Mindfulness has been linked to a ton of health benefits, like reduced stress, reduced blood pressure, and weight loss. This makes people very excited about developing it. It isn’t just a buzzword that people use to draw your attention, it is something we desperately want and need in our lives, not only because of our social disconnection, but also our incredibly strong feelings of being completely overstimulated, and from having far too much cortisol.
There has been a line drawn in some studies between mindfuless and mindful parenting. That is, just because you are a practitioner of mindfulness does not necessarily mean that your children will get all of the benefits that we sometimes hear are associated with the practice.
You need to be stopping and taking breaths while dealing with your children in particular, not just taking your mindful minute in order to feel less frustrated with doing the dishes (although I highly recommend both).
One way to be more mindful with your children is to practice gratitude.
Mindfulness and annata do not try to negate human nature, and both come from the realization that dukkha (“suffering”) is the natural fundamental human state. We suffer because we have attractions and aversions; things we want and things we want to stay away from. We care very deeply to have or not have these things. It isn’t a mistake of modernity or a problem with you; it is the human situation.
As always, it is a brilliant situation. It is part of what drives us to be the dominating species that we are, and achieve unbelievable things, both as a species and in our personal lives. If we were completely satisfied with however things are, we may just get eaten by an alligator, and we most certainly would not have built civilization.
Other traditions recognize limitless human desires, too. Christianity does. The hedonic treadmill alludes to it. One of the fundamental principles in economics is that human desires are infinite, which is why we always have scarcity. This is why some economist say that post-scarcity is a pipe dream; if we have more, we want more.
Being dissatisfied is just the way our brains have evolved. There’s nothing wrong with you or our world that we always want more. What we can do while wanting more is be grateful for what we have.
Many people fear that Buddhism is asking us for asceticism or complete passivity. It is not. You’ll never be completely content as a human being, so don’t worry much about becoming too satiated with life. Complacency is not a characteristic of those at peace. Those who let their lives stagnate do not do it because they no longer have desires; it is some other, very unrelated factor.
Feeling satisfied and happy with what you have is far more difficult than feeling dissatisfied. It does not come naturally to us, just as mindfulness does not. This is why we try to cultivate gratitude.
We want to have this practice as an individual one, to teach to our children, and as a family. The old tradition of saying grace is an acknowledgment of this need to be appreciative. Regardless of your religious beliefs, it is a sad thing this custom has died.
I believe that your individual practice will matter greatly as your children are young. It will help you and you will be modeling behavior that will later be of great benefit to them. As your children age, you can ask them to participate.
My gratitude journal each day includes:
(1) a thing about my child that I am grateful for
(2) a thing about my partner I am grateful for
(3) a thing about myself I am grateful for
(4) a thing in my environment I am grateful for (having a roof over my head, running water, my phone)
(5) a challenge I am grateful for
Bringing gratitude into your daily practice will allow you to be more mindful. Both of these skills will make you a happier, healthier person, with more of an ability to act instead or react, to the world at large, and with your children in particular.
What is one aspect of my child’s behavior that is causing me dukkha? How can I be grateful for it?
What does gratitude feel like in the body?
Start saying grace at the dinner table
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