Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mindful parenting

I read these books about mindful parenting (via here and here). And I didn't really like them.

What the heck is mindfulness?
So mindfulness is really awesome; all this medical evidence is mounting about how mindfulness is they key to being healthy and living longer. But what the heck is it? According to these books, mindfulness is "moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness." In other words, squeeze me? baking soda? what does this even mean? I'm being serious. I get really annoyed with how nebulous this whole thing is. Come on, you inarticulate hippies! just kidding. But seriously though, I think good writers are good because they are inside their heads spinning things around ad nauseam. But since mindful people are able to sort of calm down that whole repetitive thought process, they also lose that critical edge neurotic writers get from refining their thoughts constantly. And so what I'm saying/generalizing is, mindful people seem to be really bad writers. Both the books I read kind of sucked. It was like they were trying to be all poetic, but mostly were just rambling incoherently. Everyday Blessings was much better, but still full of entire chapters I could have done without. And also they both pushed their attachment parenting/natural childbirth agendas. Which turned me off big time, even though I support many components of those things (I could write a whole 'nother blog post on my ambivalence about those movements.)

The short answer:
Mindfulness is the opposite of multitasking. When you do something, you do just that thing. So when you eat, you aren't just on autopilot getting ready to shove the next spoonful in your mouth before you've even swallowed the last. Instead you are totally paying attention to what the food looks like, feels like, smells like, and tastes like. You are totally concentrating on the experience of eating the food. You're not counting calories, or mentally adding this food item to a list of other things you ate, or you especially aren't thinking about something totally unrelated. (interesting side note, mindfulness has also been associated with successful weight loss.)

The slightly longer answer:
And yet, mindfulness is so much more than that. Because when you are able to get out of your head and out of your autopilot mode, you're able to experience awesome things you'd otherwise have missed. And the "non-judgmental" part of the "awareness" means you aren't saying, this sucks/this is amazing. Instead you just notice things like the weight of your child in your arms, the warmth of their body, the sound of their laughter (or shrill screams). And this awareness can help you interrupt the autopilot response process that usually gets you into bad habits or unhelpful patterns (e.g., the "ruts" you get it where automatic thoughts take over: why does she always do this to me? this sucks, I can't do this, why bother, etc., causing the "banana nut muffin and a beer" cycle Brene Brown talked about). Because when you don't judge you are less likely to suppress or catastraphize, but just empathize. And when you empathize and notice and accept, you can usually see solutions that you overlooked the first time around.

What does this have to do with parenting?
I don't know about you guys, but I need something to help me through those moments when we are running late and someone is refusing to put/keep her pants on and someone else just spilled her milk, and I realize we are out of cheerios, and OHDEARGOD. And I also need something to help me take in as much of this life as I can. Because it is so, SO easy to get caught up in the autopilot stuff or the avoidant stuff, that you forget that right there in the middle of that"stuff" is this adorable little family. And they will never be this age, this size, or in this moment ever again. And I don't want to look back and think, I wish I appreciated that stuff more at the time.

So the good news is, I randomly stumbled across another book that has nothing to do with mindfulness on the surface, but it is totally like step-by-step mindfulness strategies. It is like mindfulness for people who don't own a yoga mat. Or do own one, but need a little more organization and clarity in what they read. So in the next few posts, I'll be taking about the non-crappy stuff from these first books I read, and the helpful stuff from this new book I'm reading, and talking about how I'm trying to use it to cultivate a little more mindfulness survive and enjoy the chaos that is my life.

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