9/23/18

Parenting in Mindfulness

There is little more challenging physically, emotionally, and mentally than parenting.  If you are raising children you are in it for the long haul, all day and night for pretty much the rest of your life.
The amounts of responsibility on you shoulders is crushing.  Every day you are tested for endurance, pushed to the limits of your patience, bouncing between resignation and resolve, and plumbing the depths of both pure disgust and pure love.  

I often stop to think "What the hell am I doing?" This is both in the micro whilst unclogging a toilet that I didn't clog and in the macro "What am I  teaching these people and why?"  
When children become sentient (around age 8/9) it's time to start thinking deeply about what the point of parenting really is.  Not only are we keeping the humans we made alive, we are molding people to send out into the world.  We are guaranteed by the state to have 18 years of responsibility for creating the best product we can, the best citizens we can make.  So we need to be proactive about what we're sending out the door (IF they'll leave).  Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what it is you are unconsciously teaching your children?

Parenting Philosophy Questions


1.  What tools do I want these people to have? 
2.  What is a successful life?
3.  What type of people do I want to offer to the world?
4.  What do these kids need to know to have the best chance at life?
5.  How do I set them on a path to best use their time on earth?

Generally we just auto-pilot these questions.  We figure that we are pretty decent people and that society and religion will fill in the gaps of whatever our kids need.

But you've perhaps noticed that life doesn't come very easily to me and that I  have had to find extra tools to make things function.  But with lots of problems comes lots of opportunity to look for extra help, and with being kicked to the ground a lot comes a lot of humble searching for satisfying functional answers.

It was at the way-too-old age of about 35 that I was given the tools of mindfulness, as outlined in the post before this one.  As I've learned about mindfulness and all things related thereunto my children are being exposed to the information as well.  If I  had had these tools as a child I  feel I would have developed some skills that would have put me ahead in the journey toward peace and an overall feeling of success and wellbeing.  This post is focused on the question beneath those five questions: how do I teach my children how to manage the big hard scary world?  What tools can I give them that they can count on?  I think mindfulness is a catch-all support tool for whatever religious practice you've chosen for your family.

How does one parent mindfully?

1.  Exposure 

My first goal in educating my children is exposure to a variety of cultures and lifestyles.  From our foundation they are exposed to LDS culture which brings a lot of great values such as a focus on the family, service, and the example of Christ.  Also from our family my children are exposed to Gay families with same-sex parents.  While these things seem to be in conflict, my family has found a way to harmonize them in an inclusive manner that is nothing short of inspiring.  Another value from my larger family is travel which is education come alive.  When I travel with my kids (both inside and outside the country) we visit cathedrals and temples, palaces and huts.  There is not one way to live to be happy.  There are a lot of ways.  Children need to see people happily functioning in whatever culture they are part of so that they know diversity is strength and everybody has access to greater truths.

2.  Three Mindful Breaths

Another mindful parenting tool that I  use on a daily basis is meditation, mantras and three mindful breaths.  Most children don't know how to meditate so guided meditation is a great tool to start focusing on the breath and teaching mindfulness.
As mentioned before, the Calm App is one way that we bring mindfulness into the home. Hush originally downloaded this app as a sleep help for LouLou but has himself since spent hours and years invested in the guided meditations therein.  The children have seen both of us at our homes engaged in meditation for 10-15 minutes a time, nearly every day.  I play the Calm app during nap time and Lou has gotten so used to it that she requests it before she sleeps.  It's soothing and educational and inspiring.  When I was in Paris with the big three everybody was melting down and exhausted.  I had all the children lay down and put on a meditation and they were out within minutes.  If your kids are bouncing off the walls try having them sit down and listen to the calm app.

Further on meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh's book Peace is Every Step provides an excellent explanation for how to meditate.  It's so simple and accessible to even the most novice and for children.  The idea is that three mindful breaths change your brain chemistry sufficient to reprogram how you respond to the world.  Utilizing three mindful breaths changes REACTION to a conflict/problem/annoyance/problem person into a RESPONSE.  Before you react on impulse you take three mindful breaths which connect brain with the body.  

I am a firm believe in the concept "The Breath."  Breathing is something we do unconsciously, but it is the easiest available way to reconnect you with the present.  
I am also a firm believer in "The Present."  I think Buddha but I know the guru in Kung Fu Panda said "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift.  That's why they call it the present."   The present is where we live our lives.  Each moment, right here, right now.  That's what we have.  Teaching kids to reset and live right now in the present is a tool for freedom.
   
Now, I know you guys aren't going to jump on the App store and download the App just because I    told you it is the cornerstone of my family's practice in peace, nor are you going to hustle out and buy Peace is Every Step.  So I've started making excerpt videos for my friends who ask me how to teach children meditation. I've just made a few, but every time I find a piece of Mindfulness instruction that my children have heard and that has helped me in raising them I am going to record videos reading and providing some commentary and application and post them to YouTube.  The intention is that you listen to them with your kids in order to give them these tools of breathing, staying present, letting go of what's already happened, and soothing anxiety about the future.
Here's the first video.  Listen to it with your kids.  LMK if it's something you can dig.
If you want to subscribe here is the YouTube channel I'll be uploading these little videos to.


Intro to Meditation:
Watch this with your kids.


How to Fight:
Pause.  Do nothing when you are not calm.  Watch this when you want to kill somebody.


 3.  The Present

A major part of my life philosophy comes from Wayne's World.  "Live in the now."

 This one is particularly interesting for children because it allows for imperfections.  Children and adults screw up all the time.  We do dumb mean stuff some times.  We act unconsciously and impulsively.  But those moments do not define us.  Part of being in a family means forgiving, forgetting and moving on.  Being in the Present means that you are making a conscious decision to "be excellent to each other."  Wayne's World AND Bill and Ted are heavy influences in my parenting.
To live in the present means that even if you're having a meltdown you can be aware of that meltdown.  Being in the present means being awake and conscious of what you're doing and saying so that you can decide whether that is really what you want to do and say.  Being in the present is being Mindful of your words and behaviors.
My kids get in little tiffs all the time.  They speak rudely.  They react on impulse.  But they also have some unique tools like mantras and reminders or "bells of mindfulness."  Around our home and on our bodies we have little reminders that we can live right now in the present moment, that we can breathe and reconnect with the present.  This is also part of Thich Nhat Hanh's philosophy and he provides this mantra which we use along with three mindful breaths:

Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know that this is a wonderful moment!

This little mantra has had so much power in my family.  A few weeks ago Mimi took a huge chunk of flesh out of her shin and we rushed her to the hospital for stitches.  She could see what they were doing as they stitched her up and it was enough to make any kid fall apart in hysterics, which is what happened initially.  She's strong enough that she could make getting stitches an impossibility.  As she panicked she remembered the mantra and began chanting it to herself audibly.  I'll never forget her saying in a pinched voice "Breathing in I    calm my body, breathing out I    smile" to self sooth and the look on the doctor's face as this pre-teen was able to go totally Zen and sit tight while he stitched her up.  A simple tool, employed during crisis.  An internalized mantra that she owns and can use whenever she needs that empowers her to go inside to calm herself.  Remarkable.  Could she have prayed for help?  Yes, and we did.  But she decided to use her own power to plug into her own strength inside.  

4. Letting Go

Another bit of Mindfulness practice that has helped my family immeasurably is just simply Letting Go.  This is obviously very related to living in the present.  Bad things happen.  People make bad choices.  We have strong feelings.  But all of those things happen in their own moments and, chances are, they aren't happening right now in this moment and they won't be happening in the next moment or the next.  You can simply let those feelings and experiences go.
I was inadvertently taught this concept by my older sister who, having a hard and angry day one day woke up the next day totally peaceful and normal.  Upon being asked what the deal was she simply said "Those were yesterday's feelings."

This is one that is particularly near and dear to my heart because it is how we "practice."  When you are living Buddhist Principles you are considered to be "practicing" because that is really what we're trying to do: trying to practice the theories and manage suffering.
When I am about to meltdown (95% of the time, honestly) one of my kids will invariably tell me to "Let it go."  When I'm about to punish Si for talking to strangers on Fortnite he will tell me to "Live in the present, that happened a minute ago."  It totally takes the wind out of negative parenting tropes.  I  just say "don't do that, here's why.  If you do it again here are the consequences you're choosing" but it removes the emotion and drama from almost all parenting.
I get angry, I breathe.
I get bogged down in annoyances, I try to let them go as soon as I'm aware of them.

Think of the benefits for children if they really embrace and internalize this concept.  They can forgive themselves immediately.  They are free to do something different in the very next second.  They can change their behavior without shame and guilt.  They can be in a constant state of learning and improving.  They can experience their siblings in the present and as other people learning.

The drawback thus far has been only one: they know full well that every moment, every step is another opportunity to do the right thing, to try again, to improve and make peace.  But the world they live in tells them differently, so they have to let that go.
Nevertheless, the children have a particular pain body that they carry with regards to their birth father.  They know that he could pick up the phone and talk to them and they are ready and able to be in the present and let go every other day this year that he hasn't interacted with them.  They are ready to forgive and let go, but they don't understand how he and by extension the rest of his family doesn't wake up every day ready to do better and actually be involved in their lives.  Jude knows his dad has never once come to his baseball games.  Mimi knows he's never seen her dance.  Silas knows he didn't invite them to his wedding and that he hasn't seen them even one time this year.
They all know every single day could be a new day where he chooses to be involved in their lives or at the very least pay the child support in full.  But that day hasn't happened and at the end of the day they have to let go that hope over and over again.  I can't relate but I sure do carry the pain, and it is hard for me to let go.  Every day they get older.  Every day he pretends they don't exist.  Every day it hurts.  But it is somewhat because of that inexplicable and indefensible position ("I will wake up today and pretend I don't have children, I will continue to espouse whatever excuse I've made to not see them") that the children and I have turned to Mindfulness.  We have to function and live with the knowledge that children I had with Dax will be punished by his ambivalence every single day.  We have to be over it and function, but our hope that he will reengage with them and participate in the lives of these kickass little people will not die.  That requires some serious Zen.

 The children's and my path has led us to find the glory and peace in the present.  We know suffering, just as you know suffering in whatever form it manifests in your life.  One of the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism is that life is suffering.  I    believe strongly that Mindfulness and accessing the Present moment through breathing and meditation will be a useful tool for my children to navigate their lives.  I     don't know yet how I  define a successful life, I     don't know


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