image by Jenn Evelyn Ann
In the past couple of weeks I have been interviewing parents about the hardest job on earth. As cliché, as it may sound, I truly believe it is one of the most important jobs a parent has – their parenting style and skill.
As I went through the questions with the parents I interviewed, I couldn´t keep myself from thinking about my parenting experience, my children, and myself. A lot of painful episodes with my children started popping up in my head, and before I knew it, I was feeling shameful and judging myself. More specifically, I started remembering how a friend´s comment about my parenting style had made me feel ashamed; even when this friend had only known my son for a couple of hours.
I instantly became immersed in a downward spiral: I started blaming myself and feeling that I wasn´t a good father. Suddenly, mindfulness struck. I became aware of the fact that this had happened months before and decided to focus back again on my interviewees.
I asked about their struggles, frustrations, styles, successes, solutions and results as parents. I had many different answers to the questions I was asking, but something caught my attention: a lot of these different aspects were mostly centered on their children; their children´s behaviour, development and attitude.
Not a lot of parents were looking at themselves on a regular basis, as a way of improving how they are raising their children to improve their parenting experience; and you know what? That is pretty typical. It is what culture and society have been telling us for a long time. So, that´s what we tend to do: we look at the behaviours, attitudes, grades, school results, etc., and based on books, courses, and our experience, we try to modify it.
Usually, we use a method based on reward and punishment – which reminds me of my days at university working at the lab with cute little rodents. Don´t get me wrong, in a lot of cases this strategy works well, but not always, not for everyone, and not at all times.
So, why did I bring up the fact that a big percentage of parents don´t look within themselves as a parenting strategy? Well, because I think it is there, within themselves that we could find another critical component that could help complete the parenting experience.
Allow me to propose something to you: let´s invest in ourselves as adults and parents. To learn more about ourselves, and from that position, see our parenting style, skill and most importantly our kids, differently. To understand them and what they are going through from a different perspective and not only from the one dictated by society.
We as adults and parents are our own tool for this so called parenting experience. If we ignore our tools then, how are we supposed to improve this experience for ourselves and our children?
Here are some ideas on how to enhance your parenting style following some of the principles of mindfulness as described by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. My suggestion is when you see the different principles I am describing below don´t think (as we usually do) about applying them per se to your children; instead, think about learning them for you; if you do this, you will be helping your kids indirectly. As your perspective about yourself changes, your perspective about your kids will do as well.
Learn About Yourself.
As I explained previously you are the only tool you need to succeed, or better said, enhance your already innate abilities. The question here is: How do I do it? You need to learn more about yourself. You need to get to know this fantastic tool called: You. One simple – not necessarily easy - way of doing it is by being in silence once a day for a few minutes and listen to what your body is telling you. Pay attention to the bodily sensations without trying to change them. Do the same with your mind: observe your thoughts, in silence, and don´t try to modify them. Most importantly, don´t judge them nor yourself for having them. This needs practice and consistency. By learning about yourself, you will be able to respond in a healthier, more empathetic way towards your children, instead of reacting impulsively in ways that may hurt them and your relationship with them.
We usually lean more towards listening to what others say – call it, society, culture, friends, or family - than to listening to what we are feeling, and thinking. We are not used to paying attention to our innate wisdom, to our instincts, to our body, to our gut. Trust yourself as a parent, and do not compare yourself with what others around you – including the media and famous people - do or don’t do.
Do not judge.
Just as I explained about being in silence and paying attention to your bodily sensations and thoughts without judging, do not judge yourself when parenting. Think about the example I shared with you at the beginning of this text - you will find the whole version at the post “Daddy Shaming.” Your children are unique, and you are your children´s best experts. Nobody knows your kids as you do. If you think you don´t know them all that well (as a lot of us do), then become more aware of what´s going on around them and especially within them. Just as your children are unique, you are one of a kind as well, and if you get to know you without judging yourself, you will find that the noise of cultural and social comparison will start fading away little by little. Try to be as compassionate as possible with yourself. This is the best antidote for self-judgement.
So, you may be asking yourselves: is this it? What about what you´ve said in other blog posts about setting up boundaries and rules? This is a start. Limits, boundaries, and rules don´t contradict what I am sharing here with you. In fact, they are greatly needed in children and adolescents development.
Little by little I've learned to trust my gut with my decisions when it comes to my children. When I am mistaken about a choice that I made, I have learned to be more compassionate with myself, and to judge less. The whole learning experience about myself is a work in progress; I try to preach with example and spend a few minutes a day trying to get to know myself better.
José Briones is a registered psychologist and psychotherapist located in Montreal, Canada. He started his career in Mexico City working for Health and educational institutions, and in private practice. He also has experience in the employee and family assistance program industry. José currently provides psychotherapy in private practice mostly with adults, and in a local college with adolescents and young adults.
José writes on a weekly basis in his blog: 'Just Shrink About It!' and enjoys being with his three kids and his wife as well as playing football and other sports. You can read more from José on his blog or get in touch with him via Facebook or Linked In