Mindful Parenting: Focusing on the Moments that Matter

image credit: Noah Coffey

Lessons…sports…groceries…cooking…laundry…work…car repairs…extended family…etc, etc. Getting tired yet? That “to-do” list doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter! Cross one thing off, add three more.

I don’t know about you, but some days parenting feels akin to being a circus performer who juggles balls, bowling pins, and flaming torches, or who spins plates on long sticks, frantically dashing to and fro, trying to keep everything from crashing to the ground. Whether you are a parent of one or ten, whether you work outside of the home, or you are CEO of your family, we can all get easily caught up in the daily chaos. This leads to us feeling overwhelmed and rushed, and most often the solution we come up with is to WORK HARDER. If I get up earlier I can do X; if I stay up later I can do Y; if I multitask I can finish two things at once.

However, there is a big price to pay for all this rushing and multitasking. We end up spending a good portion of our day on autopilot! Of course, autopilot mode is useful and efficient for many tasks. Who wants to have to think about how to do a load of laundry, clean the cat box, or empty the dishwasher?

We probably can multitask certain things, with no ill effects. But what I’ve noticed is that I sometimes get sucked into autopilot when I’m home with my family, even when I’m talking to my kids or my husband, and if I do that, I am missing out on the moments I have with them.

In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin says of raising children: “The days are long but the years are short.” I couldn’t agree more! When two kids have the same nasty bug and you are running back and forth with the buckets/thermometers/cold cloths, or you have 10 things to do and everyone seems to need you at once, it can be a looong day! Looking back, though, I can’t believe how big and grown-up my kids seem nowadays (they’re 9 and 6). And I know lots more is to come, so I don’t want to miss out.

How to balance your desire to be “truly there” with your family with the need to get things accomplished? The key is mindfulness. Mindfulness is not complicated, and it is not the same as meditation, though meditation is one of the ways to achieve a mindful state. Mindfulness is simply being aware of the present moment, nonjudgmentally.

Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised how hard it can be to achieve sometimes! Watch out for that pesky autopilot, and all the yammering thoughts pulling you here and there…mindfulness is about acknowledging all those thoughts, but returning to being fully present and aware of what is going on, both outside and inside.

Sounds great, but…how do you become more mindful? You don’t have to sit and stare lovingly at your children to be fully present, though that is nice from time to time! Rather, take just a few minutes to follow these steps, and you will find yourself better able to take advantage of the moments with your family:

  1. Breathe. It’s amazing how little we focus on this, yet it keeps us alive every minute. Deep breathing has calming effects, and sometimes we need to stop and take a few deep breaths before we jump into the fray.
  2. Look, listen, take it in. Stop and really look at what is happening around you; what are you seeing, hearing, feeling? You might be surprised at the beauty of an ordinary event like bathtime or your child playing in the sprinkler.
  3. Slow down. Rather than zipping through your various tasks, breathe, look and listen, and then move forward, but a little more slowly. This isn’t to say that you can’t mindfully enjoy fast-paced activities (you certainly can!) but when starting out, it’s best to slow down the pace a bit. This allows you to better notice what’s around you.
  4. Release judgments. This is the toughest part! Our brains are amazing judging machines, which is important for our survival but sometimes robs us of the ability to experience NOW. Sometimes our judgments pull us away from experiencing a fun, joyful event. Even when the present moment involves a screaming toddler or an irate spouse, being fully aware and present in that moment will allow you to problem-solve more effectively.
  5. Keep practicing. No one “masters” mindfulness immediately, and the point is not to be the “best” at it. Drop “perfection” from your vocabulary; replace it with “excellence” or even “good enough”! The more you practice mindful living, the easier it becomes! The more you are aware of what you are doing, the more you can decide what truly matters to you and what you really want to spend your time doing. Maybe some of those tasks on the to-do list can be delegated, or at least done to a “good enough” level.

You will notice more as you become more mindful. You can learn to drop the “do it all” habit and look for even short periods of time to be more aware. One night recently, my kids were playing in the backyard and I caught myself thinking “I can get the kitchen cleaned up while they’re playing.” Then I thought, “The kitchen can wait!” It would soon be dark, they’d be off to bed, and I could clean later. Out I went to play with them, and I’m glad I did. Of course, sometimes a task really must be done at a certain time, but look for those opportunities to spend quality, mindful time with your family. Your family will benefit from your being more “with” them, and so will you!

There are many amazing resources on mindfulness and mindful parenting in particular. Here is one book I like.

How have you practiced mindfulness lately?

–Lori J. Warner, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Licensed Psychologist, Beaumont Children’s Hospital

7 Responses to “Mindful Parenting: Focusing on the Moments that Matter”

  1. 1 Mary Anne Kenerson August 12, 2011 at 10:59 am

    I really like this post – even though my children are young adults the principles still apply! Thanks for the reminder.

    Mary Anne

  2. 2 Lori Warner, Ph.D. August 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Thanks Mary Anne! I think we’re never too old to benefit from a little mindfulness..

    -Dr. Warner

  3. 3 Anonymous August 12, 2011 at 8:59 pm


    Very well said–I couldn’t agree more!! Thanks for reminding of us of the importance of our physical AND mental “presence” to our children.

  4. 4 sarah jo sautter August 12, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Great tips, but most often so hard to put into practice as a working mom. And especially when you’re caring for an infant and a toddler that doesn’t nap and has a later bedtime. If I waited until they were both in bed to finish any chores, not much would get done before I went to bed myself and I’d never get any down time.

    Sometimes I feel really guilty working at home while my kids entertain themselves, but I also think that kids need to learn how to play solo too. I admit, there has to be a balance. So I feel mindfulness is an ideal that just isn’t always practical.

  5. 5 Anonymous August 13, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Great article, Lori. As a parent of young adults, now looking back…taking time to play over doing dishes would win out for sure! I agree Sarah Jo; it is the “balance” part that is always the challenge. Balancing independent time for both parent and child, while including quality family time becomes the quest. Lori, great tip on letting go of the idea of perfection. I especially like your suggestion to “keep practicing,” Thanks for reminding us that each day is a new opportunity to try and move in some mindful parenting. Deanna

  6. 6 JennyV August 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    Even if you don’t have kids, you can still get sucked into this. Happens to me all the time. Hubby says, “Leave the dishes and come watch this program with me!” My reply is usually, “Just give me a minute!” I have to remind myself–who really cares about the darn dishes anyway? The “I HAVE TOs” are self imposed for the most part. Maybe what we need to be saying more often is “I have to enjoy this moment, because it won’t come again.”

  1. 1 Have a Less-Stress Summer! | Beaumont Parenting Program Trackback on June 26, 2014 at 7:48 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


Enter your email address and you'll receive notifications of new posts in your in-box.

Join 2,906 other followers

Free Developmental Screening

Confidential online developmental screening for children up to age 5


%d bloggers like this: