Bidi McSorley, M.D. is a wonderful pediatrician and teacher of mindfulness for parents in the Philadelphia area. Dr. McSorley has been a pediatrician for 30 years, a meditator for over 10 years, and an instructor for the Penn Program for Mindfulness. She has kindly agreed to be our guest blogger this month!
Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention in the present moment, on purpose and without judgments. It is being with whatever is (good or bad, desired or not wanted), and not pushing the experience away or holding onto it. It is having equanimity.
So, how does this apply to being a parent? How can you have equanimity when your toddler just dumped a dozen eggs on the floor and starts walking on them? Or when your tween rolls her eyes at you and says “whatever” when you ask her for the tenth time to get off YouTube and do her homework! It’s not easy but it’s worth it to stay present for exactly what is happening, because the present is the only moment we really have, and to miss it is to miss so much of your little one’s childhood – both the good and the bad.
But what does it mean to really be present as a parent? First, it means knowing yourself and really knowing your child. It means accepting your child as they truly are, not as you want them to be, not as a collection of your expectations or dreams, but as themselves with all their strengths and challenges. That is the real task of parenthood, seeing you child clearly, and loving and nurturing who that person really is. So often I hear parents say, “she is just like me,” or “he and his Dad are exactly the same. “ Well, maybe in some aspects our child shares our traits or interests, but in their own unique way with lots of stuff that isn’t us.
Mindful parents are curious about their child, wondering who this little person is now, in this moment, in this stage of development. And mindful parents know themselves; they know the voices in their head that can make them react rather than respond. This is key in living mindfully: responding to the situation that is really happening instead of reacting from triggers established long ago from your own childhood.
So how to start? Take time and meditate.
Meditation is brain training that teaches you to stay present. There now are volumes of research showing that meditation decreases stress and anxiety, increases attention, and contributes greatly to a sense of wellbeing. But who has that kind of time…not the usual busy parent! You could start to learn meditation from apps such as Headspace, Insight Timer, or Calm to name a few. Begin by taking three to five minutes a day to breathe, to be present. Really notice that wet, sloppy kiss of your preschooler, the squeal of your toddler when he first tastes a strawberry, and even the glint in the eye as your child delibertly defies you in some small moment.
And during the difficult moments mentioned above – yes, even then, if you can take a breath, stop and stay present and respond in the present moment, you will be practicing mindful parenting. When you respond in the present rather than reacting with voices from the past (your parents’ voices, for instance), you are far better off. You are not your mother; your child is not you. Both of you are together in an entirely new relationship, which you have the choice to shape. Remember, you and your child are in the present moment, a moment that will never occur again – so be there – alert, alive, present.
First in a series on Mindful Parenting by Bidi McSorley, M.D.
Penn Program for Mindfulness
Jefferson Mindfulness Institute
*Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, by Myla and Jon Kabat–Zinn
*The Mindful Child, by Susan Kaiser Greenland
*Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, by Shauna Shapiro and Chris White
*Parenting from the Inside Out, by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell
*Parenting In The Present Moment, by Carla Naumberg