[Featured in Mind Body Green, December 2014]
It’s been eight years since I started this parenting adventure with no map and no previous experience. The practices I’ve learned along the way have been crucial to my sense of confidence and enthusiasm as a mama —especially the practice of meditation. It’s shown me that as a parent, my sacred duty is to feel whole, so that my son has an example of his own innate self worth.
This may sound like a bold promise, but you will be a better parent if you meditate and your kids will benefit from your regular practice. Here are some reasons why:
1. We share our state of being with our kids.
Parenting expert Vimala McClure says it best, “A wise mother knows: it is her state of consciousness that matters. Her love creates security.”
The truth is that stressed-out parents will likely raise stressed-out kids. If we are rushing around, anxious and fearful of what’s next, our kids will absorb our worry. Have you ever seen your kid’s face change when you are triggered by stress in some way? Have you ever noticed how your child’s behavior can trigger unconscious memories and subconscious reactions you’ve long since forgotten? And have you ever found yourself acting exactly as you’d sworn you’d never behave as a parent?
Meditation has been scientifically proven to release stress — much of which has been stored in our cells since we were children ourselves.
Each time we sit to meditate, our body and mind begin to identify opportunities for the release of maladaptive stress reactions. As the moments of release begin to accumulate, you’re getting more calm and serene each time you practice.
2. Meditation helps us see and dissolve our agenda.
Each time I sit to meditate, I can hear the movies and stories I’m creating in my mind. Sometimes these are all agenda-driven; “If XYZ happens when I’m done, then we can have a great morning.” or, “As soon as I’m done here, I’m going to make sure everyone understands XYZ situation MY way.”
Meditation places those sentiments and thoughts on center stage and helps me see that each one is fleeting, extreme and often dictatorial. The practice often stops me from living out my subconscious script, and helps me through situations. This takes my desires as well as my son’s experience into account, and lets us both have a hand in what happens.
Meditation simply keeps us malleable and willing to be a team player, awakening our highest abilities, aims and attributes.
3. Meditation keeps us more honest.
Meditation has helped me teach my son Jonah how to tell the truth, because even the tiniest of lies can come bubbling to the surface each time I practice. This experience has shown me how important it is to keep those seemingly small untruths out of my life, and helped me approach my son differently.
I was recently making dinner one night, when Jonah was out in the hall kicking a soccer ball and broke the exit sign. Hearing the crash, I kept chopping in the kitchen and awaited the confession, remaining calm. (I can directly attribute that calm presence to my afternoon meditation that day). He walked in, put the ball away, told me he was done playing out there and went to his room.
Moments later our sitter arrived and asked, “How did the exit sign fall down?”
He called out from his room that it must have fallen AFTER he came inside. Since I’m wired for haste and anger, I was just about to angrily accuse and threaten punishment, but I took a seat instead. I recalled something I’d read in Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents:
“We lie in order to remain safe, to avert danger of punishment. Fear of punishment implies inner tension, and even if a lie actually does protect us from perceived danger, it rarely if ever relieves this inner tension. Only the truth can do that.”
Quietly, I pointed out to my son that it might feel great to tell me the truth about the sign. He resisted, albeit calmly, and insisted that he hadn’t kicked the sign down. I didn’t press too hard — I mindfully took my time and stood still in the doorway for a moment.
I sat down next to him and gently, kindly looked into his eyes. I reminded him that telling the truth would not get him into any trouble — we’d simply head downstairs and I’d tell the building manager. I told Jonah that I’d pay for the damage and would thank him for his honesty and that whenever I’m scared to tell the truth, it always feels so much better after I do.
Moments later he admitted that his incredible rainbow kick had destabilized the sign and made it crash to the floor. We both smiled, relieved and ready to handle the mistake, together.
Because Jonah had already broken the sign, my work was not to bring anger, punishment or shame — the old ways of coping and numbing myself and others around me —my work was to bring a simple and effective solution to the problem.
4. Practice makes presence.
Meditation teaches us to “go with the flow” and stay present to what is happening, even when we feel conflicted, exhausted, or afraid. “Presence” for me really indicates a lack of resistance. When we resist, we’re bringing in an old opinion or belief to a new moment. In meditation, we are shown how futile it is to hold onto the past, instead of being present with what’s happening right now.
By returning to the sensation of our own breathing (mindfulness), or locating the charming sound of our mantra (as in Vedic or mantra meditation), we’re becoming more present to the inevitable shifts in energy during any conversation or relationship.
By allowing ourselves to feel compassion (as in Metta meditation), we can even go as far as cultivating benevolence and kindness for those with whom we are in conflict —adding another layer of presence to our ways of being. Through meditation, we learn to be grounded and comfortable within ourselves, making us more available for acknowledgments, apologies and advancements with our children.
Here are 10 simple steps to begin your own meditation practice for stellar parenting:
1. Set your alarm for 10 minutes earlier tomorrow.
2. Upon waking, please don’t look at your phone other than to turn the alarm off.
3. Brush your teeth and splash some water on your face.
4. Sit in a chair, on a couch or against a wall to support your back. Allow your head to rest freely.
5. Set the timer on your phone for five minutes (remember to check nothing else on your phone).
6. Begin noticing your inhales and exhales. If you notice thoughts churning, know that your noble mind is simply trying to get arranged for the day, so smile at it and return your attention to your breathing.
7. If you notice your body twitching or moving suddenly, trust that it’s releasing stored stress or tension, and return your attention to your breathing.
8. If you’re like me and live on lists, keep a pen and paper nearby. If something cycles through more than three times, take note (not on your phone, please) and then come back to your breathing.
9. Continue observing and calmly return your attention to the rise and fall of your breath until the timer chimes.
10. Smile. You’re on track for a more serene day. Tomorrow you’ll do six minutes, and each day add one more minute to build up to 20.