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?

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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!

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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.

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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!

 

 

Mindfulness and Self-Regulation

Ever felt out of control?

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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.

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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.