Many new parents and parents-to-be reflect on the question, “What type of parent do I want to be?” This question can seem so monumental and challenging to answer. This article offers a way to sort through how to arrive at answers. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help us in this exploration. The goal of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is to help people create a rich, meaningful, and values-congruent life while accepting that pain is an inevitable part of it. ACT aims to help people increase their psychological flexibility and respond to life’s joys and challenges without needless struggle. With its focus on acceptance, mindfulness, and values, ACT is an effective approach for connecting with your parenting values and goals.
Values can be our guiding star. They provide meaning and purpose, underpin our goals, come from the heart, provide strength during adversity, and are flexible to changing circumstances. Reflecting on our values as humans and as parents can help us in shifting to a broader picture of what we want for ourselves and for our children. In addition, values can clarify how to make the transition to parenthood a more fulfilling and empowering experience. Transitioning to parenthood can be an arduous process filled with unexpected challenges. Connecting with our inner values is a way to find meaning and joy as well as some guidance during difficult decisions that we are bound to face as parents.
To help you identify your values as a parent, ask yourself the following questions:
- How do you want your child to be as an adult? What actions might you take to encourage those characteristics and behaviors?
- How would you want your grown child to answer the question, “What is your parent like?”
- If you could simply enjoy being a parent without the need to do anything “right,” without fear of judgment from others, without pressure from the outside world or from baby’s needs, what would you do?
These are challenging questions to reflect on. Incorporating mindfulness into the practice of self-reflection will maximize your ability to explore with curiosity, learn, and grow. Mindfulness assists us in focusing on the here and now, without judgment, and creates a space for purposeful attention while facilitating greater awareness of our thoughts and feelings. Additionally, mindfulness increases our ability to act with intention and in a way that is consistent with our values.
Reyna Schwartz, Psy.D recently took time to record a mindfulness meditation described in Becoming Mum as a way to guide people towards connecting with their inner values and engaging in mindful parenting.
A written transcript of the mindfulness meditation by Koa Lou Whittingham, the author of Becoming Mum, follows below as well.
Go ahead and get in a comfortable position in your chair. Sit upright with your feet flat on the floor, your arms and legs uncrossed, and your hands resting in your lap. Allow your eyes to close gently. Take a couple of gentle breaths: in and out, in and out. Notice the sound and feel of your own breath as you breathe in and as you breathe out.
Imagine being able, unseen and unheard, to watch and hear your child as an adult, 20 or 30 years in the future. In your mind’s eye, allow yourself to imagine your child, all grown up, going about their daily life. What do you wish for them? What do you hope they are like? What characteristics do you hope to have fostered in your child? See your child interacting with colleagues and friends; imagine them in love; imagine them interacting with their own children. Imagine that your child shows those exact characteristics that you are hoping to encourage. Consider what actions you may have taken as a mother to have encouraged these characteristics in your child.
Now imagine that you are watching your child, as an adult, reflect on their own childhood. Perhaps you might like to imagine that they are talking about their childhood with a partner or with a friend. What memories of his childhood do you hope to hear them recall? Imagine that they begin discussing you, as a mother. What would you hope to hear your child say about you? You probably would love to hear them say that you were a good mother, but try to push past that to the specifics. Imagine them completing one of the following sentences: ‘The thing that’s really special about my mom is … ’ or ‘I’ll always be grateful to my mom for … ’ or ‘I’m lucky I had the mom I had because … ’.
Now imagine that you are transported from Earth to a special, magical place with your child. In this special place it is just you and your child as a newborn baby. If you are currently trying to conceive or are pregnant, imagine that in this magical place you are with your child as a newborn or as a young baby. There is no one else here to judge you and no pressure to achieve anything in particular as a mother. Your baby is alert and calm. Your baby is just happy to be with you and doesn’t need anything in particular right now. Somehow you just know that in this special, magical place you can do whatever you want as a mother, with the guarantee that no harm will come to your baby. You are both completely protected, so there is no pressure to get anything right. This is just a special time for you to enjoy your baby. If you could simply enjoy being a mom without the need to do anything ‘right’, without fear of judgment from others, without pressure from the outside world or from baby’s needs, what would you do?
As this exercise comes to an end, gradually widen your attention to take in the sounds around you, slowly open your eyes, and return your attention back to the present moment.
Whittingham, K.L. (2013) Becoming Mum. Brisbane, Australia: Pivotal Publishing.