I feel like “mindfulness” is all the rage these days. I’ve tried my hand at mindful eating, spending — even driving. But I wonder, how would one implement mindful parenting?
In my own spiritual practices, I use the terms, “mindfulness,” “meditation,” and “prayer” more or less interchangeably. While I understand that there are folks for whom there are significant distinctions (or even chasms) between these categories, for me, they all function as something pretty close to synonyms for “paying attention.” (For one possibility as to what that might mean, check out the incomparable Mary Oliver’s poem, “Praying.”) Let’s run with that definition and see where it gets us.
To begin, it’s great that you have begun to experiment with paying attention as you eat and as you buy things — my family’s experience is that shining a light on what we eat and how we spend money has transformed how we do both. And, as a pedestrian and a bicyclist, let me say that I am grateful for your decision to pay attention as you drive!
It is easier than many of us first suppose to pay attention as we raise children. In order to deliberately engage in what we might call mindful or prayerful parenting, however, we need to start by allowing ourselves to let go of the notion that a serious spiritual discipline requires a big beard, a robe, and abundant silence. We do not, in other words, need to be full-time mystics in order to pay attention. (That’s just as well because, as near as I can figure, full-time mysticism is pretty much incompatible with parenting.) Other cultures, in which the Divine is soaked into day-to-day reality, rather than being kept in a special cabinet at Church, seem to get this more easily than we do here in the West: I have never forgotten visiting with the Imam who made the beautiful declaration that simply helping another person is an act of prayer.
So, see what happens if you pay attention as you make your children lunch or walk them to school or get them ready for bed. What stories do they have to share with you? What questions do they have to ask? What wonders have they found in the world around them? What do they have to teach you about what God is like? (If you’re like me and you suffer from a screen addiction, you may need to help yourself pay attention by deliberately turning off your TV, your computer, and your smartphone every once in a while.) You won’t always be able to focus entirely — sometimes you’ll be too tired or there will be too much going on or your kids will just be driving you a little too crazy. When that happens, don’t worry about it. Just notice that you have become distracted and let yourself refocus.
You may find that mindfulness will allow you to enjoy the hard work of parenting a little more. If nothing else, when an older parent tells you that your kids’ childhood will go by fast, you can agree –—but you can also tell them that you’re paying attention the whole time.
Hey readers: we’re almost two months into Father Knows Best! When I started this column, I wondered if there would be a question that I would hear most often. So far, that question has proven to be, “Am I allowed to ask a question?” The answer is: “yes.” (I understand that you asking questions and me answering them is more or less how this whole advice column thing works.) So, if you’re wondering about, well, just about anything, then start typing. The staff at the FKB command center is waiting for your letters.
Do you have a question about ethical decision making, living a faithful life or theology? Leave a comment below or send your question for Rev. Elfert to email@example.com.