As a critical consumer, one of the things I want to know most about it bias…because it’s always there.
When I read studies, I want to know who funded them. I want to know the political or personal or religious beliefs of the authors. When I read an article or watch a news story on the internet, I want to know the slant of the organization, the parent company, the reporter themselves. When I listen to the advice or commentary of a professional, I think about where they got their training, I think about their own upbringing, I want to get a sense of how open-minded they are as an individual.
There is no such thing as objectivity.
That being said, I think it’s time to come fully clean about my biases–as a child development professional, as a consultant, as a teacher trainer, as a parent educator, as a public speaker, as a writer. I want to be up front about them not only because I think that’s the ethical thing to do, but honestly, because I hear a lot of comments that make me aware that even people who purportedly know me and my work very well have a lot of misapprehensions. So let’s clear it up, shall we?
It’s really not so complex. I’m all about the kids.
Sometimes it gets mucked up, I admit that. I do have strong opinions, based on many years in this profession–but I recognize that in the great majority of the cases, they are just that…my opinions, my experiences, my perspectives. I do not imagine they should or could be adopted or agreed upon by all parents. I offer them to those that ask and those who want to learn more about models of mindful and respectful parenting. In the end, the most important thing is love and responsiveness. I know that, and I hope you know that. As for me, I’m all about the kids.
I use the term “mindful parenting” a lot in my work. Coincidentally (not really), there are a lot of other people talking about Mindful Parenting as well. “Ooh! Kindred Spirits!” I think. So I read their blogs and I read their books and I engage in conversation. And while I wouldn’t exactly say that we’re not kindred spirits–I do love and value what each of them have to say–with each one of these forays into the world of “mindful parenting,” I realize that we’re talking about different things, and we may be using somewhat different definitions of the word “mindful.” I mean, we are and we’re not. Let me try to explain.
If you google “Mindful Parenting”, these are the top five hits (because we all know that most of us go no further than the top 5 hits, if that):
- Carla Naumburg. Carla is a mom, writer, clinical social worker, blogger on Mindful Parenting, and author of Parenting in the Present Moment. (Carla is a mom who lives not far from me–I have great respect for her work, and highly recommend her book.)
- The Mindful Parent, a site run by Scott Rogers, author of Mindful Parenting: Meditations, Verses, and Visualizations for a More Joyful Life, and a well known Mindfulness Teacher.
- Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn. (As a side note, Myla is the daughter of Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, something that we should all read, if we have not read it already.)
- Mindful Parenting by Kristen Race, which focuses on mindfulness as a tool for “de-stressing” families.
- Mindful Parenting as a hashtag on Huffington Post blogs–the top/most recent entries were on positive thinking, mantras for mindful mothering, gratitude, and loving ourselves.
There’s some good stuff here. The one thing that all (or most, anyway) of these magic search engine results have in common is that they share a common definition of “Mindful Parenting”, one that speaks to the parent about the parent, with the premise that mindful meditation is a valuable tool for parenting and family life (as well as for everything else!)
For example, in this interview, Jon Kabat-Zinn explains his definition of Mindful Parenting as:
Mindfulness, which lies at the heart of Buddhist meditation, means moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness. It’s cultivated by refining our capacity to pay attention, intentionally, in the present moment, and then sustaining that attention over time. It means becoming more in touch with our life as it is unfolding.
Parenting through mindfulness has the potential to penetrate past surface appearances and behaviors and allow us to see our children as they truly are, so we can act with some degree of wisdom and compassion. The more we are able to keep in mind the intrinsic wholeness and beauty of our children – especially when it’s difficult to see – the more our ability to be mindful deepens.
….And half of the work of mindful parenting is being aware of those old patterns that so often rule our behavior as parents. Those patterns come from deep wounds in our past, and they don’t have anything to do with what’s really happening in the moment.
I couldn’t agree more about the potential of mindfulness and meditation to allow us to see our children with compassion. Beautifully said. I’ll take it.
But there’s more.
I like words, and feel strongly about their power. Here’s what I think is going on. The word “Mindfulness”, in the 21st century, has come to be associated with meditation to the point at which it is regarded as a synonym. When you look up “mindfulness” in the dictionary, or in Google, you get 2 dictionary definitions (one generic, one that describes meditation), followed immediately by countless hits that refer specifically to Buddhist meditation. Pretty much the same thing happens when you look up the shortened version of the word, “mindful.” At the same time, the word “mindful” has a much simpler, more inclusive and more generic definition, namely:
This definition encompasses both the mindfulness we so often speak of, i.e. the practice of mindful meditation, and the meaning that I intend when I use the word with parents, which is far simpler. When I say “Mindful Parenting”, I mean more than one thing. Yes, I highly value the role of mindful meditation and awareness in allowing us to respond to our children compassionately and to acknowledge our own triggers and “baggage.” That’s good stuff, no doubt about it. At the same time, when I say “Mindful Parenting” (again, given my bias), I am thinking of something much more practical, something more inclusive of the daily choices we make as parents, not restricted to our own practice of mindfulness and awareness (though yes, I do understand that there is interplay between them.) For example:
- Do we put thought into the choices that we make around where and how we place an infant (on the floor, on a couch, in a bouncy seat, in a swing) keeping “in mind” the messages we may be sending and the state of their development?
- Are we aware of the individual ways in which our children think and process emotions, and how that will play out in a school setting, and let that guide us toward either finding the right school (or non-school) environment for them, or toward advocating for them, as individuals, in school settings?
- Do we take time to think about the process of diapering during infancy and the ways in which we may be sending inadvertent messages about vulnerability and privacy, and consider adopting strategies for interacting with our children during diapering that may be a more accurate match for the messages that we want to be sending?
- Do we think about the messages we send when we continually advise our children to “be careful” as they play on playground equipment, and consider whether those are the internal voices that we want them to adopt?
- Do we make choices about toys or media exposure for our children that are associated with our values, our children’s interests, and our goals for them?
- When we intervene in children’s disagreements, do we think about the ways in which children learn to resolve disagreement and whether our interventions are helping or hindering?
I am surely attentive to mindfulness in my own life, and how it allows me to remain present–and I of course, recommend its value to anyone and everyone. What I’m saying here is that in my work, in my practice, in my consultation with children and families, I am also always mindful of the children. I’m coming clean here. When I help parents to put into place respectful or conscious discipline and do away with punitive or ineffective methods like “time out” or spanking, I am fully there for you (the parents). I want the process to be easier for you. I want you to not have to deal with so many behavior problems. I fully want you to feel supported by me in solving the challenges that make your family life not as happy as you wish it were. I want you to feel supported by me, period. And in the end–and frankly, all throughout–what i want most of all is for the kids to have a childhood free of shame, for them to feel security by having control over their environment by being able to accurately predict responses and consequences, for them to feel deeply connected to you so that they won’t feel the need to “act out,”, and for them to have a childhood that they can look back on knowing that they were seen, heard, cherished, and respected. Like I say, I’m all about the kids. Parents benefit too, but that’s a twofer.
It sounds crude. It sounds disrespectful of parents to say what can be (and sometimes is) read as “You’re not my concern. I care about your kids.” I know that I’m swimming upstream in a field that recognizes–and rightly so–that well-cared-for parents make for well-cared-for children. Yes, absolutely. Let me just say it here. I am 100% in support of any and all mindful parenting strategies and professionals that try to ensure that parents are taking care of their own emotional, physical, social, and psychological needs. I am 100% in agreement that parenting is hard work and the parents deserve and need support and that it is intricately tied to our ability to parent well. I applaud all of the wonderful writers and professionals who do that work to support parents, and have personally and professionally benefitted from their work.
The thing is, It’s just not my bent. My kuleana (I never have found a fully equivalent English word.) It’s not the reason I’m here. I’m all about the kids.
Parents are adults. There are lots of supports. If parents need support, if things aren’t going well, we can advocate for ourselves, make use of resources, ask a professional, chat with other parents online, cry on someone’s shoulder, get a babysitter and go sit in Starbucks for an hour and decompress. I know that you are capable and I trust you, as parents, to go after and get what you need in the way of support. It’s out there. I’m glad for that. We’d be sunk without it.
In contrast, there are no support groups for infants. No groups where toddlers get to complain to one another about the arbitrary rules that their parents set (like having to wear a jacket, for example…oh, the indignity.) There are no online discussions in which five year olds can talk to one another about the humiliation of being spanked or having to hold up a sign that shames their misbehavior while having it photographed for posting online. There are no get-togethers in coffee shops in which eight year olds can share how they wish their parents would give them more freedom or how inconsistent limits and punishments make them feel confused about what they should do and not do. There are no places where three year olds can get together and cry on one another’s shoulders about how their parents have no idea how to manage their own emotions and how they yell too much. And though it probably goes without saying…the younger the child, the fewer the resources.
Children are not adults. There are few supports. If they need support, or things aren’t going well, they cannot advocate for themselves or make use of resources–they are dependent on parents…and if the parents are short on resources, then where do they turn? I trust them, as children, to know what they need and go after it, but I don’t trust that it’s out there for them the way that it is for adults. All things being relative, children are voiceless.
Yes. Parenting is hard. Childhood is hard, too. Kids deserve a cheering section. You have yours. I am theirs.