[To be mindful parents] we have to be whole ourselves, each his or her own person, with a life of our own, so that when [our children] look at us, they will be able to see our wholeness against the sky.
– Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn
As we celebrate the 25th day of December in whatever way feels right for us, focusing on creating mindful connection with loved ones can increase our sense of gratitude, and help us to share our feelings. No matter whom we’re sharing our space with, being mindful of our interactions is an important part of healthy relating.
While we munch on our all natural chocolate, donate to a worthy cause, or cook dinner for our family, I encourage us to contemplate the following words of wisdom from parenting coach Marisa Lianggamphai. Whether we have children or not, her advice spans any age, and applies to all of our relationships in life. As she’s previously shared with us her thoughts on managing power struggles, today we will talk about the second main factor in creating mindful connection with our children and others: building trusting relationships through authenticity.
K: Can you explain to us what goes into building a trusting relationship, and why this is a necessary foundation for mindful connection?
ML: A mindful, trusting relationship is built first and foremost by lowering the power struggle between parent and child. Power struggles don’t exist inherently; they have to be created. So when there is a power struggle, it is something added that wasn’t there before. In my last interview, I touched briefly on how to lower the power struggle, although there are many more techniques and underlying philosophies that go with it.
Additionally, a trusting relationship is built when the parent provides two things: consistency and authenticity. Consistency means that the parent will always do what they say they will do, either about themselves, or about the child. Or if they can’t, they will explain the change and acknowledge the effects of the change to the child. For instance, if a parent says to the child that he will pick her up from a friend’s house at 3 pm, then he builds trust by being there at 3 pm. If he occasionally is late, he can still build trust by explaining why — preferably before 3 pm — and offering empathy to the child by saying how it affected her, especially if he couldn’t explain it beforehand: “You must have been waiting for me, and wondering where I was. I’m sorry I was late.”
Marisa puts forward that maintaining consistency is equally significant in regards to discipline, setting consequences, and building trust.
ML: It is important to display consistent behavior when consequences are communicated. For instance, a parent says to the child that if she does not do her homework, then she will not be able to go on her play date. Then the child does not do her homework and for various reasons, the parent finds it more convenient to let the child to go ahead with the play date. In this case, the parent has broken trust.
All of these things are important because they either build, or erode a trusting relationship. Even just a few times of breaking trust can reinforce to the child that your words, or actions aren’t trustworthy.
Respecting everyone’s time with authenticity
ML: Another way to build a trusting relationship is through authenticity. Authenticity means providing authentic tasks and the resources with which to do them. Authentic tasks are things that are worth doing. For instance, most adults would not like it if their boss told them to create a spreadsheet that takes a significant amount of time, but then later doesn’t use it on a whim, just because she changed her mind.
The same goes for kids. A simple way to remember this is: don’t waste kids’ time, effort, or goodwill. I believe that kids start off with plenty of goodwill. Then they lose trust because they are given inauthentic tasks, so they start finding ways to not do it, or slow it down. Along with an authentic task, you give kids the resources to do them, such as the know-how, and also emotional support.
An authentic task would look like this: you tell your child to wash the dishes, because we all contribute toward dinner in small and large ways as a family and chores are one way we do that. Whereas, an inauthentic task looks like this: you tell your child to wash the dishes because it’s his arbitrary chore for the day; or, because it’s punishment; or, because you want the child to practice how to wash dishes correctly, even though those aren’t his dishes and it’s not typically his agreed-upon contribution to dinnertime. (One way to break trust is to give surprise expectations.)
Parenting, and beyond…
Issues related to parenting apply to many other relationships in our lives, with more light being shed on mindful connection as the years go by. For example, regarding power struggles within married couples, psychologist Dr. Linda Olson reminds us that “thirty years ago we really didn’t know what we know today in terms of how to help couples deal with the power struggle and particularly how to regulate their emotions.” She goes onto explain:
What it means is that unconsciously we are always going to be attracted to the positive and the negative traits of both of our caretakers. (…) You’re going to get triggered in the same way that you got triggered with your parents in your intimate relationships.
I personally really relate to this — I can definitely recognize this happening in my past relationships! A fascinating interview in its entirety, Dr. Olson’s work demonstrates how mindful parenting affects us throughout our entire lives: whatever patterns we form with our parents during childhood, we take with us in our future relationships with others. Let’s be inspired this holiday season to nurture ourselves, be honest with where we’re at in our connection with ourselves and others — and commit to mindfully relating to our fellow humans with empathy, compassion, and love.
Respond; don’t react.
Listen; don’t talk.
Think; don’t assume.
― Raji Lukkoor