Parenting is a job that requires on-the-job training with the potential for life and death consequences if we make a mistake. Because there’s no way to prepare before becoming a parent, it can be the most stressful thing we ever do. Luckily, there are things we can do to reduce our stress, such as meditation.
Meditation can do more than relieve stress, however. It can teach us more about being a parent and help us stay centered and focused on the task at hand.
Here are five things I’ve learned about parenting through meditation.
Be gentle with yourself
We all want to be good parents. But we’ll never be perfect parents. All we can do is our best – and sometimes it won’t be enough. Sometimes we won’t know what to do. Sometimes we’ll make the wrong decision, lose our cool, or make another mistake that has a negative impact on our kids.
Meditation teaches us to let go of our mistakes. Just as every meditation is not a success, neither is everything we do as a parent. But just as we sit down and try to meditate again after we’ve had a bad session, we pick ourselves back up as a parent and keep going.
Just as we let go of our thoughts and don’t cling to them during meditation, we should let go of our mistakes as parents and not cling to them. We all make them. Holding on to them only makes us more likely to repeat them or make others like them. Let them go and move on with a determination to do better.
Practice makes perfect (especially for big changes!)
Sometimes we forget that what comes easy to us doesn’t come so easy to a growing child who is still learning. Things that make sense to us don’t always make sense to them and we get frustrated when they don’t get it.
The benefits of meditation aren’t seen in a single session. It takes consistent, sustained practice over time to see and feel all the benefits. That can be a helpful reminder when it comes to teaching our kids.
If we want them to handle bigger changes, we need to start small. We can’t ask them to clean the whole kitchen, but we can ask them to clean their own plate. We also need to remember that, just as our meditation practice took time to become a habit, so will what we’re asking of our child.
Meditation reminds us to be patient, understanding and forgiving with our kids. It takes time to build a new habit whether you’re a kid or an adult.
Remember the calm beneath
Many meditation teachers will tell you to see your thoughts as clouds – they may be covering a blue sky but they’ll disappear and give you the blue sky back. You might also have heard to think of your thoughts as waves on the ocean’s surface, and meditation is diving into the quiet beneath. In both of these, the promise is the same: beyond the rough stuff is something calmer and better.
It doesn’t just apply to your thoughts. It also applies to parenting.
There are days when parenting just sucks. We feel like the worst parents in the world. We think our kids are the worst. We’re exhausted. We want a break but can’t get one. We’re in the thick of a rough patch and it feels like it’ll never end.
But then your kid will put sticky fingers on your cheeks and plant an even stickier kiss on your lips. They’ll give you a huge hug and tell you that you’re the best mommy or daddy in the world. They’ll look at you with their sweet, innocent, loving eyes. When that happens, you need to let go of the rough patch, the dark clouds or stormy waves and cling to the calm, cling to the blue sky or calm ocean depths.
Don’t fight every battle
We want our kids to grow up to be good people, with our values and morals. We also want to ensure our kids’ safety, wellbeing, and health. Because we don’t know what will happen in the future, this can sometimes lead to fighting battles that we don’t need to fight.
Meditation teaches us to let our thoughts come and go. During meditation, we learn to allow our thoughts to pass by without getting emotional about or judging them. When we can apply this same tactic to the things our kids do, it can lead to greater peace in the home.
Like thoughts, learn to let minor kid irritations come and go. Not every sarcastic remark requires a response from you. Not every undone chore, incomplete homework assignment or pair of rolled eyes needs to be punished.
This is not to say that you should allow your children to disrespect you or do whatever they want. What I am saying is that if you’ve been finding that you’re constantly exhausted from discipline, if you feel like your kids are “out of control” or always misbehaving, maybe you’re working too hard to discipline.
Just as you don’t cling to your thoughts during meditation, don’t cling to the things your kids do. Start taking a beat when something happens, and in that beat, ask yourself how critical it is. Is it an immediate safety issue? Is it bullying or violence? Is it something they do consistently? If not, will it matter tomorrow or next week?
If it doesn’t matter, let it go.
Be present in the moment
When your children are grown, you’ll look back on their childhood and see everything as special. Whether it was a first day of school, the last time you did something for them, or even just a random memory of their face at some everyday family dinner, you’ll relive all those moments as the special moments they were.
At the moment it happens, however, we often don’t recognize it as memorable. We’re trying to get them to school on time, get that thing done quickly so we can move on to the next task, or thinking about how we need to pay some bills after dinner.
Meditation reminds us to be present. It reminds us not to live in the past or rush toward the future, but to simply exist and soak in the here and now. And there is nowhere that this is more important than in parenting.
Don’t spend all your time worrying about what did or didn’t happen before, or what you need to do later. Don’t keep living in memories of how little the kids once were or wishing they would become more independent or less clingy. Instead, be present for as many moments as you can. Enjoy them as you live them so that the memories are even more vibrant and beautiful someday.
Meditation isn’t just something you do for a few minutes with your eyes closed while you sit on the floor or a cushion. It’s something you take with you into all aspects of your life, including how you parent. And when you bring meditation into your parenting, you’ll find you are a better parent than you’ve ever been before.