I have been practicing and teaching meditation for more than 30 years. It’s a way of life, my go to move for health and well-being. Now, it’s helping me learn how to be a better Dad. When my son was first born, meditation protected me from the pressure of always being engaged. It gave me a sense of having some space to myself. But as my son became a teenager, it didn’t shield me from feeling irritated or contracted as we haggle over the stuff of ordinary daily life. That’s why I’ve renewed my commitment to meditation practices that strengthen compassion and patience. What follows are 3 meditations to help fathers and mothers be better parents that really work to know yourself better and relieve some stress.
My 13 year old son has been saying “no” for most of the last half hour to a variety of routine requests – “please empty the dishwasher,” “are you gonna’ clean Ginger’s cage?” “turn off the Play Station please and do some extra math problems” – and I’m wondering what meditation has taught me about being a Dad?
Here are 3 ACP meditations I have be using to get me back on track. Try them for yourself.
What happens when my son says no? This is an important question I ask myself. It’s important in all kinds of situations to just step back and reflect, especially in this one. It may take the form of an actual question or simply stopping to quietly observe what feelings are coming up and what sensations we feel in our bodies.
This one action, stopping intentionally, can help ease many tensions or reactions. Just focusing on the “present moment” and experiencing “letting go” is a good thing too. It’s almost like you can feel all of the pre-programmed parental stuff drop away. Sometimes it’s pleasant, sometimes not.
But it teaches us a lot and gives you the time to think more later when things are cooler.
Kick the tires, look under the hood
Developing self awareness is part of a committment I have to myself, and to my family and friends. I don’t want to be a robot. That’s why it’s important to observe and understand
- what influences me
- what has an impact on my opinions
- how I act in certain situations
In this way, I can be clearer and more consistent. An one other thing. If I really want to get things right with my son, it’s especially important to do all of this without
- criticizing anyone
- rejecting anything
- being overly reactive
“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
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Whether your parents were around for you or not when you were a child, they influenced you. If you grew up in a larger or extended family, the input from aunts, uncles or grandparents did too. Our sense of self worth or our style of parenting often reflects the things adults have said to us directly or the things we’ve heard indirectly growing up. Focusing in on our bodies can tell us alot about how we feel too.
We can get a very good sense of what we’re feeling by paying attention to the body. All of our emotions will have an impact on our breathing if we pay attention
- Is there tension somewhere?
- Do you feel muscles contracting?
It may be very subtle, so take the time to look and feel and identify what’s going on with your breathing. Look at the muscles in your
Easy and observe
The next time you are spending time with your teenager, take a few moments to observe yourself and what you feel in different situations across a full range of ordinary situations that commonly happen to you together. Try this
- stop speaking and listen inwardly
- feel your feet on the ground
- notice how you’re sitting, standing, walking or whatever you’re doing
- observe if your body is relaxed or tense and where
- what is your breathing like and where do you feel it (chest, belly, sides)
- take a moment or two and rest in the sensations
- go back to what you were doing again
What happened? Does anything change? How did you feel before and after?
Do this in different situtations that create more or less tension and see what happens. You may be surprised. We’re not looking for answers or analysis; and very often the natural response is to just cool down. This alone can be pleasant and rejuvenating. Notice what that feels like too, and the pleasure of spending a moment to take care of yourself.
My father was a very strong presence in my life and we have had to work hard over the years to clarify things. As a father now myself, I see how many of my reactions with my son are the same as his were. Some are part of the age old, embedded “tool kit” many fathers are born with. But I’m interested in tweaking and adding some of my own.
Yes, you may be surprised by how you feel, and at how more effective you can be. Just take the time to know yourself better.
How many times have you thought to yourself, “I sound like my mother or father when I say that”? If you’re like me, you’ve probably come to appreciate your own parents more raising your own children. This is empathy and compassion.
One of the things I’m learning from my son is to get in touch with this sense of empathy and compassion and then spread it around. I like to share that inner smile I feel with him, with my parents, and with anyone facing the little and big challenges of parenting by simply
- stopping and wishing them well
- allowing a thought or a word or feeling to rest in the mind for a bit
- acknowledging the moment briefly and move on
When we start cultivating this sense of compasion for ourselves and others, wonderful things can happen. Instead of angrily wondering why our son or daughter won’t comply we can
- take the high road
- ask questions
- Is he hungry?
- Did I forget to wash her favorite t-shirt?
- Do I have the energy to negotiate now or should I come back to this later when I’ve thought about things and we’ve cooled down a bit?
Give your kid the benefit of the doubt and try to create conditions for collaboration.
Less is more
I’m always trying not make my interactions with my son less complicated. That often means getting out of the way, putting aside my own ego and being flexible. Appreciate yourself. Put yourself into situations that will bring out the best in you and your children.
“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.
– Princess Diana
Another way I cultivate compassion is to spend time thinking about people who have given to my life along the way. There have been little and big ways that people near and far have invested in me, trying to help make me whole. First, gratitude to my parents; but then there are teachers, relatives, friends and their families who have contributed so much. There is even something to be thankful for in the smile of a passerby.
If you don’t think anyone has been there for you in your life, broaden the internal search and think again. Stretch your imagination.
Much of what we have received in our lives may have been imperfect, maybe it doesn’t live up to some ideal standards. But the exercise of trying to reflect and appreciate can be very powerful – and healing. Compassion doesn’t always come easily
- it may feel superficial or false
- sacchrine or overly sentimental
- it may also bring up negative memories about the past
Put in the time Dad
Like many aspects of meditation, it’s important to dedicate some time each day to cultivate a sense of compassion. You are not expected to force yourself, but you can gently insist on a few minutes a day, the way we do when we are training or learn a new skill.
Also, it’s helpful if you do it with someone else. Besides, you already know that it’s healthier to be more positive than negative.
If feeling compassion is challenging for you, try this for a few moments each day
- stop and listen inwardly
- feel your feet on the ground
- let your body relax
- release tension, don’t force things
- breathing in, think to yourself, “May I be well”
- breathing out, think to yourself, “May others be well”
- if people, places or situations come to mind, let them flow by
How do you feel now? See what happens after a few days or weeks or months. You really may be pleasantly surprised.
Religious traditions preach patience. Great sports coaches patiently adapt to players, fans and game conditions to win more than they lose. They teach players to “slow the game day.” As they say, patience is a virtue.
Being around my teenage son has not only taught me that, but it has given me countless opportunities to observe myself being patient and not. My desire to love him and do the right thing, has also given me a good reason to develop it. But there’s no way around it: patience takes time
Good things come to those who wait
My son was born late in our marriage. Like many couples, we decided to wait before having children. Things went differently than we planned though and 10 more years passed. This gave me ample time to
- learn about patience
- tolerate delay
- deal with the anxiety that we might never have a child
It’s a boy
In that famous ultrasound when the doctor asks, “Would you like to know the baby’s gender?” I gasped and imagined my future teenager when he told us. Conflicting feelings, hormones, and building character around never ending “discussions” about chores, curfews, and electronic devices flashed before my eyes.
I literally went from laughter to tears and back again in the span of a breath. The only thing I could think of was how my own father settled disputes when I was a kid; and what it was like growing up in a household with three brothers and no sisters.
Fast forward to now
I’ve had a lot of time to practice with patience and to adjust my shot. And I’m still learning and asking questions
- How can I help him deal with frustration, and not be frustrated myself?
- Can I listen intentively and show empathy while he’s zooming around our condo or in the time it takes him to inhale his meal and pick up his phone to stare at TicTok?
- Can I try and rein him in to focus without either of us becoming too sassy, too aggressive or too defensive?
But the biggest question of all? Can I be content with the good kid we have instead of wishing for that story book son who wakes up with me at dawn to practice yoga and meditation, and a few extra math problems before breakfast and school?
Making all the pieces fit
Life with a teenage son is only one of the many interesecting spheres of family life. All of them are an area where ordinary thoughts and feelings are supercharged by
- wanting some things
- hoping others don’t happen
- spending time fretting about outcomes
Awareness, compassion and patience are the cornerstones for the important work of
- listening and being listened
- engaging and acknowledging and reassuring
- focuisng even when you’d rather being doing something else
These are all ways to explore suffering, worry, anxiety and the freedom of letting things disolve into trusting the process.
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
– A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Conclusion: Meditation and parenting
Many great world traditions famously teach us to “love others as we would ourselves.” In Tibetan meditation it is said that, “All the joy in the world comes from wishing others are happy. Whoever wants to protect himself and others should practice the great mystery of exchanging yourself for others.”
We take this for granted sometimes with our children because we already have a natural wish for their happiness. What I have written about here are ways I use to rediscover and strengthen a deeper sense of that commitment, and to fine tune it.
Putting it all together
Let’s finish with another simple meditation practice that anyone can do. It combines many of the things we’ve discussed about awareness and compassion. Spoiler alert: you’ll have to add your own mixture of patience and trust.
But I assure you, if you keep at it, all of these elements will feel more familiar and solid.
Try doing this everyday for two weeks and see what happens. You can do it anytime, anywhere – and it only takes 5-10 minutes.
- Sit or lay down in a quiet, comfortable space.
- relax into the “present”
- notice how you feel, let your thoughts pass throught the mind freely
- focus on your breath, feel air coming in, and going out
- scan through the body systematically, head to toes and back up again
- feel whatever sensations there are in each part
- if your mind wanders, go back to your breath, then return
- for the last minute or two, bring family members, friends to mind
- (use your pets if that’s easier)
- wish them well, thank them or acknowledge their presence in your life
Practice this 5-10 minutes every day!
Thanks for reading through to the end. Do you practice meditation? Have you ever tried the things I suggest in the article? Why did you start? What benefits do you feel? Thanks for sharing. Write your comments and questions below.