Mindful Parenting: Failure, Compassion & Growth

If we can hold our anger, our sorrow, and our fear with the energy of mindfulness, we will be able to recognize the roots of our suffering. We will be able to recognize the suffering in the people we love as well. Mindfulness helps us to not be angry at our loved ones, because when we are mindful, we understand that our loved ones are suffering as well.

~from Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hahn

As I sat to meditate this morning, I read these wise words with an open heart and mind. I immediately relived my “blow my top” interaction with my 9 year old son this morning as we feverishly tried to get out the door on time. Like many parents of school aged children, shuffling kids to school can be an intensely frustrating experience. Every morning I set the intention to be patient and calm. Well, I FAILED!

As my son spent 30 minutes “brushing his teeth” and I saw the time ticking away, my patience wore out. I did not practice R.A.I.N. (which I just shared at a mindfulness workshop I facilitated) where you basically pause and check in with one’s self so to choose how best to respond; in other words, I was the antithesis of mindful. Instead, I succumbed to my habitual reaction to feeling out of control. I yelled. I yelled loudly (sorry neighbors) and used a profanity (so uncool and such a bad example!). I did not hold my anger with kindness. Instead, I threw it at my child’s face. This is NOT how I want to respond, especially to my beautiful child.

On our brisk walk, we both apologized to each other. I told my son that my mean and aggressive response was not his fault; it was mine. Regardless of whether we will be late for school, he does not deserve to be treated this way. I further explained that this is not how I want to react and that I will continue to practice patience and pausing – being more mindful of the experience. I also shared that I am no longer going to nag him, that he can come up with ways to help himself stay attentive to the time. We will have a brainstorm session this afternoon.

Reading the words of Thich Nhat Hahn reminded me to bring a compassionate heart and mind when interacting with my son. “[W]hen we are mindful, we understand that our loved ones are suffering as well.” My son was suffering this morning. I am well aware of his dislike for going to school, especially these past couple of days when he has been “spoken to” by his teacher for chatting with friends. I am also clearly aware that my nagging is adding to his suffering. While I can model how to take responsibility for our reactions every time I fail as a parent, I know that every time I react harshly my son hears a negative message about himself. This is NOT what I want my son to believe about himself nor about our relationship. I want him to believe he is a good and caring person and that I am too.

Part of practicing mindfulness is cultivating this skill of holding our own suffering with gentleness and kindness. When we do this, we can then see our loved one’s suffering and respond compassionately to them. This requires us to develop an openness to recognizing our own suffering with nonjudgmental acknowledgment. This, as Sharon Salzberg* writes, “creates a bit of peaceful space within which we can make new, different choices about how to respond to something like anger.” How do we cultivate mindfulness and compassion so that we can bring it into these moments of intense frustration? Meditation!

Meditation is essentially training our attention so that we can be more aware – not only of our inner workings but also of what’s happening around us in the here and now. Once we see clearly what’s going on in the moment we can then choose whether and how to act on what we’re seeing.

* Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation

So I sat this morning and practiced lovingkindness for my son, for myself, and for all parents. My intention is to engage mindfully with my son, and when I fail (as I will because I am human), I can bring compassion to this failure and begin again. Each time I meditate, however, I am increasing the chances that I will respond mindfully rather than impulsively.

May we hold the failures of our parenting with compassion and continue to learn and grow. This is what I call mindful parenting and our children are our greatest teachers.

If you are interested in guided compassion meditations, please check my Guided Meditations page (updated often).

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