The topic of mindful parenting has come up a few times in my circles the past couple of weeks. What does this actually mean? I like to think of it as being 100 percent present in the moment when you interact with your child. The cell phone is put away, eye level communication, and the parent is not thinking about what to serve for dinner or all the things he has to do that day.
When situations arise, a mindful parent is not reactive with a response, but rather, proactive in dealing with the situation. Stress happens when we are here, but wishing we were there. We all know what it is like to have deadlines in our day, and we are rushing our little ones along, who seem oblivious of time. Who is the one stressed? It is the parent who is here, but needing to be there. A child lives in the present moment, and is delighted or engrossed with whatever is happening around her at the time. A mindful parent understands this and will simply become present with the child, allow extra time, and speak at a relatable level.
A reactive parent is most likely to use scolding, yelling or spanking as an automatic response when disciplining. Again, when a child does something perceived "bad", it is easier to just spank the child rather than to guide or direct him thoughtfully. Directing a child takes more effort and thought for the parent. Spanking is always the easy way out requiring almost no thought, and certainly not the most effective. If a child spills his milk, a reactive parent may scold, yell or spank. A proactive parent may say, "I see that you spilled your milk. What's your plan?". In an extreme parenting situation, as a teen finds himself in jail one night, the reactive parent may either bail him out, or say "Tough luck, son. You made your bed, now you lie in it". Barbara Coloroso, author of Kids Are Worth It, calls these people the jellyfish and brick wall parents respectively. A mindful, proactive, or backbone parent might come visit her jailed teen with a list of options, which may include a list of lawyers phone numbers, thereby making him accountable for his choices.
It takes a wise parent to effectively parent using other disciplinary methods... like making the consequence fit the crime. I remember when one little boy we knew well was angry with his mother for scolding him, and he tried to think of a way to get back at her. She had just finished planting her bedding flowers that day, so he went outside in his anger and pulled her plants out (30 or 40 of them), because he knew it would upset her. I happened to be at the house at the time, and I remember her taking him downstairs and giving him the spanking of his life and grounding him from swimming lessons as punishment. Even as a floundering young mother myself of pre-teens at the time, I knew innately that the punishment was not justice. Perhaps a suitable consequence might have been watching over her son while he replanted all the flowers, maybe even buying new flowers with his own money from his piggy bank. When spanking or unsuitable consequence is given, it gives the child a warped sense of values. It also teaches him that it is okay to hit when he is angry. Children learn from example. Likewise, I remember when my oldest son was around 2 years old (old enough to know better anyway), and he kept unrolling the toilet paper to a heap on the floor. I may have tried spanking him at first, but it didn't work because it kept happening. What ended up solving the problem was making him roll up the toilet paper. I remember watching over him until the last square was rolled up. It never happened again.
Even though we hear much talk of it recently, mindful parenting is not a new concept. It goes back to Bible days. Some of my Christian friends say, "What about the concept of spare the rod, spoil the child?" Okay, let's look at the verse where that saying originated. Proverbs 13:24 "Those who spare the rod, hate their children, but the one who loves their child disciplines them diligently."
What is the rod indicative of in this context? I think a lot of us assume that it is meant for corporal punishment (spanking). The use of the word rod in this verse is the same one used in the Psalm 23:4 where it says, "Your rod and your staff comfort me." We can assume that the rod of a shepherd is at least similar in type as to that in the proverb.
Some people use this verse in Proverbs to justify spanking or hitting, but the use of the rod by shepherds was never intended to beat or hit the sheep. The fact is, the rod and staff were the two tools used by shepherds of that day. The staff has a "crook" or "hook" on the end which was used to stop running sheep, help pull sheep up from rocky places when they'd fallen over, etc. The rod was used when corralling the sheep to insure they went in the direction they were supposed to go. It wasn't used to prod or poke, but to direct along the length of its shaft. It was also used to protect the sheep from predators, when necessary. The rod is indicative of protection, safety, and guidance.
The shepherd who owned their sheep took good care of them and used these tools as they were meant to be used -- to guide, to direct, and to teach (the literal meaning of discipline). However, there were hirelings who were simply hired to look after the sheep. They had little concern over the welfare of the animals, so they would use their tools in whatever way suited them. These were the ones who might lose their tempers and beat a lamb with a rod just to demonstrate they were more powerful and could force their will upon it.
Children are like sheep in this aspect. If sheep are consistency directed and taught meaningful boundaries, they will learn what is expected and generally conform. However, if they are beaten and broken they not only stop responding but they look for every opportunity to escape--even when escape may mean danger (or they learn to lie to their parents to avoid corporal punishment).
To "spare the rod" is indicative of a parent who does not discipline their child, that is, to teach, guide, and direct. This is the parent who "hates their child." To spare the rod doesn't mean parents should hit their children into submission; rather they are to be like shepherds who value and care for their charges and keep them from danger by using the tools of good parenting to teach responsible behavior and appropriate morality.
"We were spanked as a children and turned out okay". Yes, so was I. I might have even spanked my own kids once or twice! That was then, and we are living in different times now. There is more awareness now and social stigma that comes with spanking in our society. I believe good parenting is more important now than ever because of this. I think some of us turned out okay IN SPITE OF being spanked, not BECAUSE we were spanked. Due to the negative social stigma of spanking, parents are now being forced to become more mindful and use other disciplining methods. I believe this will create a more gentle society if parenting is done mindfully. It does not mean tolerance, but rather more onus is placed on the parents to proactively guide, direct, and teach, thereby raising a generation who are well balanced, accountable, proactive in their decisions, respectful of others because they were treated with respect, having a just set of values, and confident in making decisions with full understanding of meaningful consequences or rewards.
Good luck, all you parents! You have an abundance of parenting resources on the internet to tap into that we did not have when raising our kids. You got this!!