In his new book, Prizeworthy: How to Meaningfully Connect, Build Character, and Unlock the Potential of Every Child, psychologist and mindfulness advocate Mitch Abblett explains the benefits of prizing, which he defines as the act of recognizing and acknowledging the inner landscape of potential in every child. He frames this as an alternative to praising, which he explains can have negative consequences. He also shares advice for parents on how to skillfully prize kids while building their own inner awareness.
What parents need—for the sake of their children as well as themselves—is help in walking with, instead of struggling against, their pain, confusion, and doubt. Leave the rationales to sociological, political, and even religious debates, because here we are focusing on the nitty-gritty of making parenting not just a tolerable ordeal but an opening, a doorway to the widest possible array of experience—the grandeur and the gore.
It is crucial for you to learn to mindfully stand in place and face the parental experience internally—your painful emotions. To face your “inner parent” is to bring self-compassion and mindfulness to bear on your relationship with yourself, with the pain that parents so readily magnify through unskillful means into unnecessary suffering and that gets in the way of the mindset required for seeing into and behind your child to their prize.
I am not aware of any tool or strategy for ending the inevitable pain of parenting. The vivid momentum of sweet moments such as when kids first learn to pump their legs on the swing will eventually go still. Young kids will walk out of your sight and you will surge with fear. Older kids will hurl dagger eyes and sledgehammer words at you across the years. Even when they are only three feet tall, your emotional buttons will never be out of their reach.
The whining will continue. Your sleep will be interrupted, either through their crying in their childhoods or your worrying in their adulthoods. They may be disabled or in other ways hampered from the easy happiness you wished for them. You will have no clue what to do in that crossroad moment as they hover in the doorway, their eyes expecting your parental reaction to save them. Every other life domain—your jobs, relationships, your own extended families—will press at you just as they ask for one more thing. And they may lose more than their fair share in life.
Perhaps you sometimes wish you could ask for a refund, a re-do, a chance to check the fine print of the brochure. Yes, we love our kids, and no we cannot, nor do we really want, to go back in time and say “No thanks, I have a headache” on the night their spawning occurred. Parenting is best thought of as that old board game Chutes and Ladders, and this version has many more of the former than the latter.
In the face of all of this, I invite you to meet your parental heart-mind—not simply glance at yourself in a mirror, but really meet and greet your inner experience, your truth (in the harsher moments of parenting, this truth is more often a judge, jury, and executioner) and take a long, hard, inner look. “You aren’t good enough,” experience often says, and the pain soon surges in your body. “You can’t handle these kids . . .” “Bad things will happen . . .” “They are ungrateful, and you’ll never have a life of your own.” Experience pokes at your thoughts and your feelings and rarely stops its hammering, and it makes parenting harder than it needs to be. Therefore you need to carve out some time to kindly examine and create some space around your internal parental critic.
I am not asking you to ignore painful experiences, I am asking you to stay with your pain, and regard it like a naughty puppy being trained. With a dedicated mindfulness practice, you can learn to teach your angst-primed parental brain to stay sitting and smarting on the carpet of your mind and body and bide your time until the pain shifts and changes on its own. Because it will. You can train your parental brain to let the pain be as it is, and not chide and mishandle it into the beast that most of us have known in our lesser moments as parents. Pain, yes—suffering, no.
As I write this book, parental stress has been amplified by the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic that drastically altered society beginning in March 2020. The Harris Poll conducted a survey on behalf of the American Psychological Association in late April and early May 2020, surveying 3,013 adults age eighteen and older who reside in the United States. On a ten-point scale, the respondents’ average reported stress level related to the coronavirus pandemic was 5.9. When asked to rate their stress level in general, the respondents’ average reported stress was 5.4. In 2019, the average stress level—as reported in the APA’s annual “Stress in America” survey—had been 4.9. The COVID-era report of 2020 marked the first significant increase in average reported stress since the survey began in 2007.
Especially in current times, parents are facing universal emotional pain, with no race, income level, or other boundary keeping these pains forever at bay. We all therefore need to remember parenting can and does hurt. You as a parent are not alone. May you and may all parents be free of these pains, these sufferings. This is my meditation, and I suggest you close your eyes in moments across the days and weeks to come and make it your own. Bring self-compassionate kindness into a wish for the courage and the spaciousness to prize yourself.
From Prizeworthy: How to Meaningfully Connect, Build Character, and Unlock the Potential of Every Child by Mitch Abblett © 2021 by Mitch Abblett. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.shambhala.com
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