Episode 7: Setting Intentions to Improve Our Parenting Goals
It's New Year's and this is the time we tend to reflect on the past 12 months and make resolutions for the next 12. It's also a time I find parents naturally assessing their child's well being and behavior because they have been in school for a few months so teachers have feedback and parents are seeing adjustment indicators at home. So for many of us, parenting goals may be really present right now. If you are not in the resolution zone, don't worry you can use these tips any time of year to deepen your relationship with your child and improve their behavior. A big piece of mindful parenting or conscious parenting is being intentional with our parenting actions. Today we break down how we do this using mindfulness to focus our thoughts and intention development to lay it out so we can play it out with our thoughtful actions. And the best part is we can use this skill in all areas of our lives, not just as moms and dads.
Intention Setting, A piece of mindful practice.
If you are thinking, this sounds like goal setting. . . it's true, they are very much connected. I think of intention setting and goal creation as more of a partnership. If you are successful at manifesting and creating what you envision, my guess is you are using both.
Setting intentions helps you to merge with your goals, it helps you to keep them present and in focus. In your mind, you may think, "I want to be the dad that... .fill in the blank here. . . . is warm, patient, strong, humorous . . . ." in order to be this dad you intend to be, your goals change over time as your child develops and your environment requires different things from you (staying with our example, a humorous dad is different for a 6-month-old, a 6-year-old and a 16-year-old). While goals tend to be behavioral and measurable, intentions are emotional. They are transformational. Intention setting helps you to be the person you choose to be every day, the person aligned with your values and integrity and it helps you really get behind your goals, in a much more dedicated and even passionate way.
In may seem counterintuitive that achieving what you want can be based on emotion, but yes, the process of intention setting allows us to focus deeply on the emotional aspect of our goals. How do you feel about the situation now and how do you want to feel about it? Tune into that, it's your most powerful tool for motivation, so let it in. Yes, I am a psychologist and I think that feeling your feelings helps with a boatload of stuff, in this case, our feelings help us to reach our goals in a way that logic just doesn't. We all know we should save more, we know that we should eat more vegetables and less sugar. So why is there so much debt and obesity in our culture? Because it is so much more complicated than the logistics of knowing what to do. So hear me out, and let's go back to the feeling state. Connect the positive feeling you want to feel once you have attained your goal, feeling accomplished, loving, connected, or peaceful. Let your feelings lead you to your intentions, intentions that are deeply fulfilling with goals that are easier to manage because they are truly yours, not mine or your child's teacher's or your personal trainer's etc.
Our intentions are something we can tune into at any moment. While goals are focused on the future, they are a destination or specific achievement, intentions are in the present. They are lived each day and have an inner relationship with us and others. Let's say you have a parenting goal that your child will have good table manners. You may set an intention to encourage social skills and etiquette but not at the cost of emotional wellness or the parent-child relationship. How does this play out at the dinner table? You may tune into your intention and choose to model the table manners you want to see and ignore obnoxious behavior from your child or you may become overwhelmed that your goal of good table manners is not being met right now and react by raising your voice, giving the behavior negative attention or sending your child to their room without dinner. The parent that yells and the parent that ignores have the same goal of good table manners, but the parent that handled it more consciously has attended to their intention so they have more perspective that the goal was forwarded though not accomplished completely at this sitting.
Your intention setting ritual. What does it look like? You may set your intentions during meditation, you might use a journal, or you could check in after dinner with your spouse. The more frequent, the better the results. For some of us, running through our goals can leave us feeling disheartened if we didn't make progress we could measure, Intentions are more relaxed, flexible and expansive and to get the most out of them I encourage you to create a ritual that helps you to check in with them every day. When we set our intentions for the day, we become more aware of how our actions serve our intentions throughout the day. This not only supports our mindfulness but our productivity. Less time wasted on ineffective action or worrying and your mind begins to harness all it's energy towards problem-solving and creating goals to fulfill your intentions. You are present and your action is intentional. When you do feel scattered or lost during the day, reconnect with your intentions: My intention is to maintain unconditional love and connection with my child, even as I set boundaries or it is my intention to keep non-nutritional substances out of my body.
How Intention Setting supports Your Parenting Goals (and you!)
When we have parenting intentions set they help us to be present in our interactions with our child and help us to align our responses with our overarching values and beliefs. We prioritize our energy and what we hope to accomplish in shifting our child's behavior and the way we are relating to our child.
The chance to be mindful. We know that in order to achieve our goals we must stay focused and motivated. When we sit quietly and reflect on our intentions, we are also scheduling in time to measure the progress of our goals. It just happens naturally. How is this intention going? Yesterday I did this, my child did this, I think it would better reflect my intention by next time saying this or just letting the whole thing go. This is also when we start to see things we need to change in our environment to make progress. I need to communicate with his teacher about this. Or I have to move the video games back into the living room otherwise this bedtime routine will continue to be a nightmare. In the quiet space of reflection, parental wisdom is abundant. So do not be pushed to be unintentional or reactive, or to spend your time worrying. By knowing that your intention setting is a scheduled part of your day, you can relinquish your worried thoughts to this practice where you give yourself time and space to come to a thoughtful decision.
Setting intentions helps us to let go of expectations that are not useful. It helps us to think about our child's behavior in a broader scope. Recognize that the shifts you want to see and the values you want to instill will happen over many, many interactions over many, many days or even years. This helps us to be more patient and less critical of ourselves when our goal does not materialize immediately. We know consuming one protein shake won't turn us into a bodybuilder. But with our parenting, we can become so disappointed if after we responded in the way our parenting book suggests, our child continues to talk back or stand on the couch. We can be very impatient with ourselves. Returning to our intention setting every day reminds us that this is a process, and we can see our progress more clearly because we are not emotionally charged during this time.
I want to mention a peice I think really impacts our expectations and that is the perceived judgemet of others, other parents, or grandparents, or strangers at a restaurant. A quote I read a while ago really stuck with me, I am not doing this justice but the general idea was: my worst parenting moments were for the benefit of people I never saw again. That moment where we feel public scrutiny, pressure to have our child look or act a certain way because, here comes our ego, worried about being judged as a parent. Intention setting around our parenting releases us from this. Allows us to mindfully choose, based on our attunement to our child and our personal values, what we attend to and what we choose not to. How empowering is that?
The process requires we give ourselves time and attention. We need to sit and think deeply about what we value and what we are trying to create for our family. If your intentions feel jumbled in your mind, it will be harder for you and your child to find a path towards the desired outcome. So accept this is an ongoing process. Accept what resources you are working with (time, energy, support from your tribe and your child's team)
We get to ask for some help. Once you have clarity on your parenting intentions, you may realize, I will need help achieving these. You may need to connect with your spouse, your co-parent, child care provider, or your child's teachers in making your behavioral goals a reality.
Self-care helps us reach our goals. Sleep well, have fun with those you love and take the time to get your body what you know it needs. You aren't being high maitinence you are being an intentional parent!
When sitting with your intentions, have an open and curious mind. What information will come to you from your child? Your daily experience? Something you read? When we are focused, useful information pops up everywhere and information that could have previously gotten in our way is easier to recognize and ignore. Intention setting is deeply personal. And at the same time, can be confusing if you have little to no experience with it. I am going to provide some specific examples so we can examine how flexible intention setting is. This also allows me to better connect intention setting with other peices we have been working on in our podcast. If these intentions do not speak to you, that is okay. Give yourself time to reflect and create your own list of intentions for you and your child. When parents come in to see me about behavioral concerns, they are prepared, they have a list of things their child is doing that causes them concern. The first thing I do is ask them to create an inverse of this list. Instead of what you don't want your child to do- what is it you want to see? This can be a starting point for building your parenting intentions.
Intentions to Consider
1. To be fully present with your child. It leaves space for goals you can set daily (I will spend 10 minutes a day fully present with my child, I will do a mindfulness activity with my child) or maybe you set the intention and wait to see what opportunities present themselves in each moment. My child wants to help me bake cookies for my holiday party for work, this is a good moment to practice being present with him. Maybe a week goes by and you just cannot find a moment to do this, you have a huge project at work or are taking care of a family member. But reading to your child one night you recognize, this is our only one on one time recently, okay this is when I will be present. I will notice what book they choose, I will notice that they want to cuddle with me. I will notice what parts of the book they smile at, laugh at, want me to read over again. Totally present for two full stories. As you can see the same intention can be played out very differently depending on your style, your child's style and what is going on in your life at the moment.
2. Be more playful when interacting with your child. Here you may set the specific intention of a play time or activity. You may decide, this week I will be totally open to my child's requests to play with me. If they ask me to play, I will say yes. Again, if time gets in the way, you may be intentional about being more playful with your child, even just getting in and out of the car at childcare, cleaning up dishes after dinner or using humor to distract them from a meltdown. If you had the goal to play more and work got busy this week, it is easy to get frustrated that you didn't meet your goal and let the whole habit slip away in diappointment. With intention setting, you can check in each day with the intention to play more and have more flexibility and creativity in how you incorporate it in your relationship. Maybe your child was going to get in the bath and you thought, "Great I will send that email while they are bathing." But if your intentions are present you may realize, we haven't played at all yet today and my daughter will be in bed in a half hour! I will put my phone away, answer the email later and grab a rubber ducky instead. If your intention is to play more, there will be a deep sense of saitisfaction after you help your child out of the bath tub.
And I can't help but wonder about this email, our fictional parent put off. I won't get too off track but I want to note that when we live close to our intentions, our boundaries cannot help but grow strong and healthy. This parent may reflect that this actually is not an email that needs to be attended to until tomorrow morning.
3. Witness the world with awe and joy. Children are ready and set to do this but the ability dulls over time if it is not reinforced. Give them permission to be in touch with their awe and joy by making space for yourself to do this. Maybe you decide to join them in specfic activities you know bring you both joy. Or maybe you spend a few weeks just thinking about what activities do this for your family. Once you identify what you need to feel awe and joy you can share this with your child. Is it discovering something new? Being in nature? Observing a piece of art? Maybe you experience awe and joy even in the mundane but have been anxious or depressed and haven't been expressing this. By reflecting on the intention of being joyful, we start to notice what has been getting in our way, and what we need to shift to make this happen more. Perhaps you start by simply watching your child and mirroring their awe and joy.
5. Show your child (don't just tell them) how important they are to you. This is a great intention to set if you want to focus on what you communicate to your child. You think the world of them, however, they may remember last week's interactions with you as a series of "Please bring your juice back into the kitchen. If you want to yell like that please go outside. Is your homework complete? I would like you to try at least one vegetable. Goodnight honey I love you so much." You can see how that last piece gets so easily outnumbered throughout the day. You could focus on talking less, ignoring more and making sure you say all the things your heart feels about your child. Or you may just decide to show them by playing with them more, listening to them more and being more affectionate.
6. Focus on your attunement with your child. Have you sensed that you and your child are having an off moment in your relationship? Have they increased behaviors that irritate you? This may be a good time to intentionally attend to a relationship tune up. A tune up to tune in. The actions you take to do this will likely look similar to the other intentions I just mentioned but what you are checking in on daily is how connected you feel with your child. When our children feel seen and heard they don't have to get creative with bad behavior to get our attention. Of course their needs are always changing so by being deeply connected you can see what is happening, what is an unmet need and what may just be disappointment, lack of sleep or hunger. You can more effectively respond. This is what I am talking about when I say that mindfulness helps us parent intentionally. By being present with your child's needs, your resources, and the values you are focused on for the day, your parental interactions may look soft and granola crunchy but they are also precise and extremely effective.
7. Encourage growth in a specific area for your child. Noticed that your child rarely eats a vegetable? Noticed that they have reverted to hitting instead of using their words? Noticed that their math grade is teetering dangerously close to a grade you disprove of? Noticing without panicking or burying your head in the sand is half the battle. Seriously, how tempting is it to spiral into self-criticism and worry or just kind of ignore the whole issue and hope it resolves itself? Make space for this issue in your intention setting ritual. Maybe you find yourself making time to prepare those recipes you pinned, or you are more conscious at the grocery store when buying items for your child's lunch. You saw your child hitting, maybe this week you start observing them like a scientist, what could be going on? What are they trying to tell us? Hmm and that math grade. Maybe you decide it's time for a burger after basketball practice for a check-in with how school is going, in a relaxed environment. Or maybe you set your work up next to theirs in the evening so that you are available if they need homeowrk help. And then next week, you set keep setting your intentions. You listen, to yourself, to your child, and you watch, you notice, you accept, you adjust to what is still needed and you enjoy the positive shifts.