Friday, October 7, 2011

Building the Foundation: How to Practice Mindful Parenting

My work in the area of parenting teens has led me to a sad truth: many parents of teens don't consciously parent them. They simply share life together under the same roof, taking each day as it comes. Of course a parent-teen relationship can be so much more than this. Helping a teen prepare for adult life begins with being mindful about that responsibility. 

The following guest post on this topic was written by my colleague Ronae Jull, who writes at, where she helps families by bringing practical solutions to parents of teens and adult children, and remains ridiculously optimistic about the transformative power of hope.

John Allan via Wikimedia Commons
It happened so gradually I almost didn’t notice the change. Then I woke up one morning to an intense and sometimes disagreeable toddler. In just a few eye blinks, that same wonderful miracle of birth became a teenager. Midnight feedings changed to midnight calls for a ride home. Screaming tantrums were replaced with eye rolls and snide remarks. And the constant offer to let me help! seemed to have disappeared entirely.

What is Mindful Parenting?

This thing I call Mindful Parenting doesn’t happen by accident! As a mom, you can’t get away with standing on the sidelines while your children grow up. I’ve met moms like that – those who think that their job is done after birth, who believe that their kids will figure out the important life lessons all on their own, or who can’t be bothered with learning how to practice mindful parenting.

I’ve met some amazing moms too! Those who come from super dysfunction, and do the hard work of recovery and learning how to practice Mindful Parenting. Those who seem to have done so many things ‘right’, and still struggle to help their teens navigate the twisty and confusing pathway into adulthood. Those who understand that parenting is a full-time privilege/challenge and who are ready to learn the best way to help their teens grow through the experience.

Building anything requires laying a strong foundation. So what is this Mindful Parenting and how does it work?

It is worth your effort to understand and practice Mindful Parenting, regardless of the age of your child. Don’t just stand on the sidelines watching them grow up! Regardless of what sort of parenting you received, or what parenting style you have now, Mindful Parenting can transform any experience into a learning experience, without the struggle or the drama that seems to define so much of the teen years. Lets take a look at what it is and how it works.


According to Ruth A. Baer, mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.

On purpose: This is the foundation you’re building! This on purpose attention is super important, as it defines how you pay attention to your child, to your parenting, and to the changes necessary to help your child successfully grow up.

How do you pay attention? Do you only pay attention when your teen is doing something wrong? Do you tend to ignore the good things? Has your child discovered that the only way to capture your attention is to mess up? Does your teen use argument and disrespect to get you to engage? Does the ‘rest of your life’ stuff take over your attention and leave you feeling exhausted and unable to practice this on-purpose-attention? Do you make a conscious decision every single morning to practice paying attention?

In the present moment: Feet on the ground, breathing deeply, you’ve got to choose to be aware in order to stay in the present moment. For some this is a super tough challenge! If your family of origin was emotionally (or otherwise) dysfunctional, you may have learned not to stay present in this moment in order to survive. If you don’t practice this one you’ll do whatever comes naturally, which will be driven by your past. Do you really want to be controlled by patterns established twenty or thirty years ago? Staying in the present moment takes practice, but is essential to the practice of Mindful Parenting.

Do you practice verbally and enthusiastically applauding your teen’s successful moments? Can you let go of the mental ‘list’ you’ve been keeping of all the things your teen does that annoy you? Some moments feel overwhelming – pay attention to whether or not you’re making it harder than it needs to be by bringing the past into the present! Since every moment can be a teaching moment, do you practice ways to let this moment be a constructive and positive experience for your teen?

Without judgment: Here’s the toughest part of this foundation you’re building! Let go of your need to be right! As your child grows into the teen years and then becomes an adult, you are mindfully working yourself out of a job. Mindfully helping him navigate the often confusing pathway between where he is now and what he will become can be made far easier if you practice Mindful Parenting without judgment. Letting go of judgement means celebrating the opinions your teen is expressing, especially when they disagree with yours. Letting go of judgement means responding respectfully when your teen is disrespectful of you. Letting go of judgement means not handing the control of your home over to your teen, while allowing him all the latitude he needs to discover who he is (especially when he messes up).

How many conversations have you had lately with your teen that end in disagreement? What if you could let go of your demand that he respond in a certain way? What if you practiced allowing him to have a different opinion? Do you allow your teen to express his opinions – even about important things – that disagree with yours? Can he have his own political opinions and religious beliefs even when you’re sure he’s wrong? Can you at least imagine what it might be like to discuss life issues with this becoming-adult and bat ideas back and forth, without demanding that he bend to your superior wisdom?

Why it's hard...

One of my favorite bloggers, Denny Coates, has written a marvelous piece about how changing behavior is like constructing a super highway. If your practice of Mindful Parenting strategies feels like you’re in the middle of a construction zone, you’re exactly right!

That big equipment cutting through hills is you getting rid of the mindless (unconscious) ways of doing things that come from your past.

By Snr. László Szalai (Family) Public domain
Building up the rock base for the super highway is the work required to parent on purpose.

Constructing bridges over chasms doesn’t happen by accident, and neither does the practice of staying in the present moment with your teen.

There’s room on this super highway for all sorts of vehicles. Your way is not the only way, and you will discover just how wonderful your relationship with your teen can be when you practice Mindful Parenting without judgment.

It's hard work to change parenting habits. Often parents of teens get discouraged and give up, hoping their child will ‘turn out okay’, being unwilling to do the work necessary to practice Mindful Parenting. But the benefits are huge! Practicing Mindful Parenting means you’ll get to build a solid and healthy relationship with your teen. It means you’ll be free to enjoy their successes and not feel flattened by their failures. You’ll be able to enjoy the journey!

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

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