Neither Parenting Nor Mindfulness?

I just ready

“A Model of Mindful Parenting: Implications for Parent–Child Relationships and Prevention Research” Duncan” Duncan et al Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev (2009) 12:255–270 DOI 10.1007/s10567-009-0046-3

in a quest to find some papers on mindfulness in adolescents for my research assignment. I feel uncomfortable with the notions of  both parenting and mindfulness it presents.


My concern may be illustrated with this quote from the paper:

Mindful parenting involves low reactivity to normative child behavior achieved through autonomous self-control in the service of exercising parenting behavior that is in accordance with parenting values and goals.

I don’t feel I have values or goals in my relationships with my wife, friends or children and I don’t recall such things in my relationships with my parents. Is this the difference between love/friendship and some kind of commercial arrangement?

I appreciate that this quote may be  ‘science speak’ for something much simpler such as “Mindful parents don’t fly off the handle as easily” but still a point is being missed. Are the authors mixing up being a mum or a dad with notions of child care – keeping them clean and getting them to school?


The authors list five dimensions to mindful parenting. These  sound mindfulness-like but do not match what I experience either through study or my practice. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Listening with full attention. If you practice mindfulness you may be capable of being more present to listen with someone and therefore this is the most mindfulness-like but is a by-product.
  2. Nonjudgmental acceptance of self and child. Yes the classic definitions of mindfulness include nonjudgemental acceptance of our experience and this may lead to a richer relationship with others but why do the authors limit this to ‘self and child’. It is just as important to accept that “we have no money” or “more chocolate will make us fat” as notions of self and child. To me this seems counter to being mindful of my present experience with my children – which includes the bank balance, the weather and all the other stressors that are present.
  3. Emotional awareness of self and child. Ditto to above. The authors also imply that a mindful parent knows the emotional condition of their child “In our model of mindful parenting, we emphasize parents’ capacity for awareness of emotions within themselves and their child.”. There are debates over wether the Buddha was omniscient or not (he wasn’t) but I am pretty certain parents aren’t – even if they do have eyes in the back of their heads! It seems more likely to me that the mindful parent will be comfortable with not always knowing the emotional state of their child i.e. comfortable with ambiguity.
  4. Self-regulation in the parenting relationship. The authors themselves mention that self-regulation is not considered part of mindfulness by many – that is because it isn’t part of mindfulness! Someone with a mindfulness practice may instinctively act more compassionately (see next) and that may imply pausing before lashing out but would it involve pausing before embracing or expressing love?
  5. Compassion for self and child. From my personal experience and from what I understand from the Buddhist texts mindfulness practice increases compassion but that compassion is unconditional. There is no “because”. You do not become more compassionate for yourself or your child you just become more compassionate. This is just as valuable for a parent-child relationship. The parent becomes a better role model if they are compassionate towards a neighbour. Why single out only the interested parties? This again is counter to what practice would reveal.

I don’t like being negative about other peoples work but sometimes it is important to state an alternate view. To me it appears that the authors had a list of desirable qualities for parents and they have retrofitted mindfulness.

Above all I believe mindfulness training can help with parent-child relationships – indeed all relationships. My problem is with this systematisation. It simply doesn’t fit my personal experience of mindfulness practice or parenting.

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