What does mindfulness really look like when it comes to parenting?
By Teacher Autumn
Sometimes I make green smoothies in the morning. I load the blender up with kale, coconut water, frozen mango, and other ridiculously healthy delights. My son, Justin, balks every time because no matter what I say to try to convince him (and myself) that they are crazy delicious, we both know that they taste like an odd mixture of grass and medicine with a hint of sweetness. And sometimes they are oddly chewy.
Anyway, one such morning, we were scrambling to get out the front door on time and I couldn’t find a clean tumbler with a lid, so I poured his share of my “torture smoothie”, as he so lovingly calls it, in a regular plastic cup with a straw. No lid.
I’m sure you can see where this story is headed.
I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but I can vividly recall, as if in slow motion, the bright green smoothie bursting from the cup, exploding onto the walls, the rug, and the doorknob. I also recall that the smoothie had been in Justin’s hand just seconds before.
His face turned bright red and he froze in his tracks, staring at me with wide eyes. He scurried to grab paper towels from the kitchen and his voice crackled out, “I’m so sorry.”
I wanted so desperately to scream. But somewhere, somehow, a gap arose between the eruption of the green smoothie and my response to it. I knew I had a choice. I could freak out and yell and lecture or I could remain calm, do what needed to be done, and build connection and trust between me and my child. I took a deep breath. “It’s okay, honey. It was an accident.”
I watched his shoulders drop, and his body relax. I took another breath and closed my eyes and reminded myself that this was not an emergency. I knew I was on the right track, even though my belly was tingling with frustration and panic.
My eyes moved around the foyer, surveying the damage. It looked like someone had splatter painted the walls bright green. Chia seeds clung to our little white Ikea stool, our shoes, and the photo of my niece and nephew that hung in the hallway. Everywhere I looked the green oozed and dripped and streaked.
“I tripped,” he whispered.
One more breath. “Wow. This is like a wild art exhibit.” I smiled at my son. “Let’s just grab some towels and see what we can do in five minutes.”
We scooped and patted and wiped as best we could. Then I called it. “Okay, let’s go. We’ll finish up when we get home later this afternoon.” Justin scrambled to get a few more rags on the floor and wipe down one more spot on the wall.
And then we left the towels covering the mess, which would be there upon our return in a few hours, and I knew the spots we missed would be harder to clean up because they would be all dry and caked on. I thought of all of this as we walked down to the car, and I kept breathing.
We drove to science class mostly in silence, and I could feel Justin stealing glances at me every few minutes. I knew he was surprised that I hadn’t yelled at him, and he was probably trying to make sense of it. I just kept breathing. And I felt my shoulders drop and my body relax, too.
When we pulled into the parking lot of the science building, before Justin got out, he turned to me. “Thanks for not yelling at me, Mom.” He smiled at me and reached for my hand. “I promise I’ll be more careful.” He gave my hand a quick squeeze, I told him that it was okay and I loved him and that these things happen, or something to that effect, and he was gone.
I sat in my car for a few minutes, being still. Wow, I thought to myself, that could have gone totally different. It has gone totally different.
Smoothie Apocalypse was the first real tangible evidence I had that all of the work I had been doing to slow down and stay present was actually working. I was spending more time meditating, breathing deeper, noticing the world around me, doing one thing at a time rather than multi-tasking. I was exploring mindfulness by reading books about it, attending lectures on the subject, and paying closer attention to what was needed in each moment. Prior to the smoothie disaster, I knew I had been feeling different, but wasn’t sure if what was happening on the inside was translating to anything that could be recognized from the outside.
Now I knew. This was one of those bigger moments that I had read about in my mindfulness books. Whether I chose to lose my temper or keep breathing and stay calm, nothing was going to make the smoothie unspill. But my response to the spill had the power to make or break the connection between us.
Not forever, of course, but at least for the moment. And what is forever, if not a string of moment after moment after moment? This is what mindfulness has come to mean to me...creating more moments that deepen rather than damage connection.
And it also means knowing when it’s time to get a few more cups with lids.
For additional reading on mindful parenting, I recommend The Conscious Parent by Dr.Shefali Tsabary; Peaceful Parent, Happy Kid by Dr. Laura Markham; and Zen Parenting Radio; an audio podcast that keeps me company in my car quite often.