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January 7, 2014

Mindful Parenting: Harnessing the Ego.

I got in another argument with my teenager yesterday.

This is becoming a very common occurrence. To be completely honest, I feel like we have more days when we are disagreeing than agreeing. I am told this is a normal stage for parents and teens. Supposedly this is a type of “weaning” process in which the teen is learning to become more independent and the parent is preparing for the teen to be an adult—and leave.

Whatever it is, it is not fun.

So after we were finished exchanging words and I was finished lecturing, I took the dog out for a walk. I needed to create some space, and cool off. I was fuming. How dare she be so ungrateful? I work my butt off providing for her. I have been there when she was sick and cleaned up her puke. I take her to the orthodontist, the doctor, to counseling, to parties. I have done whatever I can to make a good life for her. How dare she not be happy?

I took a few deep breaths and then mentally stepped away from my thoughts. I started really listening to what I was thinking and realized that I had made the entire argument all about me. I was on the defense—trying to protect my integrity as a parent and a person. Instead of attempting to find a solution to our disagreement that could be constructive and possibly a learning opportunity for us both, I was listing all of the reasons why I am right.

Hello, ego.

Okay, let me say in this instance—I am right. I am not going to get into all the gory details here on a public blog so you will just have to trust me. Yet, rather than fume about how to prove that I was right, it would be in the best interest of us both to use my energy more productively. Once I realized this, I felt pretty ashamed. After all, it is my job to be a role model to my children.

We aren’t perfect. As parents (and humans) we make mistakes and sometimes when we look back, we see what we  could have done differently. (or better) So what do we do after this realization?

Create Space.

Going for that walk with the dog was perfect. When tensions are high, I know I can hardly think straight. I am not angered easily, but when I am, my cheeks flush, my heart pounds and I stand my ground firmly. Getting away from the scene of the crime is the best for both of you in this situation. When we are angry we are more likely to say things we can regret later on. Part of being mindful is knowing ourselves and knowing when to take pause.

Apologize—But Not For Being a Parent.

If you did say something you regret, let your child know you are sorry. It is so important for our children to know that we do make mistakes and we aren’t perfect even though we are adults. Telling them this allows our children the ability to forgive their own mistakes and learn how to apologize also.

But, we should not ever apologize for being a parent. Yes, sometimes I have to be the bad guy. Sometimes I have to say no because it is in the best interest of my child to say no. Sometimes I have to limit their phone use or take precautions to ensure their safety. This is nothing I need to apologize for, even though inside it is really really hard to be the bad guy.

Know Your Triggers.

I can be extremely crabby when I am tired. I can become unreasonable and unwilling to compromise if I haven’t gotten my sleep. I warn my kids not to push me when I am like this. Whether they heed this warning or not—that is another story. But it is true.

If you know there are times when you are more likely to get hot under the collar, be prepared to take a few deep breaths and attempt to put off the discussion until later. If delaying the topic is impossible, perhaps take a 5 minute break to get a clear head before continuing. Knowing ahead of time that certain things are more likely to trigger emotions can help you be prepared to walk away if necessary.

Vent with Someone You Trust.

Sometimes I ask people I trust for their opinion. Keep in mind, this is not a bitch session. Well, at least that’s not the point of it. Sometimes we need a good bitch session, but the idea is to get another perspective. Occasionally we are just too close to a situation to see something. I don’t always take another person’s advice especially if I completely disagree, but it helps to hear how another parent would handle it.

You may Be Wrong.

As adults raising children we have gone through their entire lives making decisions for them most of the time. Sometimes we don’t make the right ones. Being mindful is also having a bit of humility. Know that maybe, you need to look at this with different eyes and maybe you aren’t right. (Ahem.) This can take some work on ourselves as people to admit that we make mistakes. Our egos want us to defend them first. Taking time to pause and truly dig deeply, we can discover there are often many sides to an issue.

Listen.

When emotions run high we tend to talk over one another and we stop listening. We start preparing our rebuttal and our defense while the other person is talking. Our ego takes over and suddenly the only thing that is important is getting our words heard.

Mindful parenting means we slow down our thoughts and be present with what is happening now. Honestly, I can be very mindful in yoga, or while cooking breakfast, but when I am pissed off all the OMing and warm fuzziness flies out the window.

Stop. Breathe. Listen. What is your child saying? 

I am by no means an expert at parenting. I make mistakes every day and I do my best to learn from them. By practicing mindfulness I am slowly learning to harness my ego, which is no easy task. This is what meditation, yoga and mindfulness practice prepares us for. When we are frustrated and angry is the time to apply all of our practice.

Namaste.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo Credit: Pixoto/Frederic Rivollier

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