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How I learned to be a more mindful parent

The author and her son, Milo. (Andrew Knight)

I spotted her at the playground: a young mother sitting on the edge of the retaining wall, completely engrossed in her iPhone while her baby crawled nearby on the soft surface. She occasionally looked up to see where the baby had gone, but the majority of her time and attention was devoted to the iPhone. As my boys played independently nearby, I glanced back just in time to see another parent run over and grab the baby just before he toppled over the edge of the wall a few feet away from his mom, who was completely unaware of his perilous position. The mom thanked the parent who had grabbed her son, then positioned the baby closer to her and went back to her iPhone.

On a different day at the same playground, I watched as a cheerfully engaged father chased his little boy around, then held back and watched from the sidelines, seeming to genuinely enjoy the moments unfolding before him. He and his child were completely connected in those moments, and it made me think long and hard about mindfulness in this difficult job of parenting.

The topic of mindfulness is everywhere these days: how to raise a more mindful child; how to be a more mindful parent; the benefits of mindfulness on the brain and on emotional growth. But mindfulness is more than a trend or another way for parents to compete — it is an invaluable tool that affects the way we feel, the way we perceive, and the connections we make with our children. In its most basic form, mindful parenting means bringing our thoughts and attention to the present moment and being open and non-judgmental toward those moments. There is a sense of calm that comes with being in the moment instead of constantly thinking ahead to what’s coming next or what’s going on elsewhere.

Thinking back to my earliest parenting experiences, I remember being anxious and preoccupied when we had our first son. I was newly staying home after practicing school social work for three years, and I had a hard time adjusting to the slower pace of caring for an infant. There were plenty of mindful moments with him, but most of my mental effort was focused on what was to come: what milestones he was meeting and what I could look forward to next, when we should plan for the next baby (he came not two years later), and honestly, some pretty harsh self-judgment on the type of parent I was or was not. Perhaps because of the constant forward-thinking, I believe I missed out on a lot with my first son.

Fast forward seven years. I am still at home, now with three boys, but there has come a shift in the way I relate to them, and to parenting in general. Perhaps because of the realization that those moments are so fleeting, I have become a more mindful, present parent to our youngest, which in turn makes me a more mindful parent to our older boys. Several times a day, I remind myself to come back to the present moment, and it has, no doubt, made me happier. And quite by accident, mindfulness has rubbed off on my children. On a warm summer afternoon, we remark on a cool breeze and stop what we are doing to enjoy it; we take a deep breath together and look each other in the eyes when my oldest son is becoming frustrated; my middle son tells me out of the blue, “Mama, I am so grateful to have you!” I watch them play and realize that I am happiest when I am engaged and in the moment. After all, life is just a series of moments all strung together, and I don’t want to miss any of them.

It’s not as easy these days to be mindful. With so much amazing technology, we are constantly called to distraction. It seems that everywhere I look, people are inches away from their devices, checking in and checking out. And sure, I get it; we are busy and pulled in all different directions, and life can be complicated. But I fear that we are losing sight of happiness by prioritizing busy-ness, that we, as parents, are short-changing ourselves and our children.

When I look back on my sons’ early years, I want to remember being there with them, in those moments, connected. I want them to know that there is no place else I’d rather be, and I know many parents feel the same way. So I challenge you — put down your devices for a day and be there, in the moment, for every moment. You might find it’s worth unplugging for.

Lauren Knight blogs at Crumb Bums

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