Will Family Meetings Help You?

Family meeting

Bringing ourselves to focus on what we want, making our expectations explicit, can help every family member come to a shared understanding about family chores, activities, highs, and lows. A simple family meeting gives you structure to make common ground happen.

Mindful Family

Over the past few months I’ve considered how mindfulness helps us as individuals, as parents, in teaching our children, and in our marriages or partnerships.

I find that meeting new ideas tends to be easier than integrating those new ideas into the fabric of life. So, now I’m sharing with you how my family is pulling mindfulness into our routines.

We’ve held family meetings on and off since my children were about 5-8 years old. It’s like meditation—you wander then you return. No judgment, just return.

We’re returning again, this time with a structure I picked up from Marcia Naomi Berger’s Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (2014).

Family Meeting Agenda

We are in week three of marriage meetings, which we started to celebrate our 20th anniversary, and in week two of family meetings. This is the easy part, though.

Marcia Berger suggests that you start with easy topics as you ease into the routine of meetings. I understand that. It’s a good idea to start with a guaranteed win before tackling the big issues.

The agenda for each meeting is the same:

  • Expressing appreciation
  • Coordinating chores
  • Planning for good times
  • Addressing problems and challenges

For more explanation of the four parts of the meeting agenda, I recommend you read Marriage Meetings. It has certainly helped my family.

Scheduling Family Meetings

She suggests a marriage meeting of no more than 30 minutes. Since we have four people in the family meeting, we have given 45 minutes.

To keep the meeting-ness of this time together from being overwhelming, we are scheduling marriage meetings on Sunday, game night on Monday, and family meetings on Tuesday. We just have a short commitment each evening, then we are free to be together or apart as usual.

Younger children are more likely to to follow your lead. I didn’t have any trouble getting my children to sit with me when they were small, but I did find that I needed to translate ideas for their developmental levels. At that stage, I bought a book with ideas for meeting topics. We talked about how to adjust our house to our needs, how to have fun together, and how to be kind to one another. That’s not much different than the structure we’re adopting now.

Now, though, I have teenagers who have strong opinions.

So far (just ONE meeting with this structure), they have embraced this weekly check in. We recorded our commitments in our upgraded family binder, and we’ve followed through.

You Create the Structure You Need

The four-part agenda is just one idea of how to structure a regular check-in with your family. Try it. Try other ideas. Just find a way to give your each of your family members a regular place and time to share their needs.

Image © Sebcz | Dreamstime.com - Family Discussion Photo

Teaching Children Mindfulness for Self Control

Mindfulness for Children

Have you wondered how to teach your child those inner skills that will make life a lot easier—skills like controlling one’s own responses to outside stimuli. Research shows that yoga and mindfulness for children helps them gain that self-awareness they need to control their own behavior.

Delayed Gratification Studies with Children

My father studied psychology in college. He didn’t live long enough to experiment on me, but I have heard funny stories from my older cousins about tests they remember.

My dad was on the young end of his family. He hung out often with his siblings and their families of young children. He was a favorite because he really talked to the kids. He interacted with them. He was genuinely curious how they worked.

One of my cousins told me a few years ago about the time that my dad gave him a candy bar when he visited. My cousin was about 8 years old at the time. There was no catch. He could eat the candy bar right then if he wanted. There was a potential bonus, though. If he could wait to eat it until my dad came back again, he would get two candy bars he could eat right then.

“Did you wait?” I asked him.

“Of course,” he said.

He said my dad taught him self control with that one test.

Could it really be that simple?

The test most commonly referred to when discussing delayed gratification in children is the Stanford Marshmallow Test, but that didn’t occur until the late 1960s and early 1970s. My dad was conducting his test about 1961, so it was probably based on tests published in the late 1950s, since he had died before the Standford tests. Just based on the detail of my cousin’s story and the similarity to the marshmallow and earlier tests, it sounds like there might have been a lot of poking around looking for the origins of self control.

The Stanford tests followed the children to learn that those who resisted the marshmallows had better academic achievement and fewer behaviors considered problematic to parents and schools.

How Can We Help Our Children?

Back to today and our gentle parenting of our own children, how can we teach them self control? If our children are those who eat the marshmallow right away, what can we do to help them?

That is the question asked in an article at the Greater Good Science Center: “What can we do to help the children who just can’t resist the marshmallows?” The answer was published last year in the Journal of Child and Family Studies: “Enhancing Preschoolers’ Self-regulation Via Mindful Yoga” (October 2013).

Teaching the children awareness in the moment resulted in less impulsive behavior and longer attention for classroom activities (compared to students who didn’t participate in the yoga and mindfulness program). Those who experienced the biggest change had started out with the weakest skills in self-regulation. There were no differences at home between the two groups, though.

We can see that self-awareness and consciousness in the moment can help a child to regulate behavior. It won’t work the same for every child, but it can help a child develop skills for dealing calmly with the difficulties they meet.

To help your child learn self control, cultivate self awareness, mindfulness. Talk about this self awareness to keep the practice in consciousness.

To put mindfulness into practice with your children, follow the “Tips for Teaching Mindfulness to Kids” from the Great Good Science Center.

Loving-kindness Meditation for Compassionate Kids

Image © Alvera | Dreamstime.com - Little Child Relaxing On Beach Photo

Cultivating Compassionate Kids

Child sitting quietly

How can we help our kids be kind to others? Beyond telling them, “Be nice,” which seldom reaches past the surface, science shows us that there are specific practices in cultivating compassion that can change our brains and our actions. If we help our children learn these practices, we help them learn kindness and compassion on a deeper level.

I’ve been writing a bit lately on mindfulness and meditation as it can be applied by us, the adults, in simple ways in our busy lives. This comes from my own seeking. I’ve been calling it my Happiness Project for myself and my family.

As part of this project, I’ve recently been taking a course through edX (online MOOC, massive open online course) called The Science of Happiness, taught by two scientists from the UC Berkeley Great Good Science Center.

It’s easy enough to express a vague wish to be happier or to help my children be happier, but understanding the science of happiness helps motivate me to take clear steps forward. I know what works and why. No barrier left.

Over the next couple of months, I will share with you some of the work of the Greater Good Science Center on children, parenting, and marriage. I figure, if you find that cultivating this kind of peaceful focus is working well for you as a person, as a parent, as a partner, it makes sense to want to share this with your children.

Today, I want to share an article and short video from the Center suggesting that when you want to start meditating with children, an option is loving-kindness meditation (metta). This is a specific kind of meditation in which we repeat a few phrases that express our desire for safety, health, and happiness for ourselves and for others.

Read instructions for the meditation and watch the video here:
Christine Carter, “Greater Happiness in 5 Minutes a Day: How to Teach Kids Loving-kindness Meditation,” Raising Happiness blog, Greater Good Science Center, 10 September 2012.

Research on loving-kindness meditation is interesting. A little bit (7 minutes) can increase your feeling of connectedness, and a lot (10,000+ hours practice for those studied) can change your brain.

One of the researchers into this neuroplasticity, Dr. Richard Davidson, has also been active in finding application of the research through mindfulness and meditation training to cultivate well-being. I keep meeting him through articles and videos, so I’m sure I’ll mention him to you again.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll come back with ideas about how to teach your children gratitude.

Resources

  • “The present study demonstrated significant effects of loving-kindness meditation on both explicit and implicit positivity toward neutral strangers. Even a brief (7-min) exercise in cultivating positive regard was sufficient to induce changes of small to moderate effect size.” Cendri A. Hutcherson, Emma M. Seppala, and James J. Gross, “Loving-Kindness Meditation Increases Social Connectedness,” Emotion 8:5 (2008), 720-724. http://spl.stanford.edu/pdfs/Hutcherson_08_2.pdf

Image © Eleonoraos | Dreamstime.com - The Girl Meditating On The Beach Photo

Slowing Down

Woman in a breeze in the foreset

If time is sliding by, and you are not sure where it’s gone, you may need to bring yourself back to focus in your everyday life. We all need to slow down.

It might sound difficult—or impossible—to slow down with everything you need to get done. Rewards await you, though. You will get more done and be more aware of what you are doing if you slow down.

It’s not just a nice idea. I am telling you that if you don’t slow down, you are going to miss it all. You won’t get things done. You won’t remember those precious moments in the lives of your growing children. You won’t know where it all went as it slipped away.

Scary? Good. Whatever it takes to get you to realize what is at stake.

A simple start will put you on the path to slowing down.

Mindfulness

Last week, I suggested that the time you spend breastfeeding is an ideal time for simple meditation. In just three steps you can start: sit with your back straight, notice your breath, and bring your mind back when it wanders.

Those 3 basic steps are common to most forms of mindfulness, but I pulled them from Dan Harris, an ABC Nightline anchor who wrote a memoir and mindfulness guide after he had a panic attack on the air. In his book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story, he is funny and self-deprecating even while he makes a case for slowing down.

Yes, it’s just breathing—and it works.

When you are ready to build on the breath, you can use the RAIN technique to show yourself compassion. Add this to your basic meditation or use this technique in other areas of your life.

  • Recognize what is going on;
  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
  • Investigate with kindness;
  • Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying with the experience.
    (From Tara Brach, “Feeling Overwhelmed? Remember ‘RAIN,’” Mindful, August 2014.)

Through RAIN each of us can answer those voices that say we aren’t enough—aren’t good enough, aren’t experienced enough, aren’t organized enough, aren’t rich enough, aren’t good enough. (Yes, that last one comes around again and again.) If those voices are crowding in while you are finding your bliss, you just meet them, greet them, ask why they are speaking, and let them be. The voices aren’t you. We don’t let them grow; we don’t put our energy into fighting them; we just re-focus. Bring it back to whatever you were doing, thinking, or breathing before the voices tugged on your attention.

Practicing RAIN is just one way to be compassionate with yourself. Self care is the most important step in caring for others.

It’s Not Always the Breath

Do you know of the FlyLady? Years and years ago, when online forums were the rage (I’m going to say 15 years ago), my online parenting friends and I were all trying to gain control of our cluttered houses by following the FlyLady. When you are a new parent especially, you need to adjust your routines for your new reality.

FlyLady knew a lot of us were living in chaos, and she broke down organization into non-threatening steps—delivered in an overwhelming number of emails per day. So, I turned off the emails and kept the first step: the sink.

When you organize your house and home, FlyLady always starts every day with Shine Your Sink. If you don’t get to the rest, you always come back to the sink. The sink is the breath in FlyLady.

Coming back to focus can be the breath in meditation, the sink in cleaning, or whatever you need to focus on.

Come Back to the List

Each day, I make a list of three things I want to accomplish that day. Three might seem like a small number, but the chaos of real life can pull you away so often that it gets difficult to check off those three things.

When I let myself get distracted from my list, I just pull myself back and focus on the first thing.

Let the one thing be the only thing.

You might think multitasking works, but science shows that it doesn’t. Bring yourself back to one thing, and make it a small step (like I did in the 30-day Eco Challenge).

Whether it’s a list, your sink, your breath, or your baby’s gurgling noises while you breastfeed, bring yourself back to focus—with compassion and gentleness. Your wandering mind is part of the practice. No, it will never stop! Just bring it back.

Overwhelmed

I’ve been thinking about the time crunch all of my friends and colleagues seem to be barely surviving. Several months ago I bought a book I thought might help me understand how to help others:

Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time (2014).

Here’s my sad little secret: I haven’t read it yet. I tipped it up against the wall so I would see it a dozen times a day as I walk by, but it hasn’t hit the top of my priority list yet, and I’m starting to feel really bad that I haven’t read it.

Overwhelmed is a map of the stresses that have ripped our leisure to shreds, and a look at how to put the pieces back together. Schulte speaks to neuroscientists, sociologists, and hundreds of working parents to tease out the factors contributing to our collective sense of being overwhelmed, seeking insights, answers, and inspiration. . . . Overwhelmed is the story of what she found out.”

Why feel bad that I haven’t read it? Because what if THIS book has the answer to everything? She talked to scientists. She talked to parents. She has the answers. I want the answers.

You know how it goes. We wind ourselves up.

So, let’s wind back down and return to our breath, our list, our sink, or whatever has our focus in this moment.

The book you haven’t read will be there when you are ready to read it. The news feed will fill up with more tidbits next time you check in. It can all wait.

What can’t wait is self-care, your health, your growing children, and whatever you let into your core.

You decide where to put your focus. Choose one thing. When too much at once starts to feel overwhelming, just slow down and bring your mind (or your action) back to the one thing.

Peace.

© Photographerlondon | Dreamstime.com - Woman In Summer Dress Enjoying Breeze In Woodland Photo

Mindful Milk

Happy breastfeeding mother and baby

Your breastfeeding relationship is precious and short. Mindful nursing means connecting with the experience in the moment, bringing your attention back to the milk.

Simple Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness as a basic meditation practice brings us to a non-judgmental awareness and focus on the moment. That practice can be formal, as we might learn in yoga or in Buddhist meditation, and that practice can be a loose, much less formal yet powerful consciousness in our lives.

A very basic structure for the practice can be:

  • sit with your back straight,
  • notice your breath, and
  • bring your mind back to the breath when it wanders—and it will wander.

You can spend 5 minutes on this practice, 30-minutes, or all day.

Yes, it can be that simple—to start.

Science of Happiness

The science of happiness has begun to tell us that this simple practice of mindfulness or meditation can help us savor the moments and let go of the judgments we let block us.

Our brains reorganize based on our experience. This is called brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. By being present in our moment with kindness and compassion toward ourselves and others, we change our brains. We create pathways ready for peace and happiness.

Just spending those few minutes of breastfeeding in awareness can have a big impact on your life and on your parenting—and through your parenting on your child’s life.

Meditative Breastfeeding

The length of time and the kind of time you spend breastfeeding is a perfect place for mindfulness practice. In most meditation, you bring your attention back to the breath, which you can do while your are nursing a baby, certainly, but there is much in the moment to recognize with breastfeeding. As your mind wanders, you could bring it back to your baby’s breath, to the sound of the suck, to your feeling of letdown, or more generally to the milk. Rather than bringing your mind back to the breath, you can practice bringing your awareness back to the milk.

Practice bringing your awareness back to the milk.

Mindfulness doesn’t push or pull, it recognizes what is as it is. Mindfulness is a practice of compassion, compassion for yourself as you are. At no time in my life have I needed more compassion for myself than in my parenting. Perhaps it is that way for you, too.

Using this breastfeeding time to cultivate a natural awareness will bring you back to yourself as parent, to your baby as a wiggly, giggly new person, and to your relationship with your baby as your milk flows.

Remove Barriers When You Choose

Breastfeeding in a baby carrier or under a cover can leave us disconnected from the experience, from the moment in the experience. It can, but it doesn’t have to if you don’t let these become barriers to your awareness or barriers to your relationship with your baby.

Practice Mindful Milk

However or wherever you are giving your baby milk, be mindful. Bring your awareness back to the physical and the more-than-physical experience.

Whether you breastfeed for months or years, this part of your relationship can feel altogether too short. Being present in the moment, each moment, can help you to welcome the experience as it is and let it change as it must.

As you sit with your baby, let the experience itself bring you back to the moment. Maybe your baby pinches you, bringing you back to the moment. Maybe you gaze into one another’s eyes, bringing you back to the love. Maybe you feel your milk flowing, bringing you back to the milk.

Practice bringing your awareness back to the milk.

For the next month, we are focusing on slowing down, unplugging, and being mindful—of our parenting, of our communities, and of our presence in nature.

Resource

Mindful Parenting. Nancy Bardacke, a midwife who has developed a program for new parents and for those who work with new parents on Mindful-based Childbirth and Parenting. As part of her short talk to other professionals working on Mindful-based Stress Reduction, she shows a video of parents who talk about (and demonstrate) how mindfulness has influenced their parenting.

Photo Breastfeeding – © Cherrymerry | Dreamstime.com