Mindful parenting seems to be an oxymoron. Mindfulness is something we can strive for in many areas of life but in partnership with parenting, well, those odds sometimes seem out of reach. Parenting requires incredible intestinal fortitude. The role of a parent is that of a guide, a mentor, a chef, a chauffeur, emergency medical technician, referee, therapist, manager, teacher, spiritual advisor, and much, much more. All of these things demand that at any given moment, we may have to wear one, if not all, hats. We are constantly reacting to whatever is being thrown at us. Mindfulness, therefore, can often feel like a pipedream when paired with parenting. But there is a way. Mindful parenting can mean that we bring awareness to every action that we take; giving ourselves the freedom to be present in a thoughtful and calm way, as well as being more intentional and less reactive. Our ability to be mindful and present also gives us the clarity to not make rash decisions and jump to punitive measures, no matter what the stress might be. These can feel lofty, but I promise that with practice this way of being can be attained.
Our children enter our lives, not the other way around. It is often challenging to wrap our heads around this concept, but it is ultimately the way to understand how to build more present moment awareness into how we parent. There is a famous quote by the author, Khalil Gibran: “ Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” It is a beautiful quote and a powerful reminder that we are simply here to guide them towards realizing their innate qualities. Jewish wisdom teaches that a child is created from mother, father, and God. Ultimately, your child is her own image of God and no matter what we wish for them, they will have to ultimately live their own lives.
Where does this leave us? It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to move towards mindful parenting is to attend to your own needs. In fact, in order to engage in mindful parenting, you first have to know who you are, what fills you up, what gives you energy, where your boundaries are and how you take care of yourself. If you are not taking care of yourself, you cannot possibly show up in a way that is mindful for your family. I realize that this may sound radical, but it is true. The Talmud tells us that we cannot give from an empty cup; we should not give to the point where we are depleted. If we focus solely on our children, we lose sight of ourselves and how we want to be when we show up for them. As much as we like to think that our kids are learning from what we are saying, they are learning much, much more from watching how we are living our lives. In Jewish life, our children observe us taking care of one another through gemilut chasadim or acts of loving-kindness, they see us attending to tikkun olam, or the commandment of repairing the world, and they watch how we take care of our bodies and minds through good health and spiritual practices. Every Friday night we have the chance to put our hands over or on our children’s head and recite the words of a blessing in which we ask for our children to feel the light, peace, and love of God. This becomes the foundation of mindful parenting; it is through us and our awareness of the present moment that we ask for our children to feel the presence of God. We are modeling this behavior for them, and it is through what we do that they learn. The piece that we can lean into for ourselves is our ability to be self-reflective. Continuing to stay the course in our own practices of mindfulness will ultimately guide us towards more mindful parenting.
The many jobs I have held over the course of my almost 50 years have barely prepared me for what this journey has been and continues to be; parenting is the most challenging by far. The hours are long, the conditions are tough, and the pay is terrible! Ask yourself the question, “What do I want my legacy to be?” Mindful parenting means that we are bringing ourselves back, over and over again, to what’s important in our own lives so that we can lead by example. Commitment to mindfulness in daily life, guided by the desire to want to be the best version of ourselves so we can be role models to our children, is the greatest motivator of all.
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