Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn
I borrowed this book from the library after hearing Jon Kabat-Zinn on Being (formerly Speaking of Faith). It’s a good book and a quick read.
Their basic premise is that parenting is a spiritual discipline (so let’s consider childrearing an eighteen-year retreat—who needs to go to the monastery to be spiritual!). They are coming from a Buddhist perspective, though the concepts they describe are quite universal.
They emphasize mindfulness, intentionality, gentleness, and an open-hearted focus on what children need. The Kabat-Zinns talk about the “sovereignty” of children—the idea that they are who they are, and are becoming who they are becoming, and our job is to create a space for that to happen, not to manage or mold them.
I’ve said in the past that my parenting philosophy is to treat children as people. That is, that they have an inherent dignity that is worthy of respect. (I’m not unique in this, by the way. The book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen… is a good summary of my approach, or should I say, my hoped-for approach, because I miss the mark constantly.)
Authoritarian parenting certainly seems more expeditious, but it’s just not my thing. That doesn’t mean that my children run our household, and they certainly don’t always get their way (how would that even be possible when there are three of them??). But I don’t do the “because I said so” thing with them. I don’t tell Caroline how much of her weekly homework packet to do each night. And I try to be authentic with them. They see me (I think) as a person who loves them deeply but is a flawed human being who messes up and apologizes, seeking their forgiveness. I don’t try to be infallible. (Again, I’m not unique in this, but I do see lots of other parenting flavors out there. So… this is mine.)
One note about the book: the K-Zs are definitely coming from the attachment parenting side of things. So they are pretty critical of cry-it-out methods of sleep training, for example. It’s not hard to see how cry-it-out would be antithetical to their approach of mindful parenting. Responding to a child’s cries does not spoil her; it teaches her that she can rely upon the parents around her to care about her emotional needs. I basically agree, but what about the sovereignty of the parents? Sometimes, taking a break is essential for a parents’ self-care, whether it’s letting a child fuss for a while, especially if he’s older and you are desperately sleep-deprived yourself. They provide some caveats to their approach but I would like to see more. A parenting philosophy is like home base—it’s where you keep coming back to, but you’ve gotta venture out sometimes if you’re gonna play this crazy, no-rules game called raising kids.
That said, I appreciated the book very much. The seven intentions and eleven exercises for mindful parenting at the end of the book provided a good summary. Examples:
Intention 4: I will make every effort to see who my children actually are, and to remember to accept them for who they are at every age, rather than be blinded by my own expectations and fears. By making a commitment to live my own life fully and to work at seeing and accepting myself as I am, I will be better able to accord a similar acceptance to my children. In this way I can help them to grow and to realize their full potential as unique beings.
And the second practice of mindful parenting (paraphrased) is to take time each day to imagine how you sound from your child’s point of view. [If you dare. I’ve actually asked them for feedback before, which is also illuminating.]
One memorable tidbit: Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about reading his son, who wanted to read Jack and the Beanstalk over and over again one night. By the seventh time Dad was getting VERY tired of it, but he realized that for his son, it was new every time—his eyes would widen, he would gasp. He was completely in the moment.
Can we learn from our children to be similarly mindful? Yes, we certainly can. And we can model it for them too.