Person looking considerate Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash
Person looking considerate Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

What is a mindful parent?

A mindful parent faces the same difficult emotions as any parent who is navigating their child’s serious health challenge.

maya and sean playing badminton

Two stories: Martina and Samantha

  • Title
    Martina

    When Martina brought her 12-year-old daughter, Isabella, home after a bone marrow transplant, she felt anxious about leaving the hospital. She felt she was losing the daily support of doctors and nurses who visited her daughter’s room. She worried that she would make a mistake in her daughter’s medications or accidentally bring in germs that could harm Isabella, who was on immunosuppressants.

  • Title
    Martina

    During the first week home, Martina’s anxiety grew, and she felt exhausted and short-tempered, often snapping at her family or friends when they tried to help. One day she came downstairs to find Isabella talking with a neighbor, who dropped by to visit. Terrified of introducing germs into the house, Martina yelled at Isabella and ordered the neighbor to leave. Isabella ran to her room, crying, and Martina felt guilty - yet still shaking with anger and fear.

  • Title
    Samantha

    When Samantha’s 14-year-old son Luke came home after an extensive hospitalization for leukemia treatment, he began to experience many uncomfortable side effects. This made Samantha feel helpless and angry, which caused her to lash out at her partner and other children. She noticed these feelings were accompanied by physical sensations - her heart would beat more quickly and her skin would feel flushed. She began to pay attention to the physical sensations, and when they arose, she took a few deep breaths.

  • Title
    Samantha

    During one difficult night at Luke’s bedside, when he could not sleep through the nausea and vomiting, her younger daughter began crying out for a glass of water. Samantha noticed that her own heartbeat began to race, and she felt anger rising - but she didn’t want to upset her son.

  • Title
    Samantha

    So she simply stepped out of the room for a minute, took a deep breath, and noticed that as she relaxed her body, the feeling of impatience, fear, and anger felt less overwhelming. She felt a wave of compassion for herself, realizing that she was doing the best job she could. By listening to her daughter, she realized that the child was also feeling the same fear - and Samantha was able to get her daughter the glass of water, comfort her, and return to her son.

Which parent did you most identify with?

Both Martina and Samantha were experiencing very normal emotions in response to seeing their children suffer: they felt frightened, angry, and anxious. However, they each reacted to these feelings in different ways, which had an impact both on how they felt and how their children were affected.

The main difference is that Samantha was more mindful in the way she managed her feelings and reacted to the situations she was in. 

A mindful parent faces the same difficult emotions as any parent who is navigating their child’s serious health challenge. But their reactions to the emotions are more similar to Samantha’s - rooted in compassion, patience, and a broader view of how they are affecting those around them. A mindful parent:

  • Pays attention to both their own reactions, as well as what their child is experiencing. Deeply listening to your child’s words and body language with a kind attitude can help them feel calmer, as well as helping you gauge appropriate responses.
  • Notices the full range of emotions. Feelings like joy, gratitude, and humor are given just as much attention as fear or sadness.
  • Starts over all the time. Mindfulness is hard work, and no one can do it perfectly all the time. Each time you notice that you have become reactive, start your practice over with an even friendlier attitude than you had last time. 
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