So far, we have discussed becoming a parent and some the challenges that this entails. We have deliberately ignored the daily experience of parenting in favour of some of the more controversial aspects. This is deliberate. There are plenty of books about parenting. However, if you really want a word of advice, in one or two sentences, it has to be:-
Love and respect your children and treat then as you want them to treat you. After all, one day, you might need their support!
Before we move on to becoming grandparents, let’s look at how mindfulness can help us as parents.
Mindful Meditation – As a Parent
Before discussing mindful parenting, we want to clarify something. This series is about grandparents parenting their grandchildren under Special Guardianship arrangements. So why have we spent so long talking about parenting?
It should not need to be said, but there is a huge difference between being a parent and being a grandparent. As a grandparent, you usually have the opportunity to “borrow” your grandchildren, have lots of fun, and then give them back after a few hours or days. When you give them back, they are likely to be exhausted, as will you be, or they will be hyper-excited. Either way, you can now relax until the next time. As parents, you do not have that option. The children are yours, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks per year for at least eighteen years.
But the difference is more than just in the access. There are massive cultural differences caused by modernizing policies and procedures. We have already spoken about the changes made in the way we think about discipline. Also, your son and daughter-in-law come from different backgrounds. They will have their own view on what counts as good parenting, regardless of the way they were raised. And you may not fully agree with their ideas. I hope that this review is helping you to think about your views and beliefs as parents.
Now, how does mindful meditation help as a parent?
Mindfulness comes in many guises, as does meditation. My personal view of this is that meditation is deep thinking on a specific topic, during which we review past decisions and their consequences, followed by analysing the potential outcomes of various scenarios as we apply the lessons learned. I do not subscribe to the idea of emptying the mind. The human mind was designed with a thirst for knowledge. Trying to empty our minds denies us that right. It can also encourage us to think unhealthy thoughts. The best meditation involves healthy thoughts and is positive. I appreciate that there will be those who take issue with this view, but if they truly practice mindful meditation according to their own views, they will accept this concept without judgement, rather than taking issue with it.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, involves what is described as “being fully present in the moment.” Personally, I find that definition fairly nebulous. What do we mean by “being fully present in the moment?”
Imagine that you are looking at a painting of a meadow with poppies. Artists know that, as complimentary colours, red and green are ideal for drawing the eye. Therefore, they may use a row of poppies in a particular pattern to draw our eyes to some feature in the distance. For now, however, let’s imagine that the painting only involves a green field and a few poppies. Standing in front of the painting we have a choice. We can see “the whole picture,” for example. We look at it and think, “That would look nice in my lounge.” Or we could focus on details; we take note of the poppies because they stand out against the green background.
Yet, what if you were an art collector? You would want to ensure that you are buying an authentic painting. Therefore, you might look beyond the patterns formed by the paint. You may want to analyse the brush strokes which defined the master artist. You may know that the artist always laid down the paint according to a certain format. Now you are being mindful of more than just the overall picture.
As a parent, you need such mindfulness. You need “eyes in the back of your head,” as the saying goes. When your child is playing in the garden, you want to know that they are safe. So you look at the overall picture and see that they are playing happily. But you may also want to look at the details. If they are having fun with the secateurs, then you are likely to choose to take more notice!
So what does mindful meditation do for a parent?
As a parent, we will come across all manner of situations that test our ability to cope. Children can appear to be very frustrating, at times. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, are they really setting out to frustrate us? I once heard of an eighteen-month-old boy being described as “knowing how to push his father’s buttons.” Really? Are we saying that this child who was barely able to think could plot his way into aggravating his father? Is it not more accurate to say that the father allowed himself to be aggravated by the son’s actions?
This is an important concept. It highlights the matter of choice. We choose all of our actions. No one forces us to behave in a certain manner. It is our choice.
For example, imagine that your six-year-old daughter is helping with drying the dishes after dinner. She drops a plate and it smashes. Whose fault is that? It would be easy to scream and shout that she should have been more careful. Yet we know that six-year-olds are clumsy. Let’s look at some of the choices involved here.
We chose to allow, or even ask her to help. We chose to allow her to try to dry the plate, despite it being breakable. We also choose how to respond; whether to shout, or to comfort. It’s our choice. But our daughter does not force us to make that choice.
Whether we become angry or not is a matter of choice. Mindfulness will make us aware of the details, which include our feelings and emotions. Knowing that our breathing is increasing in speed, and that our muscles are tensing, and that we are frowning will alert us to the developing anger; and we will be able to choose accordingly.
Mindfulness also helps us to deal with what is going on around us. We have to remember that the angry exchange that we had at work may be affecting how we treat our children. The size of the utility bill may affect our tolerance levels. A disappointment, or a bereavement, or any other life event may affect how we respond to our child’s behaviour.
Remember, too, that our children assimilate our feelings, even if we do not make them obvious. They will reflect those feelings, no matter how hard we try to hide them. This is no excuse for giving up. It means that we have to be careful of the choices we make. Do we accept that we used the electricity and, therefore, the bill is larger than normal? If we do, then we will not allow it to affect our relationship with our children.
Mindful Treatment of Children
Therefore, mindful meditation is a valuable tool when raising young children. We need to be comfortable in our lives and mindful meditation will help us to achieve that. We can become content so that our children absorb our inner peace and reflect it back to us. Thi
s will also lead to reduced stress levels in both children and parents.
Let’s go back to our six-year-old daughter breaking a plate. Mindful meditation would have led us to think of this as a potential consequence from allowing her to help. It will also lead us to consider appropriate responses.
What about teenage children? They will be developing their own thought patterns and will want some level of independence. If we have developed mindful meditation it is likely that our children will also have developed this approach and they are more likely to act in a way that we approve of. Yet even if they do not follow our ways, our mindfulness will let us accept that with equanimity and we will be more able to reason with our teenagers, rather than yelling at them.
And when our children are grown, perhaps with their own families, we will be more able to accept their choices, even if we do not approve of them.
All of this leads us on to our next subject – becoming grandparents. As we develop this subject we will keep coming back to the need for mindfulness. Being able to meet the challenges with equanimity will help us to keep the peace. Hopefully, this review of the challenges of parenting will help grandparents to meditate mindfully on the differences between their parenting style and that of their children, because an appreciation of these differences will help us to make wise decisions as we meet the challenges that we will discuss in the rest of this book.