Why Mindful Parenting?

A few years ago, when I was looking into teaching MBCP, Nancy (Bardacke) told me a prerequisite for her training was completing an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course—one based on the curriculum conceived of by Jon Kabat Zinn from the UMass Medical Center, which is the format on which MBCP is based.  I signed up for the class at the Jefferson Mindfulness Institute here in Philly, and set to checking off this box on my path to being an MBCP teacher.

I was a little tentative about going to the class, because I’d taken Intro to Meditation classes about 20 years prior, and I was a busy working mom.  Plus, the price was pretty steep.  At the first class we went around the circle and offered why we were there.  This is easy, I thought: I’m fulfilling a requirement.  However, when my turn came, words spilled out of my mouth I didn’t even know were there: “My kids are getting bigger, and are more challenging…I’m not being the best kind of parent I think I can be—not as patient or receptive, at times overwhelmed; I think I need mindfulness back in my life again.

Like so many of us, dutifully checking off that box is what gets us in the room.  I wanted to be an MBCP teacher?  “Well, you’d better start with your own practice!” said Nancy.  You want to get through childbirth?  Well, you’d better sign up for a childbirth class!  Right?  Well, I’m not so sure…

In my role as a midwife, I always tell my pregnant moms “You come to childbirth with a lifetime of experience getting through hard times, and you have a set of coping skills in there.  Time to tap into those skills!”  I say this because, after attending to many women in birth, I see that human responses to difficulty, pain, uncertainty, fear and even joy do not seem to be correlated with what books we’ve read or what “qualifications” we think we have, or what classes we’ve taken.

Re-committing to my own mindfulness practice has, I think, made a huge difference in my coping skills as a parent.  Of course, I’ll never know—I can’t turn back the last four years to when I took the MBSR class and see how I would have parented without versus with my mindfulness practice.  I do know that having a practice doesn’t mean that parenting teenagers or being in a marriage or work stress has gotten easier—that is a fantasy, right?  It would be “better” the more “Zen” I get?  Nope. 

A few weeks ago I was camping with my family and another family in Wyoming.  Late in the day, my husband, 16-yr old son, and the dad of the other family, decided to rock climb up this climb that we could actually see—from about a mile away.  It was a multi-pitch climb: three lengths of the rope, and would take a whole afternoon.  Late in the day, I noticed a big, black cloud moving toward the climbing party.  I started to notice that I got pretty anxious:  What if they got rained on?  What if they slipped?  I hope they don’t try to rappel down!  What if there is thunder and lightening and they are on the rock face? …and so forth.  I instinctively moved to a place where I could really focus on them: little ants slowly making their way up the cliff, identifiable only by the color of their outerwear—maybe even unaware of the black cloud coming toward them. 

There was absolutely nothing I could do but sit and watch.  And wait.  It was totally out of my control.  Even though the greatest loves of my life might be in danger—I couldn’t change or influence the past (“They shouldn’t have gone!”) nor could I influence the future (“I’m going to go ‘save’ them!”).

So, I thought—time to practice.  I began noticing the sensations in my body, tapping into my breath, experimenting closing my eyes, observed the disastrous thoughts percolating in my mind.  Soon they had made it to the top, just as the rain started to pelt down.  We’d made it! 

Ok, I know this is a kind of extreme example of mindful parenting.  But the truth is, I can come up with lots and lots of other more “mundane” examples—contractions of everyday parenting can be mild, medium or very strong—they are all a feature of being a mom or dad.  It doesn’t really end once the birth is over…it is just beginning.

Why not try out one of Molly's Mindful Parenting Class Series this Fall?

- Carol