Sarah van Gelder talks with Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn about how the Buddhist concept of mindfulness can help us to see the wholeness and beauty of our children in each moment. www.yesmagazine.org/issues/millennium-survival-guide/mindful-parenting posted Mar 31, 1998
JON: Society conspires to disrespect the work of parenting in many ways. It’s totally socially acceptable to give 150 percent of your energy to work. It’s so misunderstood what the potential would be for a kind of wise attention given to the children. It’s not smothering attention. It’s not neurotic attention. It’s not an overprotective attention. It’s the recognition of the relationship and the sacred quality of the parent/child relationship.
SARAH: How can you start to bring this sacred quality to your parenting?
JON: The first thing is to intend to bring mindfulness into one’s parenting on a daily basis. You also need to focus. It’s through sustained attending that we develop insight.
We’re not saying that this is easy to do. There’s no formula for a perfect way to raise children, or that results in “perfect” children, whatever that would mean.
What we are saying is that our children are perfect just the way they are – including their imperfections. It’s important that we are authentic, and that we honor our children and ourselves as best we can, and that our intention be to, at the very least, do no harm.
Mindful parenting is the hardest job on the planet, but it’s also one that has the potential for the deepest kinds of satisfactions over the life span, and the greatest feelings of interconnectedness and community and belonging.
Twelve Exercises for Mindful Parenting
- Try to imagine the world from your child’s point of view, purposefully letting go of your own. Do every day for at least a few moments to remind you of who this child is and what he or she faces in the world.
- Imagine how you appear and sound from your child’s point of view; imagine having you as a parent today, in this moment. How might this modify how you carry yourself in your body and in space, how you speak, what you say? How do you want to relate to your child in this moment?
- Practice seeing your children as perfect just the way they are. Work at accepting them as they are when it is hardest for you to do so.
- Be mindful of your expectations of your children, and consider whether they are truly in your children’s best interests. Also, be aware of how you communicate those expectations and how they affect your children.
- Practice altruism, putting the needs of your children above your own whenever possible. Then see if there isn’t some common ground where your needs can also be met. You may be surprised at how much overlap is possible, especially if you are patient and strive for balance.
- When you feel lost, or at a loss, remember to stand still. Meditate on the whole by bringing your full attention to the situation, to your child, to yourself, to the family. In doing so, you may go beyond thinking and perceive intuitively, with the whole of your being, what really needs to be done.
- Try embodying silent presence. Listen carefully.
- Learn to live with tension without losing your own balance. Practice moving into any moment, however difficult, without trying to change anything and without having to have a particular outcome occur. See what is “workable” if you are willing to trust your intuition and best instincts.
- Apologize to your child when you have betrayed a trust in even a little way. Apologies are healing, and they demonstrate that you see a situation more clearly, or more from your child’s point of view. But “I’m sorry” loses its meaning if we are always saying it, or if we make regret a habit.
- Every child is special, and every child has special needs. Each sees in an entirely unique way. Hold an image of each child in your heart. Drink in their being, wishing them well.
- There are very important times when we need to practice being clear and strong and unequivocal with our children. Let this come as much as possible out of awareness and generosity and discernment, rather than out of fear, self-righteousness, or the desire to control. Mindful parenting does not mean being overindulgent, neglectful, or weak; nor does it mean being rigid and controlling.
- The greatest gift you can give your child is yourself. This means that part of your work as a parent is to keep growing in self-knowledge and in awareness. We have to be grounded in the present moment to share what is deepest and best in ourselves.
Blessing Mix -a symbolic snack
- Bugles represent the cornucopia, a horn of plenty when we count our blessings.
- Pretzels represent arms folded in thanks and prayer.
- Seeds are promise of a future harvest if they are planted and well tended.
- Fruit is a reminder of the harvest gifts from the land.
- M&Ms are for Memories of those who came before us.
- Hershey’s Kiss is a reminder of the love of family and friends that sweetens our lives.
The Blessing Jar
To create and use your own Blessing Jar choose a vessel and decorate it as you like!
There are number of ways you can use the Blessing Jar.
Each member of your family writes, draws or places an item in the jar that lifts up the blessing(s) you have received during the day. As a family, you can review your blessings at the end of the day, week, month or save them up for the year.
In replace or along with placing blessings in the jar you could include questions that can be answered at dinner or in the evening as a way of connecting to each other.
- Name a song that has been a blessing to you.(today, this week/month/year).
- Name one friend/family member who has been a blessing to you (today, this week/month/year).
- What is one book that has been a blessing to you (today, this week/month/year).
- Share a quote that has been a blessing to you (today, this week/month/year).
- Share one special memory from today, this week/month/year for which you are grateful.
- Share a question or need that was answered for you in an unexpected way or from an unexpected place.
- What is something about your church that has been a blessing to you (today, this week/month/year)?
- What is something about your community that has been a blessing to you (today, this week/month/year)?
- Share something from today, this week/month/year that has been “hard,” for which you are grateful.
Based on the life of a real boy, this warm-hearted, beautifully illustrated book tells the story of Baraka, a young Kenyan boy with a physical disability. Baraka and eight cousins live with their grandmother. She gives them boundless love, but there is never enough money or food, and life is hard –love doesn’t feed hungry stomachs or clothe growing bodies, or school keen minds. Baraka is too young, and, with his disability, needs too much, and she is too old. A difficult choice must be made, and grandmother and grandchild set off on a journey to see if there is a place at the orphanage for Baraka. The story begins by looking at Baraka’s physical disability as a misfortune, but ends by looking beyond the disability, to his great heart and spirit, and the blessings he brings.
As a young Russian Jewish girl in the early 1900s, Anna and her family lived in fear of the Czar’s soldiers. The family lived a hard life and had few possessions—their treasure was a beautiful china tea set. A wedding gift to Anna’s parents, the tea set came with a wish that “Anyone who drinks from this will have blessings from God. They will never know a day of hunger. Their lives will always have flavor. They will know love and joy and they will never be poor.”
When Anna’s family leaves Russia for America, they bring the tea set and its blessings. A source of heritage and security, the tea set helps Anna’s family make friends and find better lives in America. A cup from the tea set—The Blessing Cup—became an anchor of family history, and it remains a symbol of lasting love more than a century later.
Punky Grace is having a really grumpy morning. But when Grammy suggests they have an adventure and fill her Blessings Jar to the top, Punky discovers that God’s blessings are enough to outweigh any bad day.
In this sweet story, bestselling author Colleen Coble celebrates the bond between grandparents and grandchildren and teaches little ones an important lesson about recognizing all of God’s blessings.
In The Book of Words, Rabbi Laurence Kushner writes:
“Blessings keep our awareness of life’s holy potential ever present. They awaken us to our own lives. . . . With each blessing uttered, we extend the boundaries of the sacred and ritualize our love of life.” This tradition has spread widely and many families sprinkle their prayers with expressions of gratitude for all the wonderful things in their lives.
Amy Schwartz expresses 100 blessings in this picture book for children from preschool through first grade. She begins with red socks and ends with “time with you.” She comes up with many gems to be thankful for such as fuzzy sweaters, a comfy chair, baby toes, a puppy’s nose, whipped cream, mud-puddles and a good-night kiss.