In her interview with PsychAlive Senior Editor Lisa Firestone, Dr. Donna Rockwell talks about the effects of mindfulness meditation on parenting. Watch or read the interview below.
Lisa Firestone: How do you think mindfulness affects people in terms of being parents or why it could be valuable to parents?
Donna Rockwell: Wow. Certainly, if there’s any area mindfulness can help in, it’s in parenting because, wow, it’s hard to have kids and I mean it was my most favorite thing I ever did was to have kids and be home with them. It’s a lot of work and that’s why, in the olden days, people had kids when they were 20 because that’s how much energy you need with them. But as we are more aging parents – I didn’t have my first child ‘til I was 30 – you know, it requires a lot of patience. So what mindfulness does is it allows us to be more patient with our children, more present with them.
I’m of the belief that there’s no such thing as multi-tasking. If you’re on your phone with your best friend, Susie, you’re not with your child. And so we need to understand that we need to uni-task and be present every moment with what we want to be engaged with. There’s no such thing as multi-tasking. It doesn’t work. So I think that mindfulness helps us become better parents by having us be in the here and now with our child and they know, they know, know, know whether we’re paying attention or not.
And so, for example, with my kids, I’d say, they’d be like, “Mommy, Mommy.” And I’d say, “One minute, I’m on the phone with Joe and when I hang up with him, I want to hear every word you’re saying. I don’t want to miss a word. So hold on one second. I’m going to get off the phone. I’m going to be with you.” That’s fine with them, you know, because then they know they have you, they’re with you.
And I think that’s a really important part of parenting. Our kids have a good bull meter. They know when we’re just saying something and we’re not really honest. And I think we need to be. And mindfulness can help us to stay that way with our children.
LF: John Kabot-Zinn is fond of saying that children are an 18 year retreat into mindfulness, I mean, if you really are present.
DR: And more! I read The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. There’s a poem in there called The Children and I read it when I was 14 and somehow I just knew that this was the blueprint for how to parent. And the notion was that our children aren’t ours, you know. They came through us but they’re not of us. And we need to be like bows that bend as though the arrows that shoot forth. And it is.
And I would say to my kids, “I only have 18 years to get this through your head, you know.” And we would talk about a lot of things. I wanted to make sure that they knew how to sew on a button, iron a shirt, you know. These very important things of life. So presence with them is very important. I was told by a therapist once, you know, I always thought as a journalist and you know, mother, that I was supposed to teach them how to live, teach them how to be.
But the truth number 1 is that they’re always teaching us. And number 2, a therapist told me, when your kids get home from school, go down stairs to their room and sit there for 45 minutes and just listen. Listen to their day, listen to everything they have to say. Don’t teach them anything, just listen and be present. And that is the greatest teaching of all for kids. To have a present parent who’s so interested and hanging on every word. That’s mindfulness, that’s mindful parenting.