A Deep Awareness of the Miracle of the Moment

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February 9, 2024

Full-time parenting is mindfulness.

My granddaughter and I spent a day together this week. I had an exhausting and wonderful day. We didn’t spend the whole day talking. I think the fatigue came from being attentive for the whole time.  Our day reminded me that my present success in mindfulness practices is not all that impressive. Given the luxury of time, to be able to meditate in silence is not all that big of an achievement. Nor does meditation produce in me the learning and spiritual fruit that comes from one day or even a couple of hours of parenting. Children have a way of forcing us to be present in the moment. Full-time parenting is mindfulness.

As a grandparent I have the luxury of being able to step back from total immersion in the lives of young children. For the space of the hours I spend with children, I recognize that I am totally mindful and engaged. I am reminded of how much energy it takes for parents to be present and attentive 24/7. As a young parent I was always very appreciative of the other adults who helped with child care. Spiritual traditions recognize that we are not expected to go it alone. We live in communities.

I recently re-visited that classic parenting book, “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk.” (1) Their philosophy resonates with me: children are real people with legitimate reasons for their behaviour. Relating to children requires listening, imagination, understanding and empathy. A key take-away for me is “ears can’t hear until emotions are accepted.”

Spiritual practices across traditions give insight on practicing this simple understanding. Non-attachment taught in Buddhism does NOT mean we are not attached and don’t care about our children. Rather it means that our children’s fears, wounds, dreams and victories are not ours. By removing our own emotions from a situation, we are better able to hear our children and accept their emotions. Obvious, but still true, humour helps diffuse a tense situation.

The classic teachings on meditation encourage practitioners to sit in silence for 20 minutes twice a day. This is unrealistic for many parents of young children. Some of us will brush off the value of this practice. Others will feel worse about themselves because they can’t achieve it. There is a middle way which is to recognize and use the silence of moments. Mental health practitioners and others encourage us to notice and pause in the moment between a stimulus and a response.

Between every screaming child and my reaction there is a fraction of a moment. In the same way we tell children to count to ten before lashing out in anger, spiritual wisdom encourages us to live into that moment, that pause. The goal and hope is to remove my wounded pride from my reactions so I can respond to a child’s pain and not the chaos they’ve created in my space.

When I step back, I am able to observe my “parenting” with coolness, outside of the heat of the moment. That is, I can understand their upsets and observe my triggered responses. The authors of “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk,” make it sound so simple. When we look at living mindfully as a spiritual practice of parenting, we recognize that it is not simple and practice doesn’t make perfect. We will make mistakes. But I believe it’s true that “Love covers all offences.” (2.) Children who feel valued and loved will readily forgive. Trust is established when parents and grandparents demonstrate that they have heard their children by acknowledging they’ve made a mistake or by changing their mind about a decision. Our honesty provides children with important life skills such as criteria for understanding fairness and tools for discernment in decision making.

Let us not get so bogged down by a bad moment that we miss the next glowing moment of discovery and joy. Mindfulness as a parent (or grandparent) need not be a separate spiritual exercise but a deep awareness of the miracle of the moment. Mindfulness as a grandparent means for me to notice and celebrate who a child is today, because next week s/he will already be a different and equally beautiful child.  

Gratitude Prompt: Give thanks for children, who constantly invite me to see the world with wonder, wide awake to new possibilities unfolding.

  1. “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich. Also “How to talk so little kids will listen” by Joanna Faber and Julie King.
  2. Proverbs 10:12 and also 1 Peter 4:8 in Christian Scriptures