Teaching Your Kids How to Surf Their Way Through Stress

Part of being a mindful parent is recognizing that our children are deeply affected by our moods. When we are stressed out and harried, whether consciously or subconsciously, our kids know it. So I was especially bummed out when I found a chart this week that quantifies lifestyle stress levels. I scored really high. A commute more than 1 hour each day – check. Full-time job – check. More than one child – check. Elderly parent – check.

Funny. I didn’t think I was all that stressed out. None of those things on the chart feel so unbearable as I go through the motions of everyday life. I look forward to the “down-time” of my commute and use it very efficiently. (In fact, I’m writing this post as I ride Metro-North.) I love my job, most of the time. I love my kids, most of the time. I even love my 87 year old mother.

But I have to concede that these aspects of my life are all stressors. All part of the daily list of demands placed on my time, energy and psyche that can be as draining as they are rewarding. Especially when they are taken as a whole, which, of course, they are. Especially on mornings like today when by 6:30am I am on my way to the skating rink for my son’s hockey practice, already dressed for the work day in my suit and high heels, hair and make-up photo ready. No wonder I’m rushed. I’m tired. And maybe just a little bit short-tempered with my son as he puts on his gear at a snail’s pace because he’s tired too from staying up late to finish his homework.

Here’s the thing, though. I started this post with the words, “Part of being a mindful parent is recognizing.” Thank goodness that’s true. We don’t need to be perfect. We just need to be mindful. We need to be present enough to recognize when we are under stress and not our best selves. Eckhart Tolle says that once you have had that moment of recognition you have introduced something new to your experience, that you have created a space from which you can start to more fully engage in the moment.

This means that we don’t have to be stress-free to be good parents, which is good news for me since according to that chart I found I would have to move, quit my job, disavow my mother and abandon my children. What I can do instead is recognize that I live a stressful life and that it sometimes takes its toll on my family. And I can honestly, and with compassion for myself, recognize those moments when, perhaps, my kids suffer just a little bit as a result.

And then I can breathe. And breathe again. And create a space to use that moment of stress, and fatigue, and less than perfect behavior, to model for my children the possibility of living mindfully in a stressful world. I can show them what it means to use my breath to come back to the present moment and drop whatever story line is stressing me out. I can let them see me take a moment to pause and identify the next right step rather than just mindlessly stumble on. (Perhaps in this case, an apology to my son for my impatience this morning.)

Yes, part of being a mindful parent is recognizing that our children are affected by our moods. But maybe we can also recognize that stress can be a good thing if we use those difficult moments to model mindfulness, compassion and grace under pressure. Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “we can’t stop the waves, but we can learn to surf.” When we are brave enough to acknowledge that our kids see our stress, and wise enough to use those moments to model mindfulness, we are giving our kids surfing lessons.

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1 comment to Teaching Your Kids How to Surf Their Way Through Stress

  • Sherry-Lynne

    This is just the advice I needed to hear tonight. I just shared this with my son. Thanks for the reminder and the surfing lesson!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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