Zen parenting: How to raise your kids without losing yourself

In a marriage or partnership we often pretend to be fine-even if we are not-so we don’t “rock the boat.” Or we pretend that we feel good about our parenting or that our children are fine when really they aren’t. Sometimes we’re afraid to admit what we feel or to acknowledge that something needs to change.

Denying what you feel to “keep the peace” will eventually eat away at you and your relationships.

It’s important to find some kind of normalcy and comfort in change, especially when it comes to parenting. Navigating through change requires open communication and an ability to talk about feelings. The key is to find a way to communicate without blaming or judging, so you can collaborate on how to move forward.

The first step is always to focus on you. Not you the parent, but you the individual. Are you taking care of yourself, talking about your feelings and finding joy? Are you honest with yourself, and do you know who you are?

I know, you have no interest in a therapy session; you just want answers on how to raise your children. But there are no simple answers. Others can support and encourage you, but they can’t tell you what to do. You need to have clarity and intention about your family, your values and your choices if you want to move forward. Rather than have others give you answers that may or may not feel right, you need to be intent on finding your own answers.

This begins with self-realization, your connection to who you are and why you do what you do. This is not a blame game-issues in the family are not all your fault-but to make real change, you have to take responsibility for what you bring to each relationship.

If you are overworked, overwhelmed and over-obligated, it’s a challenge to feel content or parent effectively. It’s hard to listen to your children or find the patience to deal with them. When lives are too full (with things we may or may not want to do), we live on autopilot; we “get through” each day rather than truly living each day.

So making yourself a priority and taking time for you isn’t selfish. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Taking time to gather your thoughts, do what you love or spend time with friends fills you up and enhances your being. It helps you become the person you want to be, which allows you to be the parent you want to be.

So how do you do this? It’s a journey, not a destination, and there are many different paths, but here are three steps in the right direction:

  • Find silence. Our homes and our world are noisy and loud. Part of the reason we don’t know what we want or need is that we can’t hear ourselves think. Cell phones, computers, televisions, video games and people hold our attention all day. Finding time for peace and quiet is not viewed as a priority.

    If you want to really “hear” yourself and figure out who you are, you need to detach and unplug, even if it’s for five minutes at least three times a week. Emotionally, it can help you feel more peaceful; physically, it can slow down your heart rate; and spiritually, it can help you find your center.

    To begin, focus on your breathing. Let your mind take a well-needed break from the to-do lists and worries. Set an alarm (for five, 15 or 60 minutes-whatever works for you) so if you get really relaxed, you’ll know when it’s time to be done. If getting quiet is challenging and you need support, try a yoga, pranayama (breathwork) or meditation class.

  • Be thoughtful about how you start and end your day. Do you wake up in a rush or start your day with the morning news? Do you end your day sitting in front of a violent or disturbing program or, again, watching the news? If so, then no wonder you feel overwhelmed all the time. The news and most televisions shows are based on catastrophic events, the scary things that grab everyone’s attention and keep them tuned in. Starting your day with this bleak outlook will only zap your energy. Watching violence or negativity before bed can disrupt your sleep or cause bad dreams.

    Of course you want to know what is going on in the world, but it doesn’t have to be your first priority. Make different choices for the beginning and end of your day: a good book, music, silence, talking with family, cooking, writing in a journal. Choose things that make you feel good, things that feel loving or inspiring. Making the choice to focus on love instead of fear will shape your day, and over the long term, shape your reality.

  • Realize what drains you, realize what gives you energy. Make a list of the top five things that drain your energy. Really look at this list, think about it, and figure out why you do these things. Laundry, cleaning and carpooling have to get done, but can you figure out ways to do it less? Can you figure out how to ask for help?

    At the very least, acknowledge that these tasks drain you. You are still a good person if you don’t like folding clothes. You are still a good person if you don’t like playing with Barbies or trains. You don’t have to do everything perfectly, and you don’t have to love everything you do. Realizing this, you can let go of some guilt, the idea that you are not good enough because parts of your day are challenging.

    To balance this out, write five things that give you energy. Figure out how to do these things more, figure out ways to spend time with people who do these things. Make it a priority to do things that bring you joy and help you reconnect with your true self.

Zen, which means enlightenment can be attained through self-contemplation and intuition, is what these steps are all about. It’s deciding you want to parent yourself first so you can be a full, healthy and aware person for your family. It’s about reconnecting to that deeper part of yourself, your own inner guidance, which helps you remember all the gifts you have to offer.

And the greatest gift you can offer your family is your true self.

This doesn’t mean you will be perfect; there will always be missteps along the way. But if you make the decision to live an aware and healthy life, your children will, too-because they don’t learn by listening to what you say; they learn by watching how you live.

Don’t just read it – do it!

Cathy Cassani Adams and her husband, Todd, co-teach Zen
Parenting classes in Elmhurst. The class focuses on self-care
and a monthly topic, covering everything from mindful parenting to
parenting as a team to raising confident children.

Upcoming topics:

Jan. 30 – Finding Balance (all ages)

Visit yogashalakids.org for more information or
to pre-register or cathycassaniadams.com for more

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