Non/Attachment: Mindful Parenting

When people think of mindfulness they sometimes mistakenly believe that sitting quietly is self-centered. Parents seem to really struggle with this concept. For certain, there are a limited amount of hours in a day and making space for a practice is extremely difficult. However, there is growing evidence that mindfulness actually helps people to be more engaged in relationships. If mindfulness can help us to be more effective in building and maintaining relationships this might encourage parents and even people in general positive justifications for taking a few minutes of silence to practice mindfulness. But how does a practice that teaches non-attachment lead to healthy attachment?

girl-2480361_1920

Attachment Theory

Attachment is an emotional bond between people that is healthy, deep and enduring that can span across time and space. This strong emotional bond gives those who experience attachment a sense of security. By having someone we can depend on deeply then regardless of what happens, even tragic situations, we are grounded in a healthy relationship that we can look to for support. Through attachment we can develop “attunement” which is a neurological process that helps us understand and connect more deeply with others. For some people their parents are the first relationships that help them form attachment and attunement. For other people the relationship with their parents do not support healthy attachment which makes it more difficult to form healthy relationships with other people outside the family unit. At this point, some people like me say, “I didn’t get everything I needed (or think I needed) as a kid. Well, I am screwed.” But not all is lost! There is hope!

hug-2381652_1920

Daniel J. Siegel writes in his book The Mindful Brain about COAL, the foundational mindfulness practices of Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance and Love. He writes,

COAL is exactly what parents who provide secure attachment to their children have as a mental stance toward them. We can propose that the interpersonal attunement of secure attachment between parent and child is paralleled by an intrapersonal form of attunement in mindful awareness. Both forms of attunement promote the capacity for intimate relationships, resilience and well-being (Siegel, 2007, pg. 26)

Mindfulness helps to the practitioner to develop those skills and the neurological framework similar to those that some people get from their parents. This gives me hope because through mindfulness I am developing a better relationship with myself and others. Through developing attunement in myself I find people more easily I can trust and can more easily identify people whom I can care about from a distance. Even during stressful times I am able to remain grounded in a way that was not possible before being a mindful practice. I have a better sense of overall well-being. My relationship with my children continues to develop in a more productive way.

baby-3109433_1920

One more important point that the discussion of healthy attachment and the mindfulness practice raises is to the question that many parents ask ourselves, “Am I messing up my kids?” Ultimately we do the best we can with the information and skills that we have. The hopeful insight is that even if we make mistakes as parents, which we will, our children have the ability, through mindfulness practice to develop and strengthen those areas where we as parents fall short. With some dedication and responsible practice we can all heal ourselves a little more one breath at a time!

 

 

Don’t use that dirty word….self-care.

Resistance to Self-Care

Even after practicing self-care for years I still very much dislike that word. As a heart-914682_1920teacher there are “self-care” trainings from time to time- I always pick something else. So why as a parent and a teacher do I resist self-care and even the concept of self-care? I think the problem is multi-fold. Let’s explore some of the reasons we may resist self-care, some ways to by-pass the resistant brain, and what practicing self-care may look like in the “real world.”

Resistance is the Real Deal

The concept of self-care is foreign to many us. Keeping busy, getting the job done, and indulging in instant gratification all led me away from self care. “It takes too much time,” “I have too much work,” “This is stupid,” “I will do it later,” is what my mind said again and again. The funny SNL skit with Stuart Smalley always popped into my mind. I could just imagine myself standing in front of a mirror saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and dog-gone-it, people like me.” I surely didn’t want that to happen. All-or-nothing thinking also kept me stuck. If I couldn’t go on a retreat for a few days, or take several hours, or do it “perfectly,” then it wasn’t worth it. That kept me from taking advantage of any benefits at all of practicing self-care.

Tricking Myself into Self-care

Although my mind is fairly smart- it can plan, plot, and achieve- but it is rather simplistic when it comes to resistance. It seems so strong but it is one-pointed. If I go a different route than it is pushing against I can help direct it to where I want it to go. Self-care, for instance, is a thing my mind resisted terribly. I couldn’t find out why I resisted self-care so much. But, like a friend once said to me, “I could ask ‘why’ for the rest of my life without changing the problem. What I need to do is change the question to a ‘what.’ What can I do to change the problem?” This question implies action. My first step to self-care……tricking myself.

Ways I Trick Myself

1. Time is an illusion (not really). In a very real sense I only have so many hours in a day. I have so many things jammed into my schedule that sometimes I don’t know what day it is unless I look at the calendar. But like a sidewalk, there are spaces. If I fill those small spaces- 5, 10, 15 minutes with a little self-care over time (like the cracks in the sidewalk) that care adds up.

cobblestone-3383004_1920

2.  Double Trouble- I pair my self-care with other things I am already doing. If I am going to a meeting close to the house I get some exercise in by walking or riding my bicycle. I also stop by a park sometimes on the way home from work. I sometimes take a few minutes to do some mindfulness in the car before going into work or for an appointment. I use stop signs and red lights to remind me to do some mindful breathing. I have even been known to do affirmations in the mirror while getting ready for the day.

3. Adapt and Experiment (one size does NOT fit all)- my schedule changes, my needs change, my self-care needs to adapt. I experiment with different kinds of self-care. Not all kinds of care work for me and even the ones that do work don’t work in all situations and all the time. I approach taking care of myself with excitement and curiosity (and sometimes frustration and begrudging determination).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Final Word on the Dirty Word…..Self-Care

Taking care of myself, finding ways to trick myself into doing self-care, experimenting with different kinds and adapting to my changing needs takes time. I am never going to be perfect at it. There are times when it self-care is easier than others. There are times when practicing self-care is extremely difficult even though I have done it for years. What I continue to tell myself about self-care is, “Take it easy but do it!” If practice self-care as best I can with the little time that I have my life will blossom like flowers in a side-walk.

Mindfulness and Self-Regulation

Ever felt out of control?

angry-2191104_1920

As parents we can sometimes be confused about to do or how to help our kids. Perhaps our child is having a tantrum, is mumbling negative comments under his/her breath, or simply not talking. The feelings that arise in us can seem overwhelming.

Imagine how our child feels? Children and youth are in an even more difficult situation. They have feelings, thoughts and behaviors while also being regulated by adults. Without the skills of being able to deal with the internal landscape sometimes the external pressure can seem too much.

Self-regulation

Self-regulation is the ability to maintain emotions and behaviors regardless of the situation that arises. This process assumes one can identify feelings and is intentional about one’s actions. However, these abilities are not innate in us. The ability to know what one is feeling, be able to identify the nuances of that feeling, to reflect on one’s thoughts and intentions and to choose a course of action based on this process is a learned skill.

psychology-2422439_1920

A Head Full Of Mess

When a person begins to practice mindfulness one usually finds out how out-of-touch one has been with his or her feelings and thoughts. At first, I was unable to even identify what I feeling and was quite overwhelmed by the amount of thoughts I had in a ten second span (not to mention 5, 10 or 20 minutes). But mindfulness is practice that helps one to accept whatever arises. With gentle guidance and a little training one can learn to ride the waves of emotions and thoughts with ease.

As adults, we have spent years disconnected from our internal world. Children usually respond better because even if they cannot easily identify their feelings or thoughts in every day life they have not developed as many methods to build the walls up. Self-regulation really starts with looking inside, sitting with whatever arises and allowing the process to work.

Feelings and thoughts are always present. Developing the skills to be able to see them clearly and respond to them in a loving way is the first step in the process of self-regulation. Mindfulness is helpful in providing the structure and support in order to practice these self-reflective skills.