This article first appeared on Huffington Post on March 19, 2015.
One of the occupational hazards associated with writing numerous articles and a children’s book about mindfulness and parenting is that people expect you to be a mindful parent.
They expect your children to be mindful children.
You might think, on any given day, that my household is calm, with zen music playing, candles flickering and my children peacefully playing or meditating. You might imagine my home looking minimalist, decluttered. Perhaps you think you would find me sitting quietly at the kitchen table with them, a cup of tea in hand, journaling about my next writing project.
Here is the reality of “mindful parenting” in my household.
My kids are often yelling and screaming at themselves or each other. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know, and they don’t either. They often hit, kick and pinch themselves or each other. Don’t ask me or them why about that either. None of us knows.
Mealtime is a complete circus, often accompanied by candy in exchange for making “healthy choices,” like a half of a strawberry or a micro-molecule of broccoli. There is lots and lots of screen time when mommy needs to hide out in her closet for a break.
And quite often, there I am, impatient, exasperated and frustrated. A favorite phrase that I often find myself saying, over and over again: “How many times do I have to tell you to…?” (insert your demand of choice — get your shoes on, go to the bathroom, finish your homework, keep your hands and feet to yourself, etc. etc). You may see me yelling at them to stop yelling.
You might also see me inhaling a few gummy bears and texting on my phone while (I think) they are not looking.
I share this with you because I don’t want to contribute to unrealistic parenting standards. I also share this with you because I prefer to be transparent about how painful it can be to handle the demands of parenthood, while at the same time, wanting to take in every second, knowing how fast it will go by. And I share this with you because I don’t want myself, or my children, to be held to expectations that we can’t meet.
Yes, I believe in parenting mindfully. To me, this means I hold an intention to raise children who are conscious, compassionate and thankful. But this is clearly a work in progress.
For me, my intention is true. And although there is a lot that I can’t do “right” on a day to day basis, there are also many things that I can do.
I can start over, minute by minute, and hit the reset button when mindfulness has eluded me. I can apologize to my children for yelling or being distracted. I can try to start conversations about who we are and where we are and what we are doing and why, somewhere in the midst of our daily madness.
I can remind myself every now and again to put down my phone and play with them. And even though I don’t “play” very naturally, I can connect to the feeling of gratitude that they still want to play with me, even if I am not always very fun.
I can mindfully connect back, over and over to the hope that somehow I am good enough. And if not, that we are building a framework for them to be able to understand that I am always trying my very best.
Right now, being a mindful parent honestly means starting from a place of compassion for myself, and from there, extending understanding and forgiveness to my children. I can’t expect perfection from myself, and I can’t expect it from them.
I pray that from this space of kindness and loving, flexible boundaries, we can all grow together in the ways we need most.
One day, when my children are grown, maybe there will be candles and tea and peaceful harmony in the home. And that would be beautiful. But today is not that day. So for the present, I will embrace the chaos of each messy moment as best I can. Because I am aware that, not too far from now, I will look back and trade the candles and tea in a heartbeat, just to have a moment of this chaos back.