Your world doesn’t have to revolve around your child.
Story: Julie Potiker
Parents, how often do you find your day, week, month, even year thrown completely off track due to whatever is going on with your child? It’s easy to think this is just the way it has to be. You’re their parent, right? If they suffer, you suffer, right? Not necessarily. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting you can (or should) turn off the wide array of feelings you experience when your kid is hurting, angry, or in the midst of some troubling life experience. What I am saying, though, is that it’s OK for you not to go down the rabbit hole with him or her. Use some simple, accessible tools to keep your balance even when your child is going through an unbalanced time. And really, the more balanced and peaceful you are within yourself, the more helpful and supportive you can be for others. In other words, you don’t have to feel guilty about creating a new way to take care of you—and thereby being the best parent you can be.
Here are three mindful methods to unhook yourself from your kids’ emotional reality and recreate your own:
1. DO THE RECEIVING-SENDING MEDITATION.
This technique is about breathing in the bad and breathing out the good. The specific methods can vary, but the basic idea is to breathe in the suffering and breathe out relief. It sounds counter intuitive, but it works. It also can work by breathing out the suffering, so do it that way if you prefer; either way is fine. It is the intention of your focused attention that allows the meditation to be effective. This happens to be my favorite meditation. It works in so many different situations. You can do it in a formal sitting meditation if you have a few minutes to dedicate to that, or you can just snap into it on the spot. If I see someone suffering, I automatically breathe in their pain, and the pain of others in their situation—wherever they may be in the world—then I breathe out light or love or peace. Imagining suffering morphing into peace helps calm my system.
2. GRAB YOUR HERE-AND-NOW STONE.
Choose a stone you find in nature or visit a gem or craft store to choose one that speaks to you. Carry it everywhere with you, whether in a pocket, purse, or on a cord around your neck. Let this stone serve as a positive distraction to separate yourself from any mess that makes you feel you are under an avalanche. The stone is like the opening that allows you to breathe through the small hole in the snow. It helps you calm down until you can figure out the best way to dig yourself out entirely. Emotional snowstorms adopt many guises. Any parent who has taken a young child to the grocery store knows just making your way through the gauntlet of tantalizing items in the cereal aisle can be an exhausting ordeal. And let’s not even talk about the toy aisle at the drug store! When I think back, I have left countless shopping carts filled with merchandise at Target. They never neared the checkout counter because I had to grab my misbehaving children and march out of the store to my car. Here-and-now stones are excellent tools to break free of these emotional storms. Carry one with you and you may be surprised at how much calm support you feel and how clearly you can think, even under stress, simply by grabbing hold of it. Feel your stone, and let it remind you to pause and breathe. This gives you space to have more thoughtful, skillful reactions to any set of circumstances.
3. MAKE A JOY LIST.
What brings you joy? Take out a journal or notebook and make a list of everything you can think of. Include big things like your favorite vacation and small things like the feeling of snuggling up under your favorite blanket or enjoying your favorite beverage. Keep this list handy and add to it as you think of (or experience!) more joyful things. Each day when you wake up, look at your list and choose one thing you can commit to doing that day. When you go to bed, think back on everything you did that day that brought you joy. Being mindful of your own experience of joyfulness helps condition your brain to experience joy every day. When I began to realize I could have a good day even if my kids were having a bad day, it changed my life. Of course, I have sympathy for them if they are sad or in trouble. And I usually have tremendous compassion for their situations. I can give them my shoulder to cry on and listen and hold them in my arms. I can watch funny movies with them to try to help them change the channel in their minds. I can help them view things from different perspectives. And I can lead them in guided meditation and guided visualization. I’ll also do whatever I can to provide the resources that might help them. If they need a professional, a tutor to help with schoolwork, or a psychologist or psychiatrist, I’ll make it happen. But I can still have a good day, and a good life, even if they are unhappy.
About the writer:
Mindfulness expert and author Julie Potiker is an attorney who graduated from the Mindfulness-Based Stress
Reduction program at the University of California at San Diego. Her new book is “Life Falls Apart, But You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying
Calm in the Midst of Chaos.” Visit mindfulmethodsforlife.com