Jon Kabat-Zinn, Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center lists 7 Attitudes which are necessary for the foundation of mindfulness. The following attitudes have been adapted from his book Full Catastrophe Living (pp 33-40) to apply to mindful parenting by Lisa Wittorff, LCSW.
- NON-JUDGING: Being an impartial witness of your child’s experience requires that you become aware of the constant stream of judging and reacting to inner and outer experiences that we are normally caught up in, observe it, and step back from it. Just observe how much you are preoccupied with liking and disliking your child’s behavior or judging it as “good” or “bad” during a ten-minute period as you parent your child.
- PATIENCE: A form of wisdom, it demonstrates that we accept the fact that sometimes things for our children must unfold in their own time. We intentionally remind ourselves not to be impatient with our child’s growth and development because we are tense or agitated or frightened. We give our children room to grow and develop at their own pace even when we might wish them to develop more quickly (for example, toilet training). Why? Because they are going to develop on their own timetable anyway! Each moment is their life in that moment, don’t blink or you might miss something precious.
- BEGINNER’S MIND: An open, beginner’s mind allows us to be receptive to new possibilities for our child and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise about our child’s behavior. No moment is the same as any other – each one is unique and contains unique possibilities. Our child may surprise us if we allow it! Are you able to see your child as a unique being filled with endless possibilities?
- TRUST: Developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings and intuition is an integral part of parenting. It is far better to trust in your intuition and your own authority regarding your child, even if you make some mistakes, than always to look outside yourself for guidance. You are the expert on your child. If something doesn’t feel right, why not honour your feelings?
- NON-STRIVING: Your child’s only goal is to be their own person.. The irony is that they already are. This craziness may be pointing you toward a new way of seeing your child, one in which you stop comparing your child to other children, and enjoy them for who they are more. If you think, “My child must be a good student, or an athlete, or I must control their behavior”, you have introduced an idea in your mind of where your child should be, and that they are not OK right now. This attitude undermines mindfulness, which involves simply paying attention to whatever is happening.
- ACCEPTANCE: Seeing things as they actually are in the present. If your child is developmentally delayed, has challenging behavior. or has a disability, accept that your child is not developing typically. In the course of our daily lives, we often waste a lot of energy denying and resisting what is already fact. When we do that, we are basically trying to force situations to be the way we would like them to be, which only makes for more tension, which actually prevents positive change from occurring. Acceptance sets the stage for acting appropriately in your child’s life no matter what is happening.
- LETTING GO: When we start paying attention to our inner experience, we rapidly discover that there are certain thoughts and feelings and situations about our child(ren) that our mind seems to want to hold on to. Similarly, there are other thoughts or feelings about our child(ren) that we try to get rid of or prevent or protect ourselves from having. In mindfulness, we intentionally put aside the elevation of some experiences more than others. Instead, we let our experience with our children be what it is. Letting go is a way of letting things with your children be, without grasping and pushing away. If you have difficulty picturing what letting go of your children feels like, picture holding on. Holding on is the opposite of letting go. Letting go is not a foreign experience – we do it every time we go to sleep. If we can’t let go, we find we are unable to sleep. Now we can practice applying this skill in waking situations with our children as well.