It was my daughter’s 3rd Christmas, and it brought with it a whirlwind of expectations, pressures and chaos. Mindful Parenting was the last thing on my mind during this particular holiday season; like many woman this time of year, this mama was just too busy!
In my mind, this was going to be the year when my daughter would really start remembering and appreciating our family’s Christmas traditions. In other words, it was my job to make Christmas — and the entire holiday season for that matter — the most perfect Christmas. Ever.
And so, I decided to host our extended family’s Christmas Eve tradition at our home that year. I spent weeks preparing a menu, scouring for the perfect holiday appetizers, baking not 1, but 12 (yes, 12!) holiday cookie recipes, decorating our house to look like those out of the magazines I had stacked at my bedside, and finding the perfect holiday gifts for my friends and family.
To say the least, I was exhausted and the furthest thing away from a Mindful Parent during the days leading up to Christmas— which just so happens to coincide with a major growth spurt for my daughter that brought with it a myriad of meltdowns.
Now, for hundreds of thousands of families that year, the ice storm meant no power in the days leading up to Christmas. But given that we live in Rural Greater Toronto Area, and are on well- water, this meant we had no power, no water, and no running toilets! We were forced to leave our home for the 5 days leading up to Christmas. My vision of our cozy winter home Christmas- Eve-Extravaganza was shattered. And I was heartbroken.
Rather than rise strong and turn our family’s situation into an adventure, I broke down. The weeks of planning, pushing, and perfectionism had caught up with me. My stress, chaos, and overwhelm trickled into my husband and daughter’s Christmas experience, and we were all miserable.
But just then — just as it always seems to do — the sun came out on Christmas Eve Day. It lit our icy- landscape into a magical sparkling winter wonderland.
Source: Reuters - Tue, 24 Dec 2013 22:00 PM, Author: Reuters
Although we still could not return to our home, our entire family stood in awe of the beautiful gift Mother Nature had given us. That Christmas still marks one our family’s best adventures to date, and one my most powerful teachers in Mindful Parenting.
What is Mindful Parenting?
Mindful Parenting allows us to experience our family and children with moment-to-moment and non-judging awareness. Mindful Parenting allows us to become less reactive, and more attuned and nurturing of our present-moment emotions, and those of our children, rather than getting swept into our past and present thoughts — which may ultimately lead us to feel further disconnected from ourselves and our children.
Every parent I have the pleasure of joining along their journey towards well-being and connected living, wants one thing for their child: To grow into healthy, strong, resilient, and kind individuals. And research has shown that Mindful Parenting can be one of the most powerful tools to help families achieve this goal.
Cutting edge research and neuroscience has demonstrated that Mindful Parenting can actually change the structure and functioning of the brain, and help to raise children who are more resilient to mental health challenges, have less behavioural challenges, and are kinder and more empathetic.
Dr. Dan Siegal MD, Director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Centre, shares that
“Studies show that the ways we intentionally shape our internal focus of attention in mindfulness practice induces a stat3e of brain activation during the practice. With repetition, an intentionally created stat3e can become an enduring trait of the individual as reflected in long-rem changes in brain function and structure. This is a fundamental property of neuroplasticity - how the brain changes in response to experience. Here, the experience is the focus of attention in a particular manner" (The Science of Mindfulness, Mindful.Org)
How can parents practice Mindful Parenting over the holidays?
The holiday season offers you the perfect opportunity to foster and practice Mindful Parenting, and create opportunities to model present-moment and non-judging awareness for your children.
Here are my 5-Tips to help you move from stress and chaos, to calm and connection through Mindful Parenting over the holidays season
Practice Gratitude: When you develop an awareness for all the gifts and blessing we can be grateful for, your children will naturally follow your lead. Research on gratitude shows that gratitude practices can have lasting effects on brain development, specifically the parts of the brain involved in learning and decision making. Showing and sharing our gratitude over the holiday season can be as simple as creating a little space during dinner, bath, or bedtime to share what you are grateful for. It can also be sharing a moment in your busy day in which you stopped to notice and be grateful for.
Nurture Empathy: As humans, we are wired to be empathetic. It is only through our busy and increasingly disconnected cultural practices that we have become a society that puts kindness and empathy on the lower tiers of valued traits. Every parent hopes to foster empathy in their children, and the holiday season will often bring with it many opportunities for you to do just that. Connecting with your family, while giving back to other families in need can be the perfect way to help build empathy. Here is a great article on volunteering with your child.
Stay Present: The holiday season can bring with it lots of busyness. But rather than getting swept up into the busyness and chaos of the holidays, you can practice being fully present in your moment-to-moment experiences. Baking holiday cookies with your child provides the perfect opportunity to take in the experience with all your 5-senses (including Mindful-Eating!). And as you pass through the hustle and bustle of stores, practice noticing what is going on around you, rather than thinking about your long to do list.
Nurture Family Traditions & Experiences: Culturally we have learnt to love and cherish giving and receiving gifts around the holiday season, but what other family traditions and experiences do you want your family to cherish? Enjoying the experience of the Holiday Season builds connection, and lays the foundation for lasting family memories. Every December 1st, I sit down with my favorite holiday beverage (thank you Starbucks!) to write my answer to one question: What do I want my family to remember and cherish about the Holiday Season in years to come? My answer is never “that amazing toy or gadget they received”, but always centered around love and connection.
Release Expectations: Parents, especially mamas, have the tendency to expect a lot from themselves over the holiday season. In the rise of our need to share our picture- perfect moments across social media, parents are increasingly feeling the pressure to produce and display the most perfect and magical family holidays. Practicing Mindful Parenting over the holidays allows you the opportunity to release your expectations of yourselves and others. But even more important, it allows you the opportunity to become aware of your expectations, and gently without judgment, not allow ourselves to get stuck and swept-away in our expectations.
From my family to yours, I wish you a Calm & Connected Holiday Season.
With Love and Gratitude,
Meet the Author
Over the last decade, Michelle has helped hundreds of children and families move from chaos to connection. Michelle Brans is a Registered Family Psychotherapist, and holds a Bachelors in Psychology and a Masters in Counselling Psychology. She is a passionate heart-cantered Storyteller, Published Author and Educator on Holistic-Integrative Child & Family Wellness Practices. She is the Founder & Clinical Director of Counting Butterflies, where she is leading her team and community in developing sustainable private-care solutions for child & family mental health. Michelle lives with her husband, daughter, two dogs, bunny, 5 chickens, and horse, on their ever-growing homestead and butterfly conservation farm in rural Ontario, Canada.
References & Resources
Mindfulness & Parenting
Mindfulness Practice in Childhood
Empathy & Gratitude