Put Aside the To-do List: How to Bring Mindfulness to Parenting

By Anita M. Schimizzi, Ph.D.

Mindfulness.  It’s practically a buzz word these days.  Even Oprah is talking about it.  So what is mindfulness, exactly, and why all the buzz?

In brief, mindfulness is the bringing of one’s attention to what is right here, right now.  It is inviting oneself to let the ruminating about the past go and the obsessing about the future go as well.  And just as important, it is treating yourself with compassion while suspending judgment.  Studies have given much support for the usefulness of mindfulness in treating a variety of mental health and medical conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and chronic pain and stress (Baer, 2006).  By simply being where you are and gently and compassionately bringing yourself back to the moment when you find yourself wandering elsewhere, you can calm your nervous system and allow a peace that we could all use.

Hectic doesn’t begin to describe the busyness that we can experience in tending to child-rearing, work, errands, running a home, and the variety of other things that we do that fill our days.  I know that for me, I have spent many moments with my son where I was not truly with him.  My mind was wandering to a million places at once:  dinner planning, work, laundry, the errand that I forgot to run yesterday, and what I wish I had said during a prior conversation.  What I realize now is that in my quest to square away the past and the future, I missed a lot of what was right in front of me.

The good news is that we have choices.  And we can choose to join with our kids and relish what is right before us.  Here are a couple of ways you can try.

1.  Be in the moment with your child.  In the beginning, this can seem pretty challenging when you really try to do it.  That’s okay.  Practice will make it easier in time.  If you tend to move quickly and busily through your day, I recommend finding a time when you can be unhurried.  Manufacture an opportunity to be mindful, so to speak.  Set aside your agenda and let things unfold between you, your child, and that which surrounds you.

For example, let’s say that you usually take your child out in the jogging stroller, have your run, and promptly return home.  Instead, you can go out and have your run, but rather than return home right away you can stop somewhere while you’re still out and let your child out of the stroller.  Go explore together.  When you find your mind wandering back to what you really, really need to get done, recognize that you are worrying about what you really, really need to get done and kindly nudge yourself to come on back to the present moment.  Besides, let’s face it, the worrying does not bring us much benefit.  Oftentimes, it is just chatter that keeps our brains hyped up more than they need to be.  Your to-do list will be waiting for you when you’re done watching the birds, smelling the fresh air, and listening to your child giggle with delight after throwing a rock in the pond.

2.  Do a sensory activity with your child to practice being in the moment.  Using as many senses as you can, experience the moment with your child.  A fun time to do this is snack time.  Rather than gobbling a snack only to get to the next thing on the agenda for the day, mindfully eat it. Study the look, texture, taste, smell, and sound the food makes as you bend, break, and chew it.  Or take a mindful walk together.  Again, using all of your senses, discover what surrounds you in that very moment.  It’s kind of hard to be elsewhere when you are that connected to the here and now.

These are just a couple of ways that you can practice dropping into right now.  I would love to hear back from readers on any other ideas they have, as well as their experiences with practicing mindfulness in parenting.  In the meantime, enjoy giving your brain a break from all the noise and being truly present with your child.  This week is a perfect time to do this.  The kids are out of school for a couple of days and we have the choice to slow down and really connect.   I wish you and your families a safe and lovely Thanksgiving.   -Anita

Source: Baer, R. (2006). Mindfulness Training as a Clinical Intervention: A Conceptual and Empirical Review Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10 (2), 125-143 DOI: 10.1093/clipsy/bpg015