Becoming a ‘Mindful parent’ didn’t happen overnight. Here Todd King, a Smiling Mind father tells his story of mindful parenting and offers a fantastic strategy on how to begin your own journey.
The journey to mindful parenting took years of life experience for me to realise that if we are not truly present or experiencing every little bit of life as it happens – we are missing out on some of the greatest moments that life can throw at us – especially those delivered to us by our children.
I must confess that I am not a new dad, I consider myself an ‘old hat’ in this space…having had two children in a previous relationship but in the experience of having another recently, I have become more mindful of the effects of mindful parenting than ever.
I now, can definitely say that I’m adhering to the adage that I have finally chosen to ‘look at life through a child’s eyes’ and it is richly rewarding, sometimes mesmerising.
Never have I enjoyed the smell of my son’s breath so much (I would run a mile just for a fix) the sound of his gurgle, the softness of his skin. Never have I been so present in every little bit of his life and fatherhood this time around is a far richer experience as a result.
Observe the mindful child
I don’t know if anyone reading this has experienced this situation before, but a simple 100m walk with a two year old can take up to three hours.
They observe everything, touch everything, ask a myriad of questions about anything, and provide insights into the world that we as adults just don’t experience at the same conscious level.
It is as if the whole world is magnified for them. They actually ‘smell the roses’, find beauty in a rock, or even a banal piece of bark. They jump into the rain, and dance through the world like nobody is watching.
This is mindfulness at its very core and we can learn from them.
Mindfulness in the end
At the other end of the spectrum, I have been in the presence of death on five occasions and witnessed first hand the final breath of four of my immediate family members.
These were pivotal moments in my life and provided me with a great insight into what seemed to be the most important aspects of the human condition.
Taking the time to experience life’s little things more, being fully present to a conversation and listening better were some of their regrets.
They also spoke longingly of their greatest memories. Sharing moments with their family, the feeling of the sun on their back, an ocean breeze, their favourite food and the laughter of children – not just their own.
Again, this is mindfulness at it’s core, and we can learn from them.
What happens in between the ‘child’ and the dying’? What becomes of us as adults in the middle years? How many of us get so caught up in the past or begin to worry about the future that we seem to lose sight of these great moments unraveling before us every day?
Have you ever been guilty of not really listening to your children because you were ‘multitasking’, concerned about finances, the football, work or planning for the days ahead?
Do you remember the last time you truly shared in a pivotal moment in your child’s lives? Did you experience their first breath or the look on their face when they had their first bath? Do you remember their baby smell and the exquisite sweetness of their breath? Do you remember how they lost their first tooth, their first step, the first day of school? How present were you really in all of these moments?
When you consciously decide to become a more mindful father, by adopting more mindful parenting, these experiences become the very fabric of your being.
They stick with you forever and become part of your story so when they have left home and not such a big part of your life anymore, you don’t have a pang of regret in not experiencing them entirely.
If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money. - Abigail van Buren
You can rest assured that you drank all of them in, that you were there, that you enjoyed some of the simplest and grandest experiences in life that you can take with you every day, until your last.
Mindfulness is not meditation, in fact there are many differences between the two.
Mindfulness is about being aware in every situation, not taking time out for yourself to meditate.
Here is a fantastic, easy to remember, easy to use mindful parenting principle you can use multiple times a day to check in with yourself, your kids and especially when a tough situation arises.
The STOP principle for mindful parenting
Before you say or do anything in response to something, just STOP.
S – Stop.
Pause. Stop what you are doing. Become aware of your surroundings, what exactly is happening and your feelings.
T – Take.
Take a few deep breaths. The body's natural response to stress is to release adrenalin, which causes you to take shallower breaths, in order to fuel more oxygen into your blood ready to fight or flight. By taking at least 1-3 deep breaths you will override this stress response, naturally becoming more mindful and feeling calmer.
O – Observe.
Notice your breath. Notice the changes your breath makes to your feelings and your reatction to the situation. Take another deep breath, look around, notice what's going on. Feel gratitude.
P – Proceed.
Now that you have become more mindful and aware of your feelings and reaction, you can proceed with your day or towards a more calmer response to whatever life may throw at you.
Using this principle to focus on your breath will help calm your emotional response and enable you to regain control of the situation. Making this a fantastic tool to begin your mindful parenting journey.
Your child will appreciate your more calm responses and will also learn a valuable lesson in how to respond appropriately in stressful situations.
Take the first step in staying mindful and mastering mindful parenting with the support of the Smiling Mind app or read more about the science of mindfulness here. There are all types of programs that will help you re-discover mindfulness and apply it to your parenting.