5 Steps to Zen Parenting

Raising kids today has a whole new set of challenges that previous generations haven’t faced. The media (and much-buzzed parenting books, like All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior) like to tell us that Parenthood 2.0 is a stress-filled, can’t-escape-the-grind job.

Yup, raising children is a lot of work. But the truth is, it can be enjoyable: As parents, we hold the keys to the palace of parenting fun. Here, five ways to find a bit more serenity in home life, a few more family smiles, and a healthy dose of parenting zen.

1. Live in the moment. Notice how your kids pull you into the beauty of the now. Yesterday I woke up exhausted; My to do list screamed from the computer and the thought of throwing together breakfast and lunch in the next fifteen minutes clenched my jaw. But moments later, my 5-year-old son found a snail on the front deck. He picked her up, called her Baby Snail Sheila, and placed her in Tupperware on a bed of spinach leaves. When your kids draw you into what’s around you—a rainbow, a barking squirrel—go there and notice how it makes everything okay again.

2. Be realistic. Let your expectations—of yourself as a parent and of your child—fall by the wayside. Instead of trying to manage the uncontrollable, step back and be a witness to the mystery of your child’s life. If we let it, each child’s journey can ease along like the wonder of a flower blooming: What adventures will we have together? What will we discover?

3. Live with appreciation. Make a regular gratitude list: Jot down or share a few sweet words your child said, or funny questions they asked that day. Studies have shown that regular gratitude practice boosts feelings of well-being. As the Greek philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis said, “Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.”

4. Practice mindfulness. Do one thing at a time, fully. We are driven to distraction in our hyper connected digital world, but studies show that doing one thing at a time is better for your brain, your health and, of course—your family.

5. Model the type of parent you want your child to be. This adaptation of the Golden Rule comes from my yoga teacher, Janet Stone. When my children become parents, do I want them to continue their travels? To treat themselves to a nice lunch or a weekend away? To say yes when offered help? Yes, yes and yes. So I commit to doing those things for myself now and show them: taking care of myself is taking care of my family, too.

Jackie Ashton

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Jackie Ashton is a health writer and mother of two based in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in publications like The New York Times, Salon, Redbook, and Spirituality & Health, among others.

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