We all want our children to be happy. And we all want to be good parents in the process of raising our children. But parenting is downright stressful and almost unbearable at times. When our children don’t follow directions, live up to our standards, or pay attention, we get angry, irritated, and annoyed. And because most of us are so stressed out and exhausted in our multitasking world, we give our children snap judgements, impatience, jam-packed schedules, and executive orders.
Our children desperately need our attention, our guidance, and our love, but do we actually give them those things on a day-to-day basis if we’re always judging them, rushing them, and forcing them to do things?
In order for our children to be happier, we need to be more mindful parents and it starts by being there for them. By being a mindful parent, you are present and sharing in all the beautiful moments with your children, no matter what the moments are.
One recent night at my house, I had story time with my two daughters while my wife washed the dishes from dinner. We made our way through one book, The Recess Queen, and Emily, age 5, asked if we could read another book, The Frog Prince. I reluctantly agreed, even though I was tired and ready to get the kids to bath time and bed time.
The book was an early readers book where the left-side pages are for the parents to read and the right-side pages are for the children to read—with or without the help of their parents. The text on the left-side pages were significantly longer than the text on the right-side pages. Once we started reading the book together, Emily immediately noticed that I was reading only the shorter, easier right-side pages.
“Daddy, you’re not reading the whole book. You’re supposed to read that side and I’m supposed to read this side,” Emily said.
“Well, we’re going to read the right-side tonight, since we need to get ready for bath time soon,” I replied.
“But that’s not how you’re supposed to do it. Let’s start from the beginning,” she declared.
And so we started again with me reading the left-side of the book and Emily reading—as best as she could—the right-side of the book. With about forty pages in the book, I would rush through my portion, and then hand it off to Emily to read through her portion.
“One…day…the…King…gave…her…a new ball,” Emily slowly read aloud.
She would go through the sentences word by word, sounding out the words as best as she could. I would let her try to read until she couldn’t figure out some words and I would help her sound it out with her, until she got to the end of each page. As she gained confidence with the words she was supposed to read, her speed of reading aloud increased. And by the end of the book—almost twenty minutes later—she was ecstatic. This had been one of the first times that she had actually read whole sentences by herself.
“Daddy, I read a lot of it. I’m getting better.”
“Emily, you definitely are getting better. Great job reading.”
I put my palm up in front of her and she gave me a high-five back. I was grateful that I didn’t rob myself of this moment of sharing in my daughter’s accomplishment.
- How many times have you rushed through or even skipped a bed time story?
- How often do you multitask (ie. check your emails on your smartphone, watch TV) when you’re at the dinner table with your children?
- Have you ever caught yourself talking to your children, but not looking at their eyes?
Being a mindful parent starts by being present for your children—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s easier said than done because we can be totally preoccupied with other things—including work, finances, health, etc.—that may distract us from actually being there with our children, even though they might be right in front of us.
“I don’t know who said this, but there really are places in the heart you don’t even know exist until you love a child.”
I’m still a work-in-progress to become a more mindful parent. I’ve been working on this for over five years and have learned to catch myself when I feel myself slipping or losing my patience, which is quite often. Following this three-step formula has helped me to be more present with my children, so that the moments we share together are special and memorable, no matter what the moments may be.
- Look: Your children are right in front of you. Look at them. What are they feeling? How was their day? What do they want you to see?
- Listen: Now that you’re looking at them, start listening. What are they saying? What do they want you to hear? How do they want to be understood?
- Love: Your children need you and your love for them. Give yourself and your love generously. Be patient. Be kind. Then love them some more.
Remember when your children were tiny little infants and you just stared at them forever while they were sleeping. Sometimes you’d even catch them smile during their sweet slumber. That one little smile would give you all the energy you needed to make it through your sleep-deprived, infant-tending days and nights. That one magic moment would keep you going even though the stress of taking care of your baby would feel overwhelming at times.
What if we were always looking for those moments, so that we could capture the magic when it happens in our children’s lives, no matter what age they are? Childhood and parenthood would be a beautiful thing, as it already is.
Look. Listen. Love. And be the mindful parent your children need you to be.