February 2

Motherlode: Thinking about mindful parenting and surrogacy

Two books offer insights about feeling more in control and about alternative ways to have children.

By KJ Dell-Antonia

Mindful Parenting is having a moment.

Mindful Parenting is a blog. And “Mindful Parenting” is a book, not from the same writer. Maybe, for you, it’s a New Year’s resolution (it was for me). Or maybe it’s one more thing setting up parents for failure.

Or maybe (what with being so mindful and all) you’re pretty comfortable with the idea that “mindful” parenting is mostly about putting your mind into being a parent whenever you can, as opposed to whatever the opposite of your mind might be. Your id? Your ego? Your inner child? There is probably a reason the phrase “visceral parenting” has not really taken off.

For Kristen Race, the author of the book with that particularly of-the-moment title, mindful parenting has a dual meaning. Her concept of mindful integrates that traditional concept of mindfulness with one that puts the emphasis on mind, or rather brain. In her version of “Mindful Parenting,” neuroscience and cognitive development share chapter space with meditative practices.

“Mindful Parenting,” the book, dropped into my life (in the form of a review copy) at a moment when I was looking for a fresh nudge in that particular direction. (Disclosure: Dr. Race is the sister-in-law of my friend from law school whose father, a judge, performed our wedding ceremony. But Dr. Race and I have never met.) While Hanna Rosin, at Slate, accuses the mindful parenting movement of creating “more goals,” I see it more as putting nice, handy names on the goals that I already have. Ever since the first of my children began to thwart my idealized vision of life with his baffling choices, poor sense of timing and refusal to listen to reason (that would be about an hour after he was born), I’ve been trying to react less and think more. Reacting – to the crying baby, the child clinging to my leg as I try to go to work, to the dramatic 6:55 a.m. cereal spill – means yelling misery, and lingering unhappiness all round.

Thinking – being mindful, if you will – does mean taking a breath. It means remembering that the baby will stop crying (when he’s 12), that the child on my ankle sometimes needs a hug, and sometimes needs to be peeled off and left without turning it into a big deal. And it means that no matter what I say about the shenanigans that led to the Cheerios on the pendant lamp, or how loudly I say it, we’re still going to have to work together to ensure that the whole house doesn’t smell like burnt oats and old milk unto eternity. One gift our family gives us is forgiveness for our lapses. One gift of mindful parenting allows us to avoid shouting at them, even when they deserve it.

The things I take from mindful parenting sources are the things I consider truths. I don’t control much, but I do control how I react when things don’t go according to plan. I do want to focus on the parenting journey, not the destination, which is, what? College? Empty nest? Beyond? I’ll stick with the present, thanks.

So I pick up a book like “Mindful Parenting” for what it can give me in this, my present. I consider the interaction of good stress and the neurological benefits of unscheduled time, and try to remember great ideas, like talking to young children about nurturing the seeds of peace and happiness rather than the seeds of anger, jealousy and disappointment. I put aside the things that don’t work for me (I would say you’re not only allowed to let yourself drift off into other thoughts during your 204th reading of “Pinkalicious,” but actively required to in order to maintain your sanity). In other words, I take a mindful approach to mindfulness and let the rest go. 

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