Improve Parenting with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“It’s as simple as practicing paying full attention to our kids, with openness and compassion, and maybe that’s enough at any moment.” – Mark Bertin

 

Raising children, parenting, is very rewarding. But, it can also be challenging. Children test parents frequently. They test the boundaries of their freedom and the depth of parental love. They demand attention and seem to especially when parental attention is needed elsewhere. They don’t always conform to parental dictates or aspirations for their behavior. They are often affected more by peers, for good or evil, than by parents. It is the parents challenge to control themselves, not overreact, and act appropriately in the face of strong emotions. Meeting these challenges becomes more and more important as the youth approaches adolescence, as that is the time of the greatest struggle for independence and the potential for damaging behaviors, particularly, alcohol, drugs, and sexual behavior.

 

The challenges of parenting require that the parent be able to deal with stress, to regulate their own emotions, and to be sensitive and attentive to their child. These skills are exactly those that are developed in mindfulness training. It improves the psychological and physiological responses to stress. It improves emotion regulation. And it improves the ability to maintain attention and focus in the face of high levels of distraction. So, it would seem reasonable to postulate that mindfulness training would improve parenting skills.

 

In today’s Research News article “Integrating Mindfulness with Parent Training: Effects of the Mindfulness-Enhanced Strengthening Families”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1181707418519849/?type=3&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4485922/

Coatsworth and colleagues add mindfulness training to an empirically validated program for enhancing parenting skills called the Strengthening Families Program (SFP). The mindfulness enhancements were listening with full attention, nonjudgmental acceptance of self and child, emotional awareness of self and child, self-regulation in parenting, and compassion for self and child. They compared families of 6th and 7th grade students randomly assigned to receive either the Strengthening Families Program (SFP), the Mindfulness-Enhanced the Strengthening Families Program (MSFP), or a home study control. Training was delivered in 7 weekly, 2-hour, sessions, where the parents and youth meet in separate sessions.

 

They found that the mothers in both the SFP and MSFP groups self-reported significantly improved levels of self-regulation in parenting, better emotional awareness of youth, greater positive affective/interaction quality with their youths, and higher levels of family involvement than the control group. They also reported better monitoring and alcohol rule communication with their youth. The youths reported that their mothers demonstrated significantly improved listening with full attention, better self-regulation in parenting, and greater compassion/acceptance toward their youths. In terms of the fathers, they found greater emotional awareness of youth, more compassion/acceptance for their youths, more compassion/acceptance for themselves as parents, more positive affective/interaction quality, and higher levels of family involvement. Interestingly, adding the mindfulness component increased the impact of the training for the fathers but not the mothers.

 

The findings clearly demonstrate that the Strengthening Families Program improves parenting and that the addition of a mindfulness component improved its effectiveness for fathers. These results suggest that mindfulness training is important in improving parenting particularly for fathers. These results were found for a particularly important and challenging time for parents, the beginning of the transition to adolescence.

 

So, improve parenting with mindfulness.

 

“Mindful Parenting is a contemplative practice through which our connection to our child, and awareness of our child’s presence, helps us become better grounded in the present moment.” – The Mindful Parent

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Develop Your Eulogy Virtues

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” – David Brooks

 

The renowned columnist David Brooks likes to contrast two differing sets of virtues that we aspire to. One he terms the resume virtues, the other the eulogy virtues.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/david-brooks-the-moral-bucket-list.html?_r=0

For the most part the resume virtues predominate for the majority of our lives. We strive for success and achievement. We work for years to attain an academic degree that we can place on our resume and use as the basis for the next entries on our resume revolving around our career. We measure our success by our titles and the wealth we accumulate.

 

The resume virtues are important and striving to do well in life and make a comfortable living are good things. They can, of course, become a problem when they are overemphasized and become the predominant focus in our lives. Too great of a stress on the resume virtues can result in the exclusion of the other aspects of life that are the true source of happiness and satisfaction. These are the eulogy virtues.

 

On the deathbed, people virtually never wish that they had spent more time or effort on developing their resumes, on working harder or being more successful. Rather, they most often decry the fact that they didn’t spend enough time and energy on developing their eulogy virtues. A palliative care nurse once recorded the top five regrets of the dying. They were

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

 

It is clear that to live a full life we have to develop our resumes but it is far more important in the long run that we develop the eulogy virtues. But, how do we do this when the rewards of society and the urgings of our egos all push us towards developing our resumes. The answer may well be contemplative practice. These practices, meditation, yoga, tai chi, contemplative prayer, etc. have been shown to help in developing the exact abilities and experiences longed for by the dying.

 

Contemplative practice focuses us more on experiencing the present moment and doing so without judging it. This provides a better perspective on our lives, seeing ourselves as we are without judgment. This can lead us to follow our hearts and be true to ourselves rather than being a slave to what we perceive others expect. By appreciating the present moment we can learn to enjoy where our lives actually play out, the present moment. This can lead us to even having greater appreciation and enjoyment throughout our lives, even during the time we spend working.

 

Contemplative practice helps us to accept our flaws and accept and appreciate others. As a result it improves relationships and social interactions. It helps us to become better listeners and more compassionate toward others. Increased understanding and compassion for others is a motivator to becoming involved in improving our world.

 

Contemplative practice helps to develop the ability to regulate emotions and improve emotional intelligence. So, we get in better touch with our true feelings and become better able to express them to others.  Importantly, contemplative practice has been shown to increase happiness. We enjoy life and appreciate the wonders that surround us every day.

 

Finally, contemplative practice has been shown to help to develop acceptance of ourselves. Many people do not like themselves. Contemplative practice is an antidote for self-loathing, tending instead to improve self-love. It can help us accept and like ourselves more. It is difficult to truly love others if you don’t love yourself. So, the self-love developed in contemplative practice is a requirement for loving others. It leads inevitably to caring more for others and be willing to express that love.

 

So, engage in contemplative practice and develop your eulogy virtues.

 

“What do most people say on their deathbed? They don’t say, ‘I wish I’d made more money.’ What they say is, ‘I wish I’d spent more time with my family and done more for society or my community.” – David Rubenstein

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies