"My voice softened, I changed my level from standing over them to meeting them eye level. My face softened too: my brow unfurled and my eyes lit up with hope instead of burning with anger. Just by shifting my archetype I felt more connected to my kids and we achieved our overall goal with less resistance and much more fun. Most importantly my children learned to be guided by curiosity than goaded by fear." -April Cantor, Soulshine Life
Staying responsive and respectful takes PRACTICE, especially when it comes to parenting. Think about all of the other things you might be practicing now — yoga, distance running, a musical instrument, being a great partner ... it all takes real, steady practice.
As your meditation practice for better parenting starts gaining momentum, you'll notice other practices coming to life in new ways. For me it's practicing being clean and sober, praying and being actively grateful to those closest to me.
My most valuable practice comes nightly, when I ask my 8-year-old Jonah, what I could have done better that day. I make it safe for him to tell me, by reminding him each time that this is his time to help me be the best I can be. It was certainly awkward early on (we began this practice when he was about 4-years-old), because back then, there was always something I could've done better.
"Mama, you didn't need to yell so loudly."
"Mama, you could've been more kind in the way you said that."
But now, most nights he just says, "Nah, nothing Mama. You were great." And some nights he even asks me, unprompted, what HE could've done better.
And oftentimes, I'll ask him if he can think of anything he could've done better and he'll tell me, which gives him an important chance to think critically but empathetically about his own behavior.
Here are four wonderful reasons why your kids will love your meditation practice, just as much as you do:
1. You're more calm.
Each time you gently return your attention to your breathing, you're training your cells to return to a more calm state no matter what the external circumstances.
Studies show that the more you meditate, and the more years you do so regularly, your brain builds neural architecture (literally, more folds) in the areas of emotional regulation and self-control.
For your child(ren), if you're more consistently patient and calm, they too will learn how to be more amenable, kind and patient in their interactions.
When you're regulating your emotions and tendencies, you're a lighthouse for your kid(s) to do the same.
2. You're more creative.
Now that you're training your body to release stored stress and find your patience, your creative juices can really flow. This might mean that you'll find yourself wanting to paint and write, but more importantly and most tangibly, it means that when your kid(s) experience crisis, you'll be more likely to find a balanced, appropriate and helpful response. In those moments, your consistent, creative caring is the best medicine for your family.
3. You're a better listener.
Practice helps you empty your cup of assumptions, predictions and "shoulds." Think of it this way: your child comes to you with something simple and super obvious to you; you might gloss over it and make light of it because it seems so trivial to you, especially when you have a dozen other matters on your mind that need your attention.
We forget that our children have been on this planet for far fewer years than we have, and our meditation practice helps us be more attentive — and more likely to remember moments when we've felt trivialized. When you drop into your own experiences via your daily meditation practice, you can listen to your kids' stories, hardships and victories with more attention.
4. You're better at surrendering to the moment.
My friend Carrie-Anne Moss, the founder of Annapurna Living, said, "Sometimes I dream of the day I will get up before my kids to do my morning practice, or drink hot tea steeped in the stillness of dawn. For now, I surrender to what is: sleeping in, wild mornings with my children, the beautiful mess of motherhood."
Some days the practice really is all about surrender and on those days, my practice holds me close — even when I don't sit. I surrender to what's needed — whether it's a hug for my kid or a listening ear for my man, and I don't get down on myself anymore. I know my practice will always be waiting for me.
For more on Elena and her meditation offerings, visit artofattention.com.
Photos courtesy of Pete Longworth and the author