naumburg. Stop. Read that again. Because that is deeply liberating wisdom.

Like many parents I have a lot of anxiety about my kids. Does my 2-year-old have separation anxiety, because I am breastfeeding her too long? Does my older daughter’s awareness of her adorable seven-year-old paunch mean she is likely to develop an eating disorder? Have I empowered her so much she is now demanding? Some days my mind churns out one long stream of anxious, unproductive thoughts in an effort to control situations over which it has none.

Naumburg’s book instantly normalizes the worries of parenting—small and large—as an inevitable part of life to be experienced. I don’t have to obsess over what I could have done differently or what I am doing wrong. I can just accept that this is what my daughters are going through and be with them through it. That small (and not always easy) step of acceptance has incredible power to make me feel less afraid of the “what ifs” and better able to engage with what is.

We already have the answers we seek.

Once again, an ironic point to make in a column about parenting, but we all have the information we need in front of us every day. It is not in some book or on a blog. It’s in the conversations we have at breakfast, on the car ride home or lying in the dark before bedtime.

Naumburg admits that, just like us, she gets “caught up in a search for expert advice that has little to do with the details of my family, and I get frustrated and disappointed in myself when the current wave of parenting advice fails to fix the parenting problem du jour (which, more often than not, is something to be experienced rather than fixed.)” Instead, what Naumburg has discovered, and what her book has taught me, is that “the best source for useful information is in the present moment, as it exists right in front of me.”

You have to take care of yourself

Parenting magazines trumpet small ways to pamper yourself. Your best friend tells you to nap while the baby sleeps. A neighbor invites you to join her at yoga class. It all sounds good, you know you should do it, but you don’t. You continue to put yourself at the bottom of the priority pile believing there is no other way to meet your family’s needs.

Naumburg’s advice is that there is no way you can truly meet your family’s needs if you do not take care of yours. “It is just not possible for us to stay fully engaged in the hard work of parenting if we aren’t also tending to our own needs every single day.” That means every day you have permission to do something that feels good to you. And you have permission to neglect something or someone else to do it. Because, in the end, it will benefit them as much as you.

So, what have I been doing differently since reading this book?

  • Breathing. In moments of stress, it changes my internal response rapidly. It doesn’t make me suddenly happy or less annoyed, but it slows me down and allows me to react with much more calm.
  • Taking a break when I am too wound up to respond civilly to the situation before me.
  • Focusing on whatever I am doing. Working when it’s time to work and playing when it’s parenting time.
  • Not letting my smart phone blur those lines. I reach for it less. I deleted Facebook from my phone, and I even took a four-day family vacation without it, leaving only the hotel phone number with my boss. Guess what? I returned refreshed.
  • Not feeling guilty when I do things for me. Full stop.

The net result is less stress, more faith that everything is going to be ok, and happier kids whom I enjoy more. If those aren’t life changers when you are in the middle of this practice of parenting, I don’t know what is.

Kate Rope is an award-winning freelance journalist with expertise in health, pregnancy, and parenting. She is coauthor of The Complete Guide to Medications During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding and editorial director of the Seleni Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to maternal and reproductive mental health. Her writing has appeared in many publications including Fitness, Glamour UK, Mother Jones, National Geographic Adventure, Parade, Parents, Parenting, Real Simple, and Shape. But her most important job is being a mom to two wonderful daughters.

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