The Beginner’s Mind and Parenting Fails

As everyone’s ringing in the new year with a dose of mindfulness, I thought of the “Beginner’s mind” as I practiced yoga with my son.  What is the “Beginner’s mind”? According to Wikipedia, it’s the state of complete openness when encountering new experiences. This openness often leads to creativity in problem solving; quick absorption of new knowledge and objectivity. In other words, this openness is what makes effective learning possible. As mindful parents, whether we want it or not, our parenting are often colored by our childhood experiences. If you are lucky to have wonderful parents who modeled good parenting skills for you, be thankful. Chances are most of us experienced last generation’s narcissistic, neglectful, authoritarian parenting that left a lasting mark on us. We often catch ourselves overcompensating, judging, and setting unrealistic expectations for our kids. When we do, we are riddled with guilty. 

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The thing about mindful parenting is that the more effort you put into thinking through your choices, the easier each step of parenting will be. So, stop sabotaging your efforts with unwanted guilt. You are doing great by just reading this article and thinking through your own parenting decisions. 

In the new year, with a “Beginner’s Mind”, hit the reset button. Let’s forgive ourselves for all of the “supposed” parenting fails that we judge ourselves on. Let’s realize that parenting is a life long journey. In each and every step, we need to allow ourselves to fall, fail and learn from our mistakes. The relationship with our children is built on such failures. Our children see “human beings” at each one of our failures. They will not lose respect for us. Rather, when the failure is handled well, our children will respect us more.

How to handle parenting fails with grace?

I like to think of handling my own parenting failures as jumping across a river. The river is where all the judgment, overcompensation and other unproductive emotions lie. Do I allow myself to fall into that river or do I jump across with both arms open? In order to boost my energy for that jump, I think about a parenting success that I had. In particular, I picture my son’s face when I had this parenting success. Then, I let that positive energy propel me across the river. 

Once I’m on the other side of the river, I’m that mindful parent that my son knows and respects. Then, I can talk to him about the situation. I apologize for my mistakes. I tell him that I realize now what his feelings were. I tell him that I made a mistake. I ask him for forgiveness. Once it’s given, I ask him how he would like the situation changed. Then, I work with that the best I can to change the situation. If he still does not like the situation, then we would work on managing his feelings with the given situation. 

What does this look like? 

My empathetic son snatched the toy out of a girl’s hand at the play space the other day. It was not his usual behavior. I told him “No”, right away and lifted him up to take him to a quiet corner. He went almost ballistic as all two years olds do. While he went about his tantrum, I waited for him to calm down. During that time, I felt shame, disappointment and love all bubbling up in my river of emotions. Then, I remembered his usual behaviors of sharing and giving. I let those memories of good behavior lift me across the river. When he calmed down, I gave him a snack and talked to him about the situation. During that time, I found out that he had wanted to give the toy to another girl. They were all playing together. I felt horrible then. I made a mistake. Quickly, I let him go back to the play space. He immediately went to get the toy and give it to another girl who really wanted it. After a little while, when he came back from playing with those girls, I gave him a big hug and told him that I was sorry about before.  I also told him that he did an amazing job to try to help this other girl. However, it was never okay to snatch a toy out of someone’s hand. We have to wait our turn.

Somehow, with the beginner’s mind, and crossing my river, I was able to recover from my parenting fail and gain a bit of respect from my son. 

How about other situations where we can use the “Beginner’s Mind”? 

“Beginner’s Mind” is perfect for setting expectations. Often, when we go about our day as parents, we expect our kids to act a certain way; we expect ourselves to be a certain kind of parent; and we expect other people to react a certain way toward our kids. All of these expectations are actually setting us up to fail as parents. Often, situations in parenting are completely unpredictable and uncontrollable. These situations bring out the worst and the best in us, our kids and the people in our community. Everyone’s reactions in those situations do not represent these people as a whole at all. Sometimes they are pure anomalies that need to be managed as such. 

So, when we expect our smart kids to bring home straight As on their report cards, we have to remember that they are only “smart” if we label them as such. 

So, when we expect our “well behaved” kids to listen to us in the library quiet area, we have to remember that they will act up occasionally.

So, when we expect our teachers to teach our children, we have to remember that even good teachers sometimes don’t have the resources to do their jobs.

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With a “Beginner’s Mind”, if we approached those situations with no expectations of how the other person will react in that situation, then we can see everyone as having the capacity to be “smart”, be “well-behaved” and be “good” at their jobs. 

With no expectations, our days will unfold as they will. We will drive our days, but we won’t control them. We will manage the situations. We will manage our households. We will empower our kids to be better versions of their true selves. But, we won’t cross the line and re-write the journey that is theirs to begin with.

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The Beginner's Mind brings openness and mindfulness to parenting fails. Setting the right expectations to parent mindfully or intentionally.

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