Susan talks with Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD and Myla Kabat-Zinn about the opportunities for mindful presence that come with raising children. Jon is known for his work as a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher engaged in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society. He and his wife Myla are the authors of Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is an American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is the author of many books including Full Catastrophe Living and Wherever You Go, There You Are. Myla Kabat-Zinn has worked as a childbirth educator, birthing assistant and environmental advocate. She teaches mindful parenting workshops in the U.S. and in Europe.  Jon and Myla are the authors of Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting.

Things you’ll learn from this episode:

  • The opportunities we get to we help our kids learn to ride the waves of life’s ups and downs
  • How slowing down our reactions and just staying present with our kids can help us better respond to their needs

  • How practicing mindful parenting can help us grow in our own lives and model healthy self-care for our kids

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Transcript here:

Speaker 1: (00:00)
Yeah.

Speaker 2: (00:12)
Hello and welcome to the parenting without power struggles podcast. I’m Susan stifelman. I’m your host, the author of parenting without power circles and parenting with presence. And I’m glad you’re here. If you are familiar with my work, you know that I often talk about parenting as not only being about raising our kids, but as a chance for us to grow and to transform in our own lives. I’ve hosted an event even titled Parenting as a spiritual path because I believe that there’s a lot of value in exploring the idea that nothing lets us grow and transform like raising children. Parenting really asks so many things of us like patience and fortitude and acceptance and those things aren’t always easy to come by. At least speaking personally, they weren’t for me, but nothing motivated me as much as my son because the love that I felt for him was so overpowering that I wanted to try and grow into the best version of myself that I could be.

Speaker 2: (01:16)
So I’ve talked about this idea with many wonderful people with Dan Siegel. A let us more set Arianna Huffington, Jack Cornfield, and in this episode today you’re going to hear part of a conversation that I had about all of this with Jon Kabat Zinn, one of the pioneers of mindfulness and his wife Myla Kabat Zinn. John is the author of many books you might be familiar with wherever you go. There you are. Or full catastrophe living using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. And the book that he’s written with Myla everyday blessings, the inner work of mindful parenting. I have always loved John’s work. It’s so rooted in kindness and gentleness and realism. He understands and he communicates that life can be challenging and we can become impatient or overwhelmed and really encourages us to allow whatever we’re experiencing in the present moment to be as it is. And so in this conversation, you’ll hear John and Myla share their thoughts on all of this and on the laboratory of parenting and the opportunities we get to grow as we help our kids learn to ride the waves of life’s ups and downs. After I play the clip, I’ll have a few more things to say about it. So enjoy

Speaker 3: (02:39)
it makes sense. They start since we’re talking about mindful parenting with the, what is mindfulness? And the way I define mindfulness is it’s a big awareness that arises of by paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally. And while that sounds very, uh, simple to do, it’s not easy to do. So it becomes really in some sense, um, ongoing exercising with certain kind of muscle, if you will, to cultivate a greater mindfulness. And I might say heartfulness in our parenting. So it’s not like we’re telling people exactly what to do, but in some sense, um, I’m suggesting that there is a wait to be, while you’re in some sense figuring out what you’re going to do that can optimize that whole process and the sense of connection between you and your child staying in the present moment with as much, uh, recruiting as many of our native intelligences.

Speaker 3: (03:47)
And I mean that in the plural as possible to try to see what’s actually going on in ourselves, in our child or children in the family, in the world, and then navigate that territory in ways that optimize wellbeing, uh, and um, uh, people getting their needs met but not at the expense of other people’s needs. And, you know, somehow having a family that, um, that really is grounded not merely in, you know, talking about love but actually experiencing it in all its infinite number of, uh, manifestations. I think the more we can sort of remind ourselves to kind of that lovely. Just touching, checking your chance, taking a deep breath, calming ourselves down, reminding ourselves that no, if, you know, the wolf is not at the door and this small, you know, um, and um, and in some way I’m packing the kind of stories that we tell ourselves.

Speaker 3: (04:51)
Um, I actually love the way you use Byron Katie’s work in your book. Um, you know, that questioning it really true and kind of deconstructing a lot of the times of stories and, and mindsets that we create. Um, I think it’s such an important part of parenting with mindfulness. I sort of liked to think of it as a laboratory, you know, and it’s celebratory of really looking deeply to the inner landscape of our thoughts and feelings and our bodily sensations and what’s going on inside of us. And then of course the outer landscape of our child. You know, who is this child? What does my child need from me in this moment? If there were such a possibility, which thankfully there isn’t, that we could completely buffer and protect our children from every experience of disappointment or frustration, it wouldn’t even be in their best interest.

Speaker 3: (05:50)
You know, I talk about it in terms of helping children move through the stages of loss and grief, really as encounter some, some element of life that isn’t going their way where instead of trying to fix the problem for them, so they’re happy, happy, happy. We actually join them where they are and help usher them through their disappointment and sadness. And John, you were just touching on that. If there’s something else you wanted to add to that or either of you. Well, I think you’re making an extremely good point because we, we don’t, uh, you know, to our children any favors if, if, uh, they, they have the sense that if they push hard enough, they’ll always quote unquote get their way when very often, you know, they don’t even know what their way is in the larger sense and very often need to do we, but we have to trust our instincts that there are certain times in which one we say set a limit, uh, that, uh, it’s not negotiable.

Speaker 3: (06:52)
And, and the more they can feel from us, a certain kind of, uh, uh, is there in the term from you, you know, so the wall of futility and it doesn’t matter from a cyclical up against that, they will, uh, they’re not gonna move that. And it’s a very important life lesson because it’s not just your parents setting limits. It’s like life set certain kinds of parameters. And if you don’t grow up understanding that you, you know, uh, things are not always the way you want them to be or turn out the way you want them to turn out, then you don’t develop a essential life skills for, for mental flexibility and emotional flexibility and empathy for others and all sorts of other things. And, and so I think your, your point in, in, in that part of your book, uh, is extremely valuable because, you know, mindful parenting, because mindfulness is about awareness and the cultivation of, uh, wins to attention.

Speaker 3: (07:53)
People could easily misunderstand that to say, all you need to do is pay close attention to your children all the time. But in fact, that would be really oppressive. I mean we have, you know, back off and give them a lot of space to learn their own lessons, whether it’s from falling down because of gravity and we can’t protect them from gravity. No. Can we protect them from a lot of other things. So we have to protect them as we can as their little and gradually they, you know, sort of learn how to take care of themselves. When you, when you attempt to bring a degree of mindfulness into your parenting. And I might say even tiny, this little degree of mindfulness can be profoundly transformative. It’s not like you have to be mindful of the time. And in fact, that’s another ideal that’s virtually impossible because most of the time when we pay attention to where our mind is, if not in the present moment, that all it’s all someplace else in the past or in the future and quite up in memories of worries.

Speaker 3: (08:55)
So, uh, even a tiny bit of remembering to come back into our parties is my list that I and to p present for this situation and CD and our own likes and dislikes and fears. And you know, expectations and disappointments and everything allows us to really, um, can be shaped in a certain way by life in the way that’s because then our concepts of life, what life is because each one of our children has their own, you know, life trajectory or Carmo or whatever you want to call it. And when we can actually, um, step back and see that, you know, we don’t know everything and to watch our children as mine, let’s say, do half the few their turn and yet to share, uh, their children with us in ways that allow us to also get to know them and feel them developing. It really allows all of us to, uh, both nurture and be nurtured and shape and be shaped in a world that is sometimes very, you know, stressful and very turbulent and hard to predict where it’s all going.

Speaker 3: (10:08)
And so this is kind of how, you know, love expresses itself in families and, and creates bonds that are just way deeper than any words can express. And that doesn’t mean that there aren’t also, you know, difficulties in communication or you know, the usual kinds of things that come up. But you see, the beauty of mindfulness is it can hold empty any mind, state of body, state or you know, emotion or thought in awareness. And then that awareness gives you a whole new vantage points and degrees of freedom for being in relationship to say, grief or sadness or anger or anxiety. And that awareness isn’t caught in the grief or the sadness or anger or anxiety and in some ways isn’t taking it personally. And those extra degrees of freedom allow you to in some sense, if you can remember to bring it into the present moment, uh,

Speaker 4: (11:10)
[inaudible]

Speaker 3: (11:11)
in some sense your best self, even in the face of very, you know, sort of challenging and scary and stressful and painful circumstances, which is just part and parcel of being alive, being human, and the vulnerability of having children and grandchildren that you love and care about. I love what, what Myelin said. Um, because again, to come back to it, I mean, there’s no one way to be mindful. There’s no one right way to parent. So when she’s talking about the laboratory, it really is an ongoing experiment if you will, and ongoing learning process that never and really ultimately an ongoing adventure and the element of like what we call spiritual practice, what that really means is a certain kind of loving way to keep yourself present. Just keep coming back to the present moment because there’s something about full awareness in the present moment with open heartedness that is transformative and is healing.

Speaker 3: (12:19)
And there more and more of the studies on mindfulness stress through mindfulness based stress reduction, MBSR and the work. The work that I do is showing that it influences the brain and it influences the immune system. And I thought if all of our biology really, you know, you do teach stress reduction and parenting can be very stressful just as life can be there. A little quick exercise you would want to remind us of or walk us through that a parent could use in a stressful moment. I think the, the, the first one is that in some sense that’s sort of a gateway in, uh, we are offering four, but the first one is just practicing dropping in on the present moment. Because as I said earlier, a lot of the time if you check where your mind is, it is not in the present moment.

Speaker 3: (13:16)
It’s in the past or in the future. It’s lost in thought. As we say. If we can remember to just come back into the body, touch base with the breath, feel the body as a whole standing there breathing and do that at times when we’re not under stress, when we not in sort of some kind of challenging situation with one of our children. Uh, but in those moments where you think it’s like in between and nothing’s happening, instead of picking up the newspaper, you know, when you’re shopping out shopping, buying vegetables, isn’t it? See if you can actually be aware of your, I am in the supermarket shopping and conversation with people or whatever and so that you’re actually reclaiming your life. And then the more you practice that dropping in on the prison moment, the, the, the, the stronger the muscle gets. Uh, and then when you are under more stress or you’re in a challenging situation with a child or with your spouse or partner for whatever reason, then you’ll find that it’s a little bit like you’ve woken a parachute when the plane was flying quite nicely.

Speaker 3: (14:22)
Uh, which is a good thing because, uh, you can’t tell when you may need to jump out of the plane and it’s good to have the parachute already woven. So that’s why it makes sense to practice mindfulness in everyday life. And it also brings out the beauty in the richness of the, the sort of joy of seeing a parent. And let’s not forget that. I mean, this is like the greatest work in the world. That may be the most challenging and stressful work in the world too. But it’s also the greatest work the world. And it’s enormous satisfaction, uh, comes from, you know, nurturing our children. And you know, t secret may have said it best. You know that we do it for the high wages [inaudible]

Speaker 2: (15:07)
so I hope you enjoyed that. I love talking with John and Myla. I love their heart, their wisdom, the depth of their understanding about the opportunities that we can have as parents if we embrace them rather than hide under the covers or runaway from all the possible lessons that those littles and masters can offer us. So as always, I’d like to leave you with a tip this week. Try just noticing what’s going on when you’re feeling triggered by your child’s behavior rather than rushing in to analyze it or to fix it or to change it. Stay in your body. As Miley was saying, just stay grounded and rooted in your body. Becoming on friendlier terms with all the experiences that we can have throughout our day, whether it’s frustration or it’s worry or it’s impatient and just breathe. Maybe put your hand on your chest in a loving way as you tap kindly and say they’re there.

Speaker 2: (16:11)
We can notice these challenging moments of parenting without trying to do something about them. In fact, it’s often when we slow down our reactions and we just stay present with what’s going on as it is that we can better respond to what’s needed. So I hope that’s a value to you. I hope you’ve enjoyed the podcast. If you’d like more support as you raise your children with greater presence, I hope you’ll check out my website, Susan stifelman.com you’ll find lots of information there on support including the monthly parenting without power struggles membership program. I work with parents personally twice a month. We cover every kind of issue from general things like towards and homework to more complicated issues like kids who are struggling with anxiety or having social problems. And if you have a question that you would like me to answer on this podcast, you can visit [inaudible] dot com slash podcast I hope that we’ve given you some things to think about or to feel into and I encourage you to subscribe and if you’d like, you can leave a rating or a review. I look forward to joining you on our next episode, and meanwhile, remember that no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy and take things a little more slowly when you can have a good week and I’m catching it.

Speaker 1: (17:41)
[inaudible]

Speaker 5: (17:55)
[inaudible].

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