Mindful parenting

Mindful parenting

My son surprised me on a recent school run when he asked the mum of his classmate how she was feeling.

I'd told him the day before that Aunty PC was unwell, and I was glad he remembered and showed concern without prompting.

I stroked his head in appreciation and the incident promptly slipped into a mental black hole.

What I remember was the spark of irritation when he began fiddling, as usual, with the knobs of the stereo and air-conditioner after we got into the car instead of buckling up first.

Then once we got home, we fell into the same unhappy after-school routine of me berating him for dawdling over everything, from removing his socks to finishing his lunch to completing his homework.

"You are in Primary 2. Shouldn't you know the drill by now?" I found myself shouting for the umpteenth time.

When my husband and I traded snippets of our day that night, I moaned, as usual, about our son's recalcitrance and forgot about his nice little gesture.

It wasn't till some days later that I was reminded of it.

A friend of his had come down with food poisoning and missed school for a week. As I prepared to pass the mum the worksheets and school memos for her boy, my son slipped a get-well note into the folder.

"He sealed it before I could read it," I told my friend. "I hope he didn't write nonsense."

Later that day, she sent a picture of my son's (thankfully coherent) note to our Whatsapp chat group that included the other mum, PC. He's so sweet, she added. PC agreed, sharing how my son had asked after her too.

I felt a flicker of pride, followed by a sharp stab of guilt. Instead of acknowledging his thoughtfulness, I had earlier demanded to know why he taped up the envelope before I could read his note.

"What did you write?" I probed, wondering if he had written or drawn anything inappropriate.

He is at a stage where he finds bodily emissions infinitely hilarious and his friend's bout of food poisoning would have been a great excuse for him to flaunt his robust sense of toilet humour.

"I can't remember," he replied in what I thought was a flippant manner and my annoyance flared afresh.

In my zeal to raise kids who would do me credit, I often end up not giving them enough credit.

Somehow, my maternal radar has malfunctioned, picking up only their faults and deficiencies; my role mirrors that of a corrections officer rather than a confidante.

When my daughter attempted a clean-up after spilling milk on the floor, my first reaction was to scold her for being careless.

The second was to groan about how the napkin she was using to mop up the milk was too wet, adding to the mess.

It struck me only later that, considering she was just five, she hadn't done too badly at all.

Yup, she could have paid more heed, but I could at least have praised her show of initiative instead of relying on me or our helper to do the dirty work.

As advocates of mindful parenting would have pointed out, I have lost sight of what's really important as I get swept up in the tide of everyday busyness.

I'm so preoccupied with doing things promptly and properly - ensuring they eat well, don't kill each other or themselves, put in some honest work, enjoy some downtime and go to bed on time - that every blip along the way fans my impatience.

To hit my targets, the bulk of my daily interaction with them often takes the form of nagging, lecturing and admonishing.

I may be having a nice chat with my son about his day in school, say.

But all it takes is a slight misdemeanour - him sticking a dirty finger into his sister's cup or wiping his snot on his shirt - for the whole conversation to sour and mutate into another telling-off.

"I was telling you something," my son yelled in frustration one day after yet another such episode. "Why does this matter?"

Why indeed, I wondered. Is a pristine shirt or cup more important than hearing about the latest game he devised with his friends?

This whole mindful movement is no walk in the park. The idea is to weed out (or at least suspend) distractions and judgment so you can pick out and savour the moments of magic from the "mindless flotsam" of everyday life.

But there may be hope for me yet.

With guilt still coursing through my veins, I managed to bite my tongue when my daughter invited me excitedly to see her "tent" a few days later.

She had knotted blankets to window grilles and bedposts to form a skinny tepee, and scattered clothes, pillows and assorted toys inside "because this is my new home".

Outside, discarded interior decor options were strewn everywhere. All I could see at first was a very messy room, followed by the weary thought that I would have to tidy it up later.

What I told her, though, was how creative her idea was. I pushed aside all negative thoughts and we holed ourselves in her tent having a pretend meal while watching a pretend movie with pretend friends.

But her pleasure was genuine and in those few sweaty minutes, we both had our fill of magic for the day.


This article was first published on March 22, 2015.
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