Two Powerful Compassion Practices for Parents
As much as you love your kids, there are days when they can really try your patience (to put it mildly).
Here are two practices to help you center yourself and respond as compassionately as possible, especially when you need to set limits or you’re caught in a tense encounter with your child or with one of their other caregivers.
A note to people of faith: You may be concerned when you see the terms ‘meditation’ and ‘visualization,’ but I don’t think either of these practices will conflict in any way with your religious beliefs. Lovingkindness meditation basically involves wishing people well, and Wise Elder visualization basically involves imagining a person who is kind and helpful.
Practice 1: Lovingkindness Meditation
In lovingkindness meditation, we silently repeat a message of kindness and concern for ourselves and then for other people. This can be a very useful practice for parents, as it can help you respond more calmly when someone’s pushing your buttons—like your kid, or your (ex-)partner, or perhaps a teacher or other parents at your child’s school. It can also help you be gentler with yourself if you’re feeling overwhelmed or ashamed that you don’t always live up to your own ideals as a parent.
First, express good wishes for yourself. In his book on Secular Meditation, Rick Heller suggests using the phrasing: “I’d like you to be safe. I’d like you to be healthy. I’d like you to be happy. I’d like you to be at ease in the world.”
Next, express these same good wishes toward someone you love without reservation. (Depending on the day, this could be your child or partner… or you could use them as your ‘difficult person’ in step four.)
After that, extend good wishes toward someone you feel neutral toward, perhaps a neighbor or coworker.
Then do your best to extend good wishes toward a difficult person: someone you’re feeling frustrated with today, or someone who tends to annoy you.
Finally, extend good wishes to a large group of people, perhaps everyone in your community, or everyone in the world.
You can do this as a formal meditation practice or informally throughout the day. Personally, I like to do a quick lovingkindness practice using the phrase ‘I wish you peace.’ Sometimes I shorten it even further to “peace,” or “love,” or “hug!” as a quick reminder to show myself or someone else compassion and kindness in a difficult moment.
(If you’d like more explanation, check out my longer post on “Three Different Approaches to Lovingkindness Practice” at MindfulTeachers.org)
Practice 2: ‘Wise Elder’ Visualization
In their book Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, Shauna Shapiro and Chris White suggest imagining support from a ‘wise elder’ in order to bring out your best self during tense parenting moments.
Think about a recent interaction with your child that felt very stressful to you. Picture the scene in as much detail as you can. What did each of you say to each other? What emotions and bodily sensations did you experience?
Now imagine that you hear someone knocking on the door. When you open it, you see a ‘wise elder.’ This could be someone you know, or it could be an older and wiser version of yourself.
“With great compassion, their eyes and presence communicate to you, ‘I see how challenging this is. I am here for you. But I have complete confidence in you.’”
(Shapiro and White, Mindful Discipline)
Now imagine that you go back to the challenging encounter with your child, but this time your ‘wise elder’ is there to support you. How do your words, tone of voice, and body language change?
“Notice how wisdom and support bring out the best in you. When you’re done with the visualization, make an intention to ‘call in the wise elder’ the next time you find yourself spiraling into reactivity with your child.”
(Shapiro and White, Mindful Discipline)
Parenting can be tough. Try a daily compassion practice, focusing on your child, yourself, and the other adults involved in their care. This won’t necessarily take away any of your challenges, but it can help you respond more calmly and effectively, rather than reacting in a way that you might regret.
If you’re located in California and need help determining if your child and/or family need professional help, contact Family Spring by submitting an inquiry at this link.