Shirley Pastiroff knows a thing or two about raising children, while keeping your cool and maintaining your sanity. She is a mother of FIVE (yes, FIVE), a counsellor at Renew your Mind, a Mindful Parent trainer and she recently released a book on the topic called, The Mindful Parent. Her book has already gained kudos from the likes of well-known and well respected folks in the industry such as Nigel Latta and Nathan Wallis.
Here, in a piece she’s written especially for all you parents reading Capsule right now, about exactly how Mindful Parenting works, and how you can use it to stay happy and sane – and have happier and saner children!
As parents we’re bombarded with ideas and imagery on a daily basis, depending on what we read, listen to or look at, that offer us suggestions on how to become better parents. It can be a precarious journey for us to navigate, as we strain to reach some kind of nirvana in which our homes look good, our bodies stay desirable and our tempers stay in check, whilst simultaneously producing free-spirited, creative little humans who are calm and resilient, do what we say, and keep their rooms tidy.
The idea behind The Mindful Parent is that great parenting is actually much simpler; it’s not something we have to strain for, but is within our grasp and deeply embedded in our intuition, if we stop just long enough to pay attention. It’s about being present in the present moment and aware of ourselves, far more than we’re aware of our kids. It’s a tiny shift with immense implications.
Being able to stay present during our most challenging as well as our most delightful moments with our kids, is of course the hardest part. It’s often when we’re tempted to dive into self-criticism or into trying to control, consequence or sculpt our small people in some way. The reality though is that healthy children feel the full force of the world as it hits them – the joy, the fear, the sadness and the rage. It’s quite normal, and doesn’t require much from us at all, other than a little safety management if necessary.
It may be a stretch, but I want you to imagine just being present with your child without attempting to change them when they’re weeping with loss or frustration because it’s bedtime, or raging at the injustice of losing a game, or irrationally terrified at the thought of trying something new. If you can, you’re beginning to sense the power of mindfulness in your body. This ability to stay in the moment as it is, rather than responding to the inexorable pull to try and fix or solve whatever feels uncomfortable, is a key component of what mindful parenting is all about.
I learnt this the hard way, having spent years trying to suppress or fix my children’s trickier emotions, as if somehow they were getting in the way of how our lives were supposed to be.
It sounded something like this:
“Seriously sweetheart – CALM DOWN!!!!!”
“It doesn’t taste ANY different in a blue cup….”
“Oh my goodness, could you just say ‘ok mum’ when it’s time to leave!”
“Don’t throw it at her, honey, take turns NICELY!!!”
“In our family we DON’T SHOUT!!…”
When I discovered Mindful Parenting, rooted in contemporary brain science that shows how crucial emotions are to a healthy life, my focus shifted. I began to develop strategies to help me navigate this area of parenting that had previously been intensely triggering for me. One of the strategies I have found the most helpful in my own life, and has had a profound impact on the homes and lives of many of the families I’ve worked with, is called Mirror-Link-Pause (MLP) – think My Little Pony.
When our kids are having a difficult emotion we can just start with recognising or mirroring it:
“It looks like you’re terrified ….. upset …. really sore …..mad at me….”
Then we validate, or link it to what we guess might be the reason:
“That makes so much sense, it’s cross-country…. he’s your best friend…. that’s the same knee you bruised last week…. you love screen time.”
The link has heaps of energy in it. It’s not an attempt to calm the situation down, but to see if we can skillfully stand in our children’s shoes.
And then we take a breath, we pause and see what happens. No ‘….but’ – that’s the hardest part for us parents! No need to try and fix, solve or change anything about the life being expressed in front of you. Maybe a gentle look or a sigh to make sure our kid knows we’re not leaving them in the lurch to sort themselves out, but just offering our support rather than our disapproval or our well-meaning solutions.
Often they just move on. They had an emotion, it was acknowledged, but not fixed and that’s all they need.
Have some fun with it: “Look at your knee – we might need to call the ambulance!”, “Only 7 hours on the ipad today, that sucks!”, “Vegetables/blue plates/girls should be banned!” etc….
MLP isn’t a magic wand, it doesn’t produce a sudden zen-like calm in every situation, but it does work so often that it leaves us with heaps more energy for the emotions that get stuck, or turn into tricky behaviours that need more involvement on our part.
But two things always change when we use MLP. The first is that our children are learning the names of emotions as we describe them (the mirror), they’re learning that their feelings are valid (the link), and they’re learning that they can process their own emotions with our supportive presence (the pause), which over time leads to emotional intelligence, resilience and of course vitality.
The second is that for us as parents MLP offers us life and energy in a very different way. Instead of losing energy each time our kids ramp up, disagree or get upset, by reacting with a desire to fix the situation, we start to feel quite neutral. It’s normal to have emotions expressed, and to care for the person having the emotion, but we can do it with both mindful presence (mirror and link) and healthy distance (pause). That leaves much more room for us to live our own lives, not just as parents but as people too.
Of course those days when our homes are calm, creative and conflict-free are what we love the most. But as mindful parents we’re free from any expectation that this should be the norm, and everyday collisions, carnage and emotional expressiveness are at the heart of healthy families too. As mindful parents we can be present while it’s all happening, without considering there’s anything to be improved at all. It’s a simple perspective shift, plus a few easy to use strategies, that enable us to enjoy our parenting journey rather than setting impossible and ultimately unhealthy targets for ourselves or our kids to love up to.
The Mindful Parent (RRP $35) is available to purchase locally in NZ through the Renew Your Mind website at: www.renewyourmind.co.nz/themindfulparent, and globally through Amazon, Book Depository and other online retailers.