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Mindfulness Practices, Values, and Parenting

When it comes to parenting presence is infinitely more important than presents.

CC0 Creative Commons
Source: CC0 Creative Commons

It’s all too easy to fall prey to the weight of guilt and regret related to specific parenting experiences: things you deeply wish you had or hadn’t done, or had done very differently. Such self-doubt is impressively universal when it comes to parenting, and it is where the mindfulness practices of self-compassion and self-forgiveness can play a critical role.

Self-compassion involves identifying, being present, and making peace with your own suffering rather than trying to avoid it and exercising self-kindness in response to your inadequacies and failures instead of engaging in harsh judgments and self-criticism. It confers a nonjudgmental understanding of your pain, so you appreciate your personal experience as part of the larger human experience.[1] It may not come as a surprise that mindfulness is inherent in self-compassion.

A simple self-compassion practice that you can do any time you find yourself struggling emotionally is known as the Self-Compassion Break[2]. It has three stages:

  • Be mindful: With nonjudgmental acceptance, observe your pain and acknowledge it by saying to yourself something along the lines of, "This is a moment of suffering," or, "I’m in pain," or "This is distress."
  • Remember that you’re not alone: All people experience discomfort and distress—it is part of our shared humanity. Reinforce this awareness by saying to yourself, "Suffering is a part of being human," or "All people experience emotional pain," or "Everyone struggles at times."
  • Be kind to yourself: Consciously express kindness to yourself, internally saying something like, "May I learn to accept myself as I am," or "May I be at peace, may I be at ease," or "May I be forgiving toward myself."

Mindfulness Practice and Values

Under the influence of life’s daily stresses and strains, the connection between our intentions as a reflection of our values and our attention is all too easily weakened or lost, like a cell phone call that loses clarity or gets dropped. While we may start out with strong and clear intentions as parents, guided by our values, there are many things that derail or distract us, and many reasons we become distanced from them.

Mindfulness practice can be instrumental in aligning your attention with your values-based intentions in ways that improve your ability to be skillful in general, as well as the quality of your parent-child interactions.

Too often, parents focus on presents instead of presence. Our presence is a precious gift we can give our children at any time, regardless of our financial status. When we give our children our time, attention, and emotional availability, we give them the precious gift of recognizing their intrinsic value and worthiness.

With the support of mindfulness practices, you can help your kids learn the skills of self-awareness, present-moment attention, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. These skills will equip them to better manage their own inner experiences. The ability to craft even a few moments of internal stillness for themselves allows their nervous systems the opportunity to settle and reset. Neither you nor they have to be ruled by your immediate thoughts and feelings—whether these are pleasurable or painful.

Practice Is a Noun as Well as a Verb

I practice (verb) mindfulness and meditation, and I have a mindfulness and meditation practice (noun). From day to day, my practice varies in quality, depth, and ease. Some days, I find it easier to actualize conscious present-moment awareness; nonjudgmental witnessing of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations; and acceptance without attachment or aversion.

When this happens, I’m freed from the need to control, guided by and able to flow with the river of life today. I’m gifted with learning how to live more selflessly, with an awakened mind and an open heart, with a heart full of gratitude and a mind free of expectations, seeing all beings (including myself) with eyes of compassion. Other days, these experiences are fleeting and difficult to access.

Mindfulness and meditation practice doesn’t require you to show up happy, enthusiastic, or serene. You can show up with a busy, crazed mind and a heavy heart. You just have to show up and be present.

Copyright 2019 Dan Mager, MSW

Author of Roots and Wings: Mindful Parenting in Recovery and Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain


[1] Kristen Neff, “Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude toward Oneself,”Self and Identity, 2 (2003): 85–101. Psychology Press 1529-8868/2003 DOI: 10.1080/15298860390129863.

[2] Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, “Self-Compassion Break,” 2015.….

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