Presence and parenting

So today I talked to Tony Murrell on Radio Live about how we can use the approaches of mindfulness to improve parenting and our connection with our kids. (Click here for a link to the audio).

It’s interesting because when you look at the positive psychology literature around parenting, it seems very pessimistic.  Initial studies seemed to show quite clearly that parenting made people miserable, but actually what has developed is a much more nuanced view of what’s going on with happiness, life satisfaction, meaning and parenting.

Early studies showed that parents reported much lower levels of happiness than non-parents.  However this has been criticized because the studies looked at how happy people were the year before they were parents, and the year after and found…

” that comparing the happiness of new parents to that of their last year as non-parents is a false measure. “Well-being is elevated when people are planning and waiting for the child,” Myrskylä told USA Today. So of course it drops when measured against the reality of sleepless nights. If you place the best of something next to the worst of that same thing, you are going to be unhappy.” (Click here for the article)

Recently researchers have used “experience sampling” which involves asking people randomly across the course of a day to complete a quick scale rating of their happiness when a beeper goes off at random intervals and…

The findings, which contrast sharply with recent scholarship and popular beliefs, suggest that parents are happier caring for children than they are during other daily activities… …“We are not saying that parenting makes people happy, but that parenthood is associated with happiness and meaning,” Lyubomirsky says. “Contrary to repeated scholarly and media pronouncements, people may find solace that parenthood and child care may actually be linked to feelings of happiness and meaning in life.”  (Click here for the article or to read the whole academic paper click here)

So what does this mean in terms of mindfulness, and what would mindful parenting look like?  Simple, like I said on the show, turn off your phone, ignore your emails, leave the dishes and get down on the floor or out in the back yard and play with your kids.  Utilize the skills we’ve been talking about to observe distractions and bring your attention back to just being with your children.  And do it as often as you can, even if that’s just ten minutes a day.

And the really good news?  It’s not just good for you, but good for them.  Having a warm, present and connected relationship with your parents is one of the biggest protective factors for addictions, depression and a whole raft of negative health outcomes later in life.  So go play!

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