Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD
Ever have one of those evenings where you go to bed and wonder where the day went wrong? You know that the kids were not on their best behavior but also have the sinking feeling inside that you weren’t the exactly best role model either. It can be uncomfortable to admit that despite your best efforts you aren’t always the parent you want to be. Most of us have parenting moments like that – where the parent who can listen, or set clear limits, or be patient has disappeared somewhere and this other human being shows up to take our place. Ick.
Maybe you spend a few moments sinking into one of those unsettling “I’m a bad parent” moments or maybe you think of things you wish you had done or said that might have made the situation easier. Where were those thoughts when you needed them?
Being able to bring the real you, the helpful you, to the situation requires a sense of mindfulness, a sense of awareness in the moment. With practice you can get better at it and feel better about yourself as a parent. Yes it takes practice. There are lots of practices for increasing awareness (mindfulness):
Develop a practice of becoming more aware of your body.
• Pay attention to the sensation of your feet on the ground as you walk the dog or walk into the grocery store.
• Several times a day (you can remind yourself with an alarm on your phone) sit or stand tall with your spine straight and take 4 slow deep breaths, notice the air move in and out.
• Take a body movement class (dance, yoga, martial arts).
Develop a practice of becoming aware of your feelings.
After interactions with your children that went well (or ones that went poorly), pause and ask yourself, “What was I feeling before the interaction? During? After?” Remember that feelings can be described with one word, e.g.: frustrated, disappointed, afraid, lonely, engaged, delighted, betrayed, loved. Be curious and notice any patterns.
Develop a practice of being more aware of your thoughts.
• If you spend 15 to 30 minutes a day sitting in silence trying to let your mind settle into the quiet you will notice that your mind is very busy planning, judging, and complaining. When you develop the practice of noticing your thoughts gradually you will begin to have more flexibility in how you respond to those thoughts during the day.
• If you are interested in some free guided mindfulness practices you can get them at the Mindfulness Awareness Center website. They are between 3 and 19 minutes long.
Develop a practice of reflection.
• Notice times that are going well.
• At night remember things that you appreciate about your children and your partner.
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