“Am I doing this right?” This is something all parents wonder at some point. Lucky for us, Carla Naumburg, Ph.D., a clinical social worker, academic and mother of two young children, is here to remind us we have everything we need to help our children grow up to be healthy, resilient, kind and confident. I asked Carla about her new book, “Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters,” and her concept of mindful parenting.
What does “mindful parenting” mean?
Mindful parenting is simply about applying the principles of mindfulness to the work of raising children. It’s about making a choice to get out of the craziness of our own minds, our own fantasies, thoughts, worries and regrets, so we can pay attention to what’s actually happening with ourselves and our children. When we take a mindful approach to a situation, we notice what’s happening in the present moment without judging it or wishing it was different.
This sounds simple, but it’s not easy, especially when our kids are driving us nuts! However, when we’re able to see a situation clearly, we’re much less likely to have an angry or frustrated knee-jerk reaction to our little ones, and we’re more likely to respond thoughtfully to them. Each time we can find a way to be truly present for whatever we’re doing, we can enjoy the pleasant times a little more, the difficult times aren’t as stressful, and we tend to be more empathic and effective in our interactions with our children.
In your book you encourage us to look toward the North Star. Does that mean we should be looking up into the sky when we need to take a breather?
If it helps you to go out and gaze at the stars, that’s great, but it’s not exactly what I’m talking about here! We parents tend to hold ourselves to very high standards, and then we beat ourselves up when we don’t achieve them all the time. I offer a lot of ideas in my book about how we can connect with our children and take care of ourselves in the midst of the hard work of parenting. However, I want parents to think of my suggestions as North Star practices, which means they’re ideas we can orient ourselves by when we get off track. Just as we never really expect to get to the North Star, we’re never going to be perfect at parenting, and that’s OK. Our kids don’t expect, or need, perfect. They just need our presence.
How will the concept of “STAY” help out exasperated parents?
“STAY” is one of the key words in my book, as mindfulness is fundamentally about staying as present as we possibly can for whatever is going on. The three main chapters are about Staying Connected (focusing on our relationship with our children), Staying Grounded (taking care of ourselves), and Staying Present. I like to think of Staying Connected and Staying Grounded as two sides of a scale that we’re constantly working to balance, and Staying Present as the solid ground under the scale that keeps it upright in the first place.
STAY is also an acronym that helps me get a little headspace in the midst of crazy moments. STAY stands for: Stop, Take a Breath, Attune, Yield. Whenever we notice ourselves starting to get triggered, upset, frustrated or reactive, we can Stop whatever is going on and Take a breath to get back in touch with the present moment. From there, we can Attune ourselves to whatever is happening with our children and ourselves, and then we can Yield to it.
And, just to be clear, by yield, I don’t mean: “Hey, it’s cool. Just go ahead and let your kid keep running around the house with a Sharpie in one hand and a sharp stick in the other.” What I mean is, take a moment, get a grip on what’s going on, accept that it’s actually happening (unless you really need to hide in the bathroom for a minute, because I totally get that), and then deal with it. It’s kind of like yielding when you’re getting on the highway; you’re much more likely to get to where you’re going in one piece if you take the time to figure out who’s already on the road and how fast they’re going before you hit the gas yourself.
If you had the chance to spend the day by yourself—all child care needs would be taken care of—what would you do with your free day?
I’d probably sleep, exercise, have a nice lunch with my husband and spend some time hiking outside. And then hopefully sleep some more. I’d end the day with a little chocolate and knitting in front of a funny movie.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!