5 Mantras for Mindful Parenting

mindful parenting mantras

Yesterday I enjoyed one of the outings mothers dream of: I went to Target by myself.

As I sorted through my coupons at the checkout counter, I heard a screaming child. A nasty tantrum. My first thought was that it sounded exactly like the screams from the terrified children being flung down the huge slide by the mean Santa in A Christmas Story. The yelling got louder, until said-tantrum-throwing toddler was right behind me in the checkout line.

I looked up and gave the mother my most sympathetic, we’ve-all-been-there-mama smile… and saw her not only calming her possessed toddler, but her FOUR other children {all under the age of 10} who had accompanied her to Target. Give this woman a medal!

But she didn’t need my smile, or a medal. She remained amazingly calm, speaking softly to her tantruming toddler while simultaneously telling her older children that they could not, in fact, have all the candy that the evil minions at Target put in the impulse aisle so that frazzled mothers will attempt to calm their children with sugar. Because that will help. But I digress.

Seriously, this woman was like a Zen master. She kept her cool, smiled at and nurtured the shrieking child, and the four other children stopped their whining. There was no heavy sighing, no raising of her voice. Not even an eye-roll. She was totally calm and unfazed. By the time I handed the clerk my credit card, the toddler was calm, too, and smiling back at his mother.

I wanted to ask this woman the same question the Buddha’s disciples asked him after he attained enlightenment: not “Who are you?” but “What are you?”

 *****

It can be easy to practice mindful parenting and live in the moment when our children are sweetly playing together, or telling us they love us. It’s a lot harder when their behavior tests our patience and frays our last nerve.

I believe taking a mindful pause is one of the most important actions we can take to make us more patient in our parenting. Yes, our children push our buttons. They challenge and frustrate us. But many of their behaviors are out of our control. What we can control is how we respond when the parenting gets tough.

Responding is different from reacting. Reacting is based on emotion, often anger and frustration. It’s unthinking. It might consist of yelling, or shaming. And it’s often unhelpful.

Responding is based on reflection. It’s thinking. It’s calm, firm, and appropriate. And it’s hard.

And it was exactly what I had witnessed the Zen Master of Target doing.

I really wish I had asked her my question.

I want to know what she does to keep her calm.

{I’m often exhausted and stressed at the end of a solo-Target outing, let alone one with with, again, FIVE children!}

But, since I didn’t get the chance to ask her, I’ll share with you what I do to calm myself when I am upset with my children:

I repeat a mindful mantra.

I’ve learned to recognize my physical signs of frustration ~ the quickening pulse, the heavy sighing, a slight feeling of dizziness. I’m ready to lash out… but I take a mindful pause. I breathe, I reflect, and I respond.

Here are five mantras that I find helpful for my challenging parenting moments:

1. “Breathe.” We probably tell our children to do this, too. Bringing our attention to our breath for even 10 seconds has a dramatically calming effect on the body, and allows us to see the moment, and therefore respond to it, more clearly.

2. “They are not their tantrums.” Mindfulness practice teaches us not to over-identify with our emotions. We are not our anger ~ we can observe anger rise, and then dissipate in our awareness. Similarly, our children are not their tantrums. The tantrum is anger, sadness, frustration, and a host of other emotions that their little bodies are struggling to control. When my child throws a fit, I ask myself, “Can I see my sweet smiling child through the tantrum? Can I reach out to him, and not react to the surface emotions?”

3. “This too shall pass.” My mother says this one to me all the time when I am facing a tough parenting challenge. The only constant in life is change. Your exasperation will likely soon be replaced with laughter in a few minutes, when your child’s anger has also passed. Little Yoda at Target calmed down in less than the time it took to scan my groceries. Your irritation and anger will pass. Your child’s tantrum will pass. Trust in change.

4. “Try a hug instead.” I vividly remember a terrible tantrum my daughter threw when she was two (though now I can’t even remember what caused it). She was yelling, crying, hysterical… and I was trying to rationalize with her. “You need to calm down…. This isn’t a big deal….” But nothing I said worked. Feeling my anger and frustration rising, I tried a totally different tactic. I hugged her. She and I both calmed down. Sometimes the tantrum is all about seeking comfort. Often a gesture of compassion works better than words.

5. “The house will soon be quiet.” By the end of the day, my husband, my kids, and I are all tired, and stressful bedtimes can add to the exhaustion. {There’s a reason Go the F**k to Sleep was a bestseller.} By the time I am putting my children to bed, I am desperately craving my quiet time. But bedtime can also be a sacred time. I remind myself not to rush it. The stories, the snuggles, the hugs and kisses, and the I-love-you’s are moments I treasure. I remind myself that my time for peace and rest will come. I enjoy and stay present for the last moments of the day with my children. And even if bedtime is a struggle, I tell myself, “the house will soon be quiet.”

These mantras have helped me through many parenting challenges. Taking a mindful pause in order to respond, rather than react, to my children’s behavior has helped me become a more calm and compassionate mother.

Parents: Do you have mantras that help you keep your calm?

And if you are the Bodhisattva from Target checkout lane #18, please share how you did it. Seriously.

*****

{photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc, modified with permission}

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Sarah Rudell Beach

Sarah is a writer, teacher, and mother. At Left Brain Buddha, she writes about her journey to live and parent mindfully, joyfully, and thought-fully in her left-brain analytical life. When not working, she enjoys dancing, reading, and hanging out with her little Buddhas.
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Comments

  1. Awesome mantras here (and I *loved* ‘Go the F*** to sleep’). That woman sounds incredible! I try (when I remember) to think “Will this matter to me in an hour? Or a day? How will my behaviour now be remembered in an hour? Or a day?” but I’m very guilty of reacting as much as I respond. These are useful tips, thank you :)
    Considerer recently posted…TToT: Meet the Co-hosts 4My Profile

    • Thanks for sharing that, Lizzi. Asking ourselves if this will really seem so important in even a few minutes or hours is great advice!

  2. I really loved your mantras! I think I will have to add them to my deep breathing – especially “they are not their tantrums.” Still giggling over the Zen Master of Target. I wish I could attain such mastery!!
    Glad to have found your blog (via the bloppys). Subscribing and stalking now. :)
    Amy recently posted…Fighting Fear as a WriterMy Profile

  3. I need all the help that I can get. I am definitely not the Zen Master at Target. I remember watching a similar woman this spring in an airport when I was waiting for my flight. They had SIX kids under the age of ten or so, all of them totally bonkers and off the wall. The parents were just smiling and calmly talking to their children. At the time, my immediate thought was that they must be heavily medicated. But maybe they just had their own mantras!
    Jessica Smock recently posted…What To Do When You Travel With Kids (And One Thing Never To Do)My Profile

    • I think it’s hard too because when our child is throwing a fit in public, we feel like everyone is watching and judging us…. I think I was also so amazed that this mother didn’t feel like she had to apologize to everyone that her 2 yo was doing what 2 yo’s do.

  4. This is a wonderful post. As the mom of adult children I particularly recommend the “This too shall past” mantra. It is very true and will help you get through everything from toddler tantrums to adolescent snit fits :)
    Sharon Dropping in to say hello from Friday flash Blog
    Sharon recently posted…Making a Kiva LoanMy Profile

  5. Have you thought of posting a “missed connection” in your local Craigslist to try to find that woman? Just kidding. Sort of…
    Pam recently posted…If you ever plan to live with me, you need to know thisMy Profile

  6. These are great suggestions. I remember being at Target once when I saw a dad there alone with his three young children. Two were in the cart and one was holing his hand. ALL were crying and he looked extremely frazzled – as I’m sure I would have looked as well. I wanted so much to go offer a helping hand, but wasn’t sure if that would be weird or come off as insulting.

    One thing I try to remember is something my mom says. After we visit, she always says “This house seems so quiet after you leave. We can’t wait for the noise to come fill it again!” That noise is what frequently get me all riled up and I need to remind myself that one day my house will be “quiet” and I will miss all the chaos as well.
    Lisa @ The Golden Spoons recently posted…Tuesday Ten – Birthday EditionMy Profile

  7. Great advice. Visiting from Sit Girls Sat Sharefest. I guess I try to give myself a “mommy time out” to calm down if at home; in public it’s harder, sometimes I just have to let her carry on, while taking her out of the place quickly. Of course, I don’t have four kids; that seems amazing.
    Estelle
    Estelle recently posted…BlogHer 2013: The Social and the Savvy (Part 1)My Profile

  8. I am with ya with regards to mantras, Sarah!

    I usually cling to Breathe deep and ground myself by washing off all my anger/toxins.

    Have a good weekend!
    ruchira recently posted…My HabitsMy Profile

  9. My mantra is “what’s most important? love is most important.”

    I also think to myself “getting upset won’t make anything better.”

    Another thing that I try to remember is that they are not giving me problems, they’re experiencing problems…basically how they react is not about me, not to take it personally to try to help them through the issue they’re having.

    I think that when they are well, they act well-behaved, when they are unwell, they act unpleasant.

    I also think about them at their best and that when they have understanding of their situation things work out, so I try to understand and get them to understand their emotions the best way I can.

    Found you on Sits Sharefest!
    Mera Featherstory recently posted…Karma Yoga & Yogi Scouts Updates AugustMy Profile

  10. Sarah — Some great tips. I remember all the time that my kids are not their tantrums. We run into that a lot with our sensory kiddo.

    And one of my past fitness coaches used to say “This too shall pass” all of the time. I think I’ll have to pull that out more often!

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