The word retreat may bring to mind visions of peaceful solitude in a mountaintop meditation center or yogis practicing by the sea and sipping tea in a perfectly manicured garden. However, as Jon Kabat Zen writes in Everyday Blessings, The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, “from the perspective of mindfulness, parenting can be viewed as a kind of extended and, at times, arduous meditation retreat spanning a large part of our lives. And our children, from infancy to adulthood and beyond, can be seen as perpetually challenging live-in teachers, who provide us with ceaseless opportunities to do the inner work of understanding who we are and who they are, so that we can best stay in touch with what is truly important and give them what they most need in order to grow and flourish.” While seeing all of our parenting years as a “retreat” may be a bit difficult, taking one week to work at being more conscious is more manageable and can be a great way to really focus your efforts in the area of conscious parenting.
Unlike people with unwavering self-control, I tend to need external motivation or accountability to follow through with most things I set out to accomplish – hence the need for this blog 🙂 My PEACE WEEK retreat idea is in that same vein. I try to be more conscious in my parenting on a regular basis, but so easily, it seems, I fall back into unhelpful patterns of behavior that lead to more struggle and less joy in my parenting and my relationship with my daughter. Sometimes a break or a mental check-in helps to get me back on track, but when I’ve fallen back into a long stretch of unconscious parenting, I need more than a gentle reminder to dig myself out. And typically it is when I find myself exasperated at my daughter’s rapidly de-escalating behaviors that I realize that it might be time for some recalibration. I usually make a note of the challenges we are facing and try to come up with alternative ways of addressing them. PEACE WEEK allows me to set a personal commitment, for one week, to really focus on my parenting in those moments and make changes where things aren’t working. Whatever structure, time period and guidelines motivate you to stick to a plan, should be those that you use in your individual PEACE WEEK (or ZEN WEEK, HAPPY WEEK, MINDFUL WEEK, etc.), should you chose to try one.
RULES or GUIDELINES
Once I have committed to another PEACE WEEK, I create a set of guidelines, that aren’t meant to be a cause for upset if they are “broken,” but rather to act as reminders of the things you want to do to help yourself be a more conscious parent.
My PEACE WEEK rules this time around are similar to those from my previous PEACE WEEK:
- No Screen Time When Children are Present.
- Practice Pausing and Noticing My State of Mind Throughout the Day
- Limited Speech (Three Breaths before “Reacting”)
- Morning and Evening Self-Care (Morning Yoga / Evening Tea and Meditation)
- Quality Time with Each Child Each Day
This time, I also wanted to work to model our HUGS (not Hurts) approach to rising frustration, which I’ve been talking about and using with my daughter for a few weeks now, but haven’t been modelling it myself. Whenever my daughter starts to get frustrated or angry with her brother, I ask her “HUGS or Hurts?” and give her our four options for dealing with frustration (HUGS – H: ask for Help, U: Use your words, G: Go take a break, or S: Stop and breathe).
Additionally, I wanted to try to more consistently use other conscious parenting techniques, such as using mantras, acknowledging positive behaviors, giving options, etc.) It is so easy to fall back to less conscious parenting methods unless we’re, well, conscious, and I’ve been conscious lately of my tendency to use a lot of threats or two unappealing choices to “motivate” her to do what I ask her to do.
And finally, I wanted to try to use the same words when addressing similar behaviors to help ingrain them into her memory. When you repeat the same message over and over, in the same way, it has more of a chance of sticking with them, than if you alter your words every time.
Ultimately, like a fast or genuine retreat, I just wanted a set timeline and self imposed structure in which to hold myself accountable to the conscious parenting practices I seem to have lost somewhere in the Atlantic on the way to South East Asia.
Probably the most important part of PEACE WEEK is your reflections, whether you jot them down throughout the day, or take time in the evenings to think through your interactions with your children, both positive and not-so-positive and allow yourself the time and space for creative problem solving, “aha!” moments, or mental pats on the back when something you tried worked well.
I was going to share my personal reflections on my current peace week here, but ultimately, I want this blog to be helpful to others and my detailed reflections only represent the current situation in my unique family and are most likely not very interesting or helpful to anyone else, so I decided to spare my readers. However, if you have any questions or comments to share, I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading!
What about you? Do you think you might benefit from a personal parenting retreat? If you try one, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook