Imagine a continuum with the past towards one end and the future at the other. We often move along this continuum of life, regretting, resenting or feeling sorrowful about events gone by. At the same time, we move relentlessly towards the future, filled with fear, uncertainty, and “what-ifs”.
Somewhere in the middle is the dance of now – the moment we find ourselves in, at this very minute.
This moment can be experienced through the act of mindfulness, defined by expert, scientist and writer Jon Kabat-Zinn, as: “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
It’s a practice that has found its way from age-old Eastern beliefs into the evidence-based world of Western psychology. Still many of us resist this practice, believing we need to first cultivate the “perfect” environment or expertise to honour the mindfulness techniques practiced for thousands of years by Buddhists, Taoists and Yogis.
For most of us, parenting across the lifespan means living on a rollercoaster. Chaos, confusion, guilt, uncertainty, discomfort, pride, joy, love, laughter, and connection unexpectedly ebb and flow over and around each other. The faulty idea that we need to park this merry-go-round of emotions before living in the now can mean we miss the present moment completely!
Instead, the Family Peace Foundation invites us to think about mindful parenting in more simple, accessible terms. Where being in the moment is something we can all do, at any time, by observing the mental chatter without allowing it to hijack us from the here and now.
This month, we are focused on the habit of spending at least 8 minutes a day with each child. We want to emphasize the importance of purposefully and mindfully engaging with each child without judgement.
Interestingly, many parents equate praise with positive parenting. However, as a mindful parent, praise is also a kind of judgement, whereby we attach meaning to the child’s behaviour. Instead of spending your 8 or more minutes telling your child how good and smart they are, find ways to be truly present, curious and open and a student in their ‘classroom’.
You see, as parents, we are blessed to have the world’s greatest mindfulness teachers at our fingertips.
Our children send us more invitations to play, create, reflect, learn and observe in the present than any expert ever could.
Each exchange and interface with our child offers the possibility of a time peppered with curiosity, exploration and reflection. Thanks to the natural wisdom of our kids, when we truly accept their invitation to just be, we cannot ‘polka in the past’ or ‘foxtrot in the future’. Instead, we find ourselves the grateful recipients of learning to be in the moment. At the same time, we can be powerful givers of the potentially life-changing affirmation that we see and accept our children just as they are, in every moment.
As a psychologist, clients often explore, lament and replay with me their current struggles through the lens of their inner-child’s eyes, as a means to understanding their pain today. While there can be therapeutic value in this process, as parents ourselves, it’s a helpful and empowering lesson to learn that we can’t change our past or predict the future. What we can do is attend to the present, right now, for the sake of both ourselves and our children.
So next time your child reaches out to you with a request to play, talk, read, listen, walk, or just be, rest easy knowing that there is no perfect way to spend your 8 minutes or more together.
Accept that your real challenge is to park the script of yesterday, forget the noise of the future and instead, accept the invitation from your experts-in-residence. Be with them in the now, with curiosity and non-judgement. Then relish the twinkle of the disco ball above as you share more mindful, memorable moments of connection, on the challenging but fulfilling dancefloor called life.