7 Things Mindful Families Do Differently

Busy schedules, digital devices, long commutes—all of this leads to families who are disconnected from each other as never before. Here are 7 ways mindfulness can strengthen your relationships, increase your well-being, and bring the family back together.

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As the world gets seemingly faster, it’s more important than ever to build the strength of presence within ourselves and in our families. Our culture is sensing this need and that is why we see an increasing amount of people in all sectors of life exploring ways to become more grounded through yoga, diet, and mindfulness. This yearning is making its way into our homes as many of us have searched for practices and experiences to slow down and bring more connection into our family life as well. 

In this article, we’ve distilled down a list of seven things that we have found that mindful families do differently to help inspire you and your family to live a loving, connected life.  An embedded and essential component woven into each of these is the quality of our presence with one another. It is the foundation for everything. 

7 Things Mindful Families Do Differently

1) Embrace Imperfection 

No matter how many books we read or how much we learn, we will never be “perfect” parents – none of us! Because we are both psychologists and mindfulness teachers it is often assumed that we must be “perfect” parents and honestly, it’s not the reality. We still get triggered, overreact, and say and do things that we wished we hadn’t. While we have gotten better about this over time, the wisest and most important thing we have learned is to accept our imperfections as parents. 

Let’s be clear – you are going to make mistakes, you are going to hurt your children’s feelings, and you are not going to be able to show up in all the ways you want to or the ways your children want you to, but NONE of that makes you a bad parent – it only makes you a human one. When you can move into a place of acceptance of this you are able to shift into a greater ease and grace within yourself. When we beat ourselves up over our mistakes and imperfections we create more pain, fear, and disconnection. 

When we can practice loving, radical self-compassion and self-acceptance we are transformed and we are modeling for and teaching our children to be able to do the same for themselves and each other. 

We can’t think of a greater gift. 

PRACTICE: Take a moment to think about some way your mind is telling you that you’re falling short as a partner or a parent. Maybe it’s that you don’t pack the perfect Instagram-worthy lunches every day like you wanted to, you can’t make every presentation or performance at school because you work or it’s that you secretly don’t like playing (or watching) the same game over and over again with your child.

Now, notice the feeling that that belief brings up as you think about this. Be aware of any places of discomfort and apply a soothing gesture, just like you would to your child if they were upset or feeling shame. You can place your hands in a comforting way on your body this could be on your heart, belly, cupping your face, or even giving yourself a hug and say to yourself, “My mind is telling me I’m falling short, but the truth is, I’m doing the best that I can. I love my child(ren) with all my heart and give to them in so many other beautiful ways.” And let these words linger and let your heart receive them. Repeat this or any other comforting words of wisdom as many times as you need to feel your body soften. 

2) Listen with Curiosity

There are so many things, as parents, that we’re juggling moment-to-moment in our lives that it has become a rare experience to stop and truly listen to one another. We are often distracted – trying to do too many things at once, flipping through our phone with a false sense of urgency or rushing to snap judgments. All of this can lead us to lose our cool with our kids or our partner creating disconnection and misunderstandings. 

As we pause and listen to each other more in our lives, we can engage the experiences in our family with a growth mindset. We can see the struggles and triumphs as opportunities for learning and growth. Instead of judging each other, we can get better at recognizing when we don’t understand where the other person is coming from, lean in with curiosity and say, “tell me more.” Or we might try and stand in their shoes to understand their perspective by asking ourselves, “why might they be acting this way?” 

Listening with curiosity opens up more possibilities for fewer misunderstandings, more clarity and greater connection (not to mention better outcomes). 

PRACTICE: If you had a peek into most family homes you would hear the familiar echoes of “You aren’t listening to me!” When we get triggered, our armor goes up and it’s hard to listen and really hear each other. This week, see if you can catch yourself in a moment where you are planning a brilliant counter-argument while not letting someone finish their sentences. This is a sign that you’re not listening.  Once you recognize this is happening, the best place to start transforming the moment is with yourself.

Stop, take a deep breath, feel your feet, notice if emotions are rising within you and be gentle with yourself. And then proceed by making the moment very simple – choosing to be fully present and listening. You don’t have to have an answer in the moment, an awesome retort or even give them what they want. But you will likely be surprised by the transformative power of mindful listening with an open heart. 

3) Communicate Courageously

Let’s be honest, being vulnerable is hard and at times even scary, which is why we sometimes find ourselves avoiding tough conversations with each other. While in the moment it might feel easier to sidestep talking about something painful or uncomfortable, what is left unspoken and unresolved can turn into a slow poison. Over time this builds resentments, distrust, harmful behaviors, and disconnection. The truth is, being clear and honest with each other about what you need and how you feel is ultimately an act of kindness that creates trust and connection. 

This means showing up with our partners and kids with an open heart and an open mind. It builds on listening with curiosity and creates space for everyone to feel comfortable to share how they feel and what they need. Often the core issues in our relationships don’t stem from the content of the fights or disagreements but rather from what is not being spoken and not being healed. We cannot stress enough the importance of making repair after a rupture, misunderstanding, or experience of disconnection. This means that even when it feels hard and scary we come back together once everyone’s nervous systems have had a chance to calm down and both people can have the opportunity to feel understood and cared about, which leads to feeling safe, soothed, and reconnected. 

In coming together and communicating wholeheartedly, you may not always be able to give your kids or partner what they are asking for, but you are giving them something far greater – you are teaching them that it’s okay to be vulnerable, brave and empowered. 

PRACTICE: See if there is something that’s been bothering you but you haven’t shared. Take a few moments to get at the heart of the issue. What actually happened and how are you feeling? Maybe there’s an underlying feeling of frustration, sadness or fear. Now going a bit deeper and exploring what need(s) you are having that are not getting met like respect, understanding, space or communication. Now, with this preparation, see if you feel ready to approach your family member with openness and curiosity as you share clearly how you feel and the needs you have uncovered. 

As an example, “When I heard you demand that I take you to your friend’s house I got irritated (feeling). I’d like to be seen and appreciated for the ways I support you (need). Next time it would mean a lot to me if you asked in a kinder way and could say, “thank you” when I do nice things for you.

Of course, use this as a launchpad to play with having courageous communication and see what feels right for you.  

4) Practice Appreciation and Gratitude  

Being a parent is one of the most thankless jobs around and it’s not uncommon that within a family people can take each other for granted.  From the endless diapers and feedings when they are infants to the neverending meals, laundry, and taxi driving as they get older. Certain roles are assumed, spoken or unspoken, and small gestures of kindness can go unacknowledged. Here’s where little simple shifts can go a long way. 

While words of affirmation may or may not be your primary love language, we all want to be seen and appreciated and there’s a surprisingly simple way of doing this that can have huge benefits – intentionally practicing being appreciative and expressing gratitude to one another.  

There are so many small moments of opportunities for appreciation with one another, like acknowledging our kids or our partner for emptying the dishwasher or being ready on time. If we do small acts of appreciation it can shift the culture of the house from demanding and frustrated to cooperative and grateful. While it may seem silly or even annoying to thank someone for being ready on time – if this has been an issue for this person it feels good to be acknowledged when things are going well. In our house, we make it a practice to thank whoever prepared dinner. This creates a small pause of gratitude for the family and sets a much kinder tone for a shared meal together. 

PRACTICE: As you go through this next week, see if you can show your appreciation more intentionally. Like anything else, it’s often contagious and you may just start being appreciated more as well. It’s often easier to start small so choose something that you naturally feel grateful for and express it in a moment where you might not usually say anything. Maybe it’s when someone brings you water or a cup of coffee, straightens the living room, gives you a hug unexpectedly, or picks up the kids and takes them to their activities. Be on the lookout for your expectations when doing this (are you waiting for them to appreciate your appreciation?) and if you notice any pop up see if you can note them and then let them go. Allow this to be a playful exploration of giving and receiving.

5) Forgive Ourselves and Each Other

Lily Tomlin once said, “forgiveness means letting go of any hope for a better past.” Every family has its hard moments. There are times when we don’t feel listened to, appreciated, or seen and there are other times when people are cranky or “hangry” and say things they don’t mean or wish they could take back. If you’re in a family (which is just about all of us at one time or another), we know you can relate to these less than stellar moments.

In practicing mindfulness we come to understand that our mistakes aren’t signs of failing at being a human. Instead, they are opportunities for learning about the inevitable pitfalls of life, what gets in our way and understanding the optimal route to get back into a space of balance and connection.

The simple phrase of “forgive, investigate and invite” can be enormously helpful. If we have transgressed, we can set the intention to “forgive” ourselves for this wrongdoing, understanding that we can’t change the past, remembering that we aren’t perfect, and realizing that we often make mistakes out of ignorance, confusion or upset feelings. We then investigate where we went off track and what impact it made and how we would respond differently next time to learn from it. After that, we can “invite” ourselves to make repair.

Practicing “forgive, investigate and invite” over and over again in life becomes an incredible vehicle for healing, connection, and growth in yourself and in your family.

PRACTICE:There are often many opportunities for forgiveness in a family. There is always someone who doesn’t follow through, meet our hidden expectations or steps on another’s toes (and at times it’s us). Be on the lookout for these moments and recognize them as opportunities to practice forgiveness. Some are small and worth just letting go, while others deserve to be investigated with an invitation for communication. 

Saying in your mind, “In whatever way you have harmed me, out of your own ignorance, confusion or upset feelings, we all make mistakes, I am inclining toward forgiveness.” Then get curious about what really happened here. It may be skillful to include the practices of “listening with curiosity” and “communicating courageously.” Remember, it’s an opportunity for us to learn and grow. 

6) Practice Support and Generosity 

One of the core values of mindfulness is generosity. The spirit of generosity means giving and sharing things of value that can be reflected in money, time, love or possessions. As our kids look to us to see how to be in the world, the beautiful thing about practicing generosity is that our acts not only have a positive impact on ourselves and the recipient but also have ripple effects for generations to come in making the world a kinder and happier place. 

Of course, this all starts with us tapping into our own generosity which can come in many forms. This can include donating money to a cause you support, bringing a meal to a sick friend, or giving a hug or smile to someone who needs it. Our kids are always watching us, learning how to be in the world and modeling our behaviors. So it’s important that we model this way of being in the world and include them in these acts as often as possible. Want some ideas? You can consider getting involved in service projects at a local school or organization. You can encourage your kids to make pictures or cards for their grandparents or someone who is ill. You can have a rule where a certain percentage of money from a lemonade stand goes to a charity chosen by your kids. You can even make a game out of it. In our family, we encourage kindness by putting “kind bucks” (play money) in a jar when we catch them doing a kind or generous act. Eventually, these “kind bucks” can be turned in for various rewards. 

There are so many different ways to express generosity and compassion. These small or large acts are the essential healing agent within the family system, our culture, and the world. Ultimately, connection is the cornerstone of well-being and it starts in the family.

PRACTICE: Have an informal family meeting to talk about why generosity and compassion are important and ways you want to incorporate it into your family. You will be pleasantly surprised by the creative and fun ideas your kids have! We have found that when they are involved in the planning and have a more personal connection to the experience they are much more engaged and it ultimately carries much more meaning for them and you. And remember to make it fun – it will keep them engaged and wanting to do it again and again. You can explore doing it with other families or invite friends to come along.

7) Don’t forget to play and have fun! 

We all can get stuck in the day to day grind and managing a barrage of stressors that we actually forget to have fun! It seems silly to say that any of us would forget to have fun and enjoy each other but it’s more common than you think. Raising children is probably the most important job you will ever be tasked with and the pressure of raising good humans can be weighty. So much so that we can fall into a pattern of taking things too seriously and being overly focused on tasks (chores, homework, activities, etc.) that we lose the enjoyment of being together. 

With the exception of planned trips (we all know they aren’t “vacations”) we often don’t intentionally plan fun in our day but why not? We plan everything else so why not be more purposeful when planning out the week to make sure to include experiences of play? When the family plays together, there’s also often more laughter which creates a joyful experience of connection and healing. These moments are often the ones that are cherished and remembered for years to come. 

PRACTICE: Dr. John Gottman, internationally renowned relationship expert, has found that in order to have healthy, stable relationships our ratio of positive interactions should be five times greater than our negative interactions with each other. If you hold this 5:1 ratio in mind reflect on your interactions within your family for this past week or even past month…what ratio would you give it? If it feels out of balance, spend some time looking at how you can cultivate more positive experiences in the family. 

Get together and explore if there is an activity that everyone finds fun and interesting and make it a point to do them. This can range from big things like surprising the kids by skipping school and taking them to an amusement park for the day to smaller things like getting them ice cream after school on a random Tuesday for no particular reason. You can experiment with having a weekly game night, having an impromptu water balloon fight or even spending a few minutes watching funny animal videos together. We all have different ideas of what is fun, so find ways to intersect your interests and start doing it! Families get off track all the time and like practicing mindfulness, once we realize this we can always begin again. 

Many people ask the question: “How do you start?”

The 15th-century poet Kabir said, “Wherever you are that’s the entry point.” So we play with starting where we are, pausing, relaxing our shoulders and asking ourselves, “What or who do I really want to focus on right now?” Sometimes the most meaningful moments happen when we can slow down and tune in to the simple things at home. This not only benefits you, but your partner (if you have one), and your children too. 

Remember, whatever way you choose to bring these 7 Things Mindful Families Do Differently into your life, you will not be perfect. When you stray from your intention, forgive yourself. In that moment you can discover something vital: you can always choose to begin again. There are so many ways to begin, begin wherever you are.

The Goldsteins have created an annual five-day Mindful Family Retreat, offering space to unplug, recharge, and connect with each other through mindfulness and play. This year’s retreat is in Costa Rica on June 15th through the 20th. This unique immersive experience brings together The Goldstein’s nearly 20 years in the field as psychologists, mindfulness teachers, and parents to three kids. 

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Daily Practices

Raising the Mindful Family 

Busy schedules, digital devices, long commutes—all of this leads to family members who are disconnected from each other as never before. Psychologists Stefanie and Elisha Goldstein show us ways to strengthen relationships, increase everyone’s well-being, and bring the family back together. Read More 

  • Elisha Goldstein and Stefanie Goldstein
  • April 30, 2016