Parenting may be the hardest job in the world. You can’t really prepare for it until you’re in it, so it’s a role fraught with opportunities for self-doubt. Of course, there are also great rewards that come along with the hard work. But no matter what, it is continuous on-the-job training, and it can wear out even the most prepared parents.
When it comes to my own children, I’ve found that meditation has helped me balance those emotional swings and enabled me to enjoy the ride even more.
Here are five lessons meditation taught me about parenting:
1. Small habits lead to big change
When it comes to meditation, the key is to make a habit of the exercise and trust in the incremental progress. The first time we meditate, we may not see immediate benefits. Yet given enough time, we look back one day and notice that we approach situations differently or feel differently than we did before.
With children, the same applies. Inevitably, there will be behaviors to correct or new behaviors you want to cement. Perhaps you want your child to share more, clean more, control her temper, or take responsibility for her action. Or maybe you want him to be kind to others. It starts with developing the right habits.
For example, after a meal you can tell your child to scrub his plate and utensils and wipe the table. It’s a small habit, one that’s easy to establish and teaches a child to clean up after himself. Over time, you can build on this to make sure he cleans other parts of his life. Perhaps eventually you’ll be able to stop telling him to straighten up that bedroom! (We can dream.)
Regardless of your goal, I believe it’s important to stay focused on establishing the habit and trusting the process. With meditation, change occurs slowly in our minds, and we only notice those changes after they have occurred. We see a road behind us rather than a single event.
For me, the same idea applies to raising my children into the adults they will become.
2. Deflect rather than combat
In meditation, we think about allowing thoughts to come and go. Rather than try to change thoughts, we acknowledge them and let them pass by.
This has been a valuable lesson for me. Children become masters at getting under our skin. When they don’t get their way, they throw tantrums at a young age and ask “why?” in every way imaginable until you simply say the phrase you swore you never would: “because I said so.”
It’s very easy to fall into the trap and engage with them at their level. In doing so, we get frustrated and often do not achieve any meaningful resolution.
Instead, I have tried to recognize my own frustrations, see them for what they are, and let them pass. I focus on helping my children with a clear mind—both in the moment and by setting the right example.
3. Go easy on yourself
There is no right or wrong in meditation. Some days are better than others. We are not necessarily trying to change anything but see things for what they are. And in doing so, and in trusting that process, we grow. This is one of the toughest lessons I’ve encountered as a parent. Each day presents a new challenge, and just when you think you have the hang it, your child goes and gets a year older. And the process starts anew. The truth is, we’re always learning to parent.
My aunt once told me, “As long as you treat your children like your everyday dishes and not your fine china, everything will be ok.”
The words ring true for me every day. Parenting is hard work. It’s important that we recognize that, accept it, and forgive ourselves. Some days are better than others, and that’s OK.
4. Remember the blue sky
Storm clouds can gather in our minds, affecting how we think. Yet above those clouds, it all remains blue sky—that place of calm and contentment.
When people ask me what it’s like to be a parent, I tell them, “90 percent of it is hard work, but the 10 percent that’s not makes you forget the rest.”
There are days when I feel like everything went wrong, and I was the worst parent in the world. But when I tuck my children in for bed, and the little hands reach out for a hug, and I hear “I love you,” all those negative thoughts melt.
Parenting is stressful. The forecast will often call for tough, emotionally draining days. Yet the peaceful, loving, sweet moments—the blue sky—will be there too, and I hold onto that thought.
5. Be present
Meditation encourages focusing on the moment. Being mindful allows a person to be more productive, mentally healthy, and balanced.
This may be the most important lesson of all. A parent of a toddler meets another with a newborn and offers sage advice, “Oh, enjoy these years. They go by so quickly.”
Then that parent—so wise in the moment—meets another with grown children, and their advice is given right back, “Oh, enjoy these years. They go by so quickly.”
Yet no matter how much we give or receive that advice, it is incredibly easy to forget. Perhaps that’s why we continue to dole it out. We’re trying to make it stick in our own minds.
Raising children is one of those journeys without an end. Each moment of your child’s life will be special in hindsight. By staying mindful, we can make them special in the present as well.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.