As I have observed the trajectory of many famous painters over the course of their careers, I notice a commonality amongst several in that community. In the beginning of their careers, these artists tended to practice realism. Realism is a truer reflection of reality in the form of an actual object, scene or person; paint a picture of a rose and it looks as if you took it’s picture. This is a style of painting with a rigidity of process and exactitude of result. However, over time the artist’s work tends to progress in a pattern of “growth” in opposition to this form. This might seem counterintuitive. Often the art becomes looser and less constrained; more imaginative and interpretive. Thus, we find abstraction, surreal bending and reinterpreting of imagery. In some cases, a block of color.
I have always found the growth AWAY from realism’s formal structure to make complete sense. Don’t we see life as children in a more limited way due to our lack of life experience? Don’t we tend to follow more concrete paths? Often, because we are told this one way is the way, do we tend to close to other possibilities? I see realistic paintings as artistic magic. They’re impressive, I don’t think I could do it so well and it can inspire awe. But where is there to go from here? What is beyond an exact replication of an artist’s intent? Should they spend their lives pursuing only this one style of painting if they are finding it doesn’t work for them? Is there room for interpretation where our minds can expand to imaginings unconstrained? Does this exploration bring us closer to ourselves and thus enable us to make a greater impact on another?
In truth, there is no one way to live our lives, produce a work of art or to raise our children. In this blog I would like to address the benefits of a mindful approach to the responsibility of parenting a child with Special Needs; another tool to support you and the work of art you know as your child. Mindful Parenting (MP) recognizes the innate, associated challenges of parenting and presents mindful solutions to strengthen parenting strategies leading to a healthier, happier life as the guardian of these beautiful people. And it is a restructuring of how we are taught to parent that many know little to nothing about.
The chronic demands on your time, relentless care, exhaustion, depression, worry and self criticisms take their toll on parents and can lead to burnout. It is a full-time job that is particularly difficult and daunting.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. There is a path to your reality looking brighter and more personally fulfilling, in addition to creating a strong and lasting bond between yourself and your child.
*A qualifier before we begin. I know of families having more than one child with a developmental disability and families with a child whose behaviors are constant and often present with the potential for harm to themselves and family members. Mindful parenting, like all forms of parenting, is not a magic solution. Every strategy employed (MP or other) takes time, commitment and consistency. There is no such thing as instant change. That said, as you read the following, realize that what may sound too good to be true is the result of the daily practice that needs to exist in order for MP to succeed.
The areas that I will explore here include the following:
- What is Mindfulness and Mindful Parenting?
- What is the science behind Mindfulness?
- How can Mindfulness benefit you as a parent of a child with special needs?
- Feelings are not actions.
- What are some Mindful activities that can support you and your child?
- Be like the Bison!
By the time you are done reading this blog you will walk away with new insight into the benefits of mindful parenting along with some practical applications of this tool for dealing and growing WITH your child.
MINDFULNESS AND MINDFUL PARENTING: WHAT ARE THEY?
Based on eastern meditation and broken down to its essence, mindfulness is awareness. It is about being present and fully connected in the moment; resting all else and focusing on what is happening now with openness, curiosity and non judgement in relation to your body, your thoughts and your emotions. As a result, a person (for our purposes, a parent) is more attentive, aware, kind and understanding in their interactions; “Instead of attaching ourselves to outcomes, mindfulness helps us parent the child we have completely and with compassion. …it can help you move through difficult moments with less pain or regret.” – Autism Parenting Magazine
According to the American Psychological Association, “researchers concluded that mindfulness-based therapy may be useful in altering affective and cognitive processes that underlie multiple clinical issues. ” In other words, our brain actually changes, manifesting a reduction in stress, depression, anxiety, etc. And there is a large body of scientific evidence to support the practice of mindfulness and its benefits.
Mindful parenting is about paying attention to the moment without guilt and not allowing our emotions to rule our response. It is about connecting to your child’s deeper needs with love. It is acceptance of the situation, not diverting from it, ignoring it, judging it or condemning it. It is the opportunity, mentioned in past blogs, to stop and choose a response based on awareness to what is happening in the here and now. And it works best supporting parent strategies that focus on, “respect, empathy and connection.’ – Mindful Little Minds. You, as parents, model for your children how to manage their emotions by how you handle your own. You must take care of yourself first. A healthier, more aware you will create that in kind for your child. “Of course you will feel difficult emotions, but acting on them mindlessly is what compromises our parenting. Mindful parenting does not mean being a “perfect parent” and is not something you can fail at. It is not easy and it takes practice, …it is an opportunity to make a different choice – the choice to be present. – Jill Ceder; The Gottman Institute
Success with mindfulness takes commitment and daily application of it’s tenets. Remember to forgive yourself when your fallibility causes you to venture off the path or trips over an emotion and derails you from the moment. I call this being human:)
Keys to Mindful Parenting:
- “ Notice your own feelings when in conflict with your child. Let the feelings flow–ride the wave. “ – gottman.com
- “Accept your child (and yourself) without judgement. “ – zerotothree.org
- “Pause before responding in anger; we can’t control the feeling but we can choose how we respond. “ – gottman.com
- “Listen to your child’s viewpoint even when disagreeing with it. ” – gottman.com
“Listen with full attention.” – zerotothree.org
- “Imagine your child’s feelings and match your response.” – zerotothree.org
The University of Vermont found that, “Parents who reported more mindful parenting engaged in more positive and less negative parenting behavior, which was then linked to more positive behavior in their kids, including less anxiety, depression, and acting out.”
The National Library of Medicine holds that, “Parents experienced increased mindful awareness and improved psychological well-being, and they were more accepting of their children. Their children also had fewer behavior problems and enhanced positive interaction with their parents.”
*In Part II we will explore the science behind mindfulness and the benefits to mindful parenting.
Peace and Keep Rising!