Mindful Parenting

by | Aug 2, 2018 | Physician Mindfulness

Demystifying Physician Mindfulness: A 12-Part Mindfulness In Medicine Series

For many of my readers who are parents, the concept of mindful parenting and the practice of mindfulness seems out of reach. The term evokes imagery of tranquil monks and bucolic hillsides, existing miles away, both literally and metaphorically. I created this series to shorten these distances, and to introduce mindfulness to practicing physicians as an easily accessible tool to combat burnout.

With the goal of demystifying mindfulness, I decided to create this 12 part series. Each post examines the relationship between mindfulness and a specific area of the practicing physician’s day-to-day life. They each include a physician’s story, and how the rigors of their practice currently hamper their ability to fully live that part of their life. After detailing their situation, I provide guidance for how that physician can utilize mindfulness to gain fulfillment in that area.

With each post, I give you an actionable step that will help you integrate that post’s topic into your daily life. I’m also going to give you an exercise that you can practice in your free time that will help strengthen your resilience, calm, and fulfillment. My goal is to transform mindfulness from a daunting, unapproachable ideal into a broad toolkit that you have easy access to. Simply put, I want to help you be a happier, more productive version of yourself, at the workplace and at home.

Without further ado, the next installment of Demystifying Mindfulness.


Today’s topic: What Is Mindful Parenting

Our physician, Dr. P, is a general surgeon from a southern state:

“I adore my kids and they mean the world to me. I put in countless hours at the office, and everything I do as a physician is so I can provide for them. But when I’m with them, I can’t seem to be fully present. I get easily upset with them and have trouble just enjoying little moments with them. We argue more than I’d like, and it seems like as a parent I can’t do anything right. What should I do?”


Dear Dr. P,

You’re writing in with a problem that many of my clients struggle with. You have important goals, to be the best provider and parent that you can possibly be. As physicians, we want to be the “best” at everything we do, and often become highly self-critical at the first sign of imperfection. This tendency carries over to parenting. We can often have trouble remembering the things that we are doing well, in our practice and at home, as parents.

I want to hone in on a small detail you mentioned: “I get easily upset with (my kids.)” The first key step to changing any negative pattern in your thinking or reacting is to become aware of it. This is a huge step that you have already taken. I want you to key into your pattern of irritability. Notice as much about your internal state at the moment your irritability arises. In other words, get to know your early warning signs. Then, when they occur, take a mental pause and take three slow deep breaths. This helps reset both your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems and creates a space between the stimulus—whatever challenges parenting presents– and your response. This space allows you to see that you have a choice in how you respond. You can then respond in a less reactive way, in a way you’ll likely feel better about.

While retraining yourself to be less reactive around your children, it is important that you extend a sense of compassion to yourself. You aren’t going to be perfect as a parent, and you aren’t going to completely tilt this reactive pattern overnight. Giving yourself space to do your best and be imperfect as a parent is crucial. You, just like your children (and your patients) are simply doing your best. And that’s all we can ask for.

In addition to the protocol, I outlined above, give yourself structured time to recognize your strengths as a parent. Once a week, spend 5 minutes writing down all of the successes that you had as a parent that week. You may surprise yourself. Taking pauses, and gradually training yourself to focus on your accomplishments as a parent will help you be more present and less self-critical when spending time with your children, which will ultimately deepen your relationships with them.

Give these mindful parenting strategies a shot, and look forward to being more present and compassionate with yourself and your children. Mindful

To your resilience,

Gail


Have an idea for a future Demystifying Mindfulness post? Want Dr. Gazelle to help you tackle your problem? Write in at drgazelle@mdcanhelp.com or contact us on the website.


  1. Embrace uncertainty

When you stop and think about it, uncertainty and change are the only things that are certain. Impermanence is one of the basic laws of our world.

After all, everything changes. Our relationships change. Our kids grow up and change. Our bodies age and change. Our environments change. Our planet changes.

All too often, however, we forget this basic truth. We somehow expect things to be predictable and stable.

The problem is that this expectation sets us up for difficulty. It leaves us struggling unnecessarily when something shifts. It adds a layer of suffering above and beyond that caused by all the VUCA around us.

What I’m getting at is that we have a choice. We can meet uncertainty with reactivity or we can meet it with mindful understanding.

More than meditating on a remote mountainside, mindfulness helps us have the calm, steadiness, and clarity we need to work constructively with all the change and uncertainty.

At the same time, while we can find ourselves resisting change, we can remind ourselves that it does not have to mean something bad! Just take a moment right now to think of all the difficulties you have faced in your life and work that are now resolved and far behind you. This can help you see how change has actually been quite the positive.

  1. Respond to complexity with compassion

Even knowing that change is the only thing that is certain, it can still be difficult to weather. Living in such a VUCA time is difficult. You deserve compassion for managing all the challenges.

With mindful awareness, we can bring ourselves compassion for what we’re going through. There is increasing evidence that self-compassion is a powerful antidote to stress and even burnout. From where I sit, I think that it is actually one of the most powerful medicinals available to us.

  1. Take purposeful pauses

With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on within and around us. We tune in and pay attention to our experience. We learn to utilize our breath to take us out of the fears, worries, stories, and preoccupations our minds are so good at generating about what might come next, and bring us back to the present moment. Here in the present, we leave that overly activated limbic state and can experience a sense of calm.

A pause also serves to allow our prefrontal cortex to come online. It creates a critically important space between our emotional response and conscious, intentional action.

Once we have paused, we can then see more clearly that fear had taken hold. 

With a pause, we become the witness of our experience as opposed to the one trapped by it.

  1. View VUCA as opportunity

I don’t know about you, but I can find myself reacting to the VUCA environment with something of a fixed mindset. With a fixed mindset, I am telling myself things like ‘it shouldn’t be this way’ and ‘why is this happening?’

When I can utilize mindful awareness, I can see that I’ve boxed myself in with a fixed mindset. I can challenge myself to grow. By grow, I mean challenging myself to see whatever difficulty I’m experiencing as an opportunity to learn.

Here again, mindfulness again throws us a lifeline. Mindful awareness involves leaning into curiosity.

I can flip the script and ask myself:

What can I learn from this experience?

How can I use this to be a better version of myself?

How can I help others cope in this VUCA environment?

What do I want to look back and see about how I acted?

In summary, while VUCA is definitely the order of the day in healthcare and beyond, you don’t have to succumb. You don’t have to live in fear. There are constructive actions you can take to help you cope with uncertainty, build calm in chaos, and even thrive in chaos and VUCA. While we can’t control much that is contributing to the VUCA time, with mindfulness we can control how we respond to it.

I hope you’ll try out these 4 mindfulness strategies as I have seen them help countless people. I’d love to hear how it goes.

_____

To learn more about how mindfulness coaching can help you cope with this VUCA time, please reach out for a complimentary consult.

6 Free Resources To Help You During COVID19 And Beyond.

  1. 14-day meditation series 
  2. Imposter No More PDF
  3. Resilience Book Chapter
  4. Leading In Crisis PDF
  5. Balance To Burnout PDF
  6. 30-minute consult

Take advantage of one or more of these valuable resources created for clinicians and non-clinicians.