Thirteen years of parenting and dozens of parenting books later, I’m here to offer my own advice for parents: Forget about it. Advice, that is.
We need an antidote to all the “do this, do that” out there for parents. Why? Why not use advice if we can learn from others so that our own journey with children is more joyful? Because, bombarded by so much advice, we can’t retrieve the applicable “to do” from our cluttered memory banks when faced with a particular parenting challenge. Especially when it’s sandwiched between all the other advice we absorb on a daily basis—advice on what to eat, how to get fit, how to save for college, how to maintain our homes, how to navigate office politics, etc., etc. It’s advice overload. And if the adage “keep it simple” applies to anything in life, it’s parenting.
As parents, we have a natural intuition when it comes to nurturing and guiding our children. The problem is, these days it’s very hard to access that intuition because are minds are so full of all the things we need to do, forgot to do, want to do and wish we had done. The average human brain generates 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. These thoughts, along with keyed-up minds and bodies due to stress, cloud our deeper sense of the right action for any particular situation.
I say the only advice parents need is this: Be calm, be present.
Calm parents make wiser choices for their children. So find out your best source of relaxation and make use of it. Is it a bath, a leisurely walk, a few moments of quiet in your car before you enter the house, a phone call to a light-hearted friend, a cuddle with the family pet? If you start by being quiet each day, allowing yourself to just “be” for a few minutes, you are likely to find yourself naturally drawn to the calming experience your nervous system craves. As you discover what calms you, allow yourself time for it on a regular basis.
What else can we do to tune into our natural parenting wisdom? Be fully present. Research shows that the average person’s mind wanders nearly half of the time, and the trend is upward thanks to our device-addicted, information overloaded, schedule-packed lives. Mind-wandering and multi-tasking are recipes for disaster when it comes to parenting. How can you possibly tune into your deeper intuition if your attention is divided two or three or six different ways? When we are distracted, we tend to react automatically, out of habit, often with an underlying desire to dispense with the problem as quickly as possible. When fully present we are alert to the essence, and subtleties, of the moment—the look of joy or pain on our child’s face, our natural compassion for them, our sense of our own limits and boundaries, and the spontaneous growth opportunity the moment offers.
Strengthening your mind’s ability to stay present is like strengthening any muscle. You have to work it. The more you discipline your mind to be present, the more presence becomes your mind’s default mode. You can give your mind a workout by setting aside time each day to focus on being present, sometimes referred to as meditation. You can also give your mind a workout by returning your attention to the present moment whenever you find it has wandered, the essence of mindfulness. But don’t take my advice! See for yourself.