This article was originally written for grandparentslink.com.
As a psychotherapist and someone that regularly practices self- reflection, I have pondered about why my two grandchildren, Lily and Ethan, have had such an amazing impact on me. I know I was a devoted mother to my two children and loved them deeply but there is something in the grandparent-grandchild relationship that feels different. Of course, the reasons most of us grandparents already know are certainly part of the story for me. My age and situation in life—I am wiser (I hope), calmer, and understand the preciousness of time much more than I did in my 30’s. I don’t live with my grandchildren every day and night—I can play with them—take them to gym or music and then give them back to their parents. I can spoil them and just love them unconditionally.
However, I know for me, there is more; I think it has to do with mindfulness. Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist meditation techniques and has become accepted among many Western mental health professionals as a powerful psychological tool. It is a rather simple concept with very powerful benefits. Mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening in the present moment without judgment—“a particular way of looking inside to promote understanding and healing with an acceptance of what is.”
Mindfulness can be learned. There are two types of mindfulness training: formal and informal practice. Formal mindfulness practice involves setting aside a specific amount of time, usually thirty minutes or longer, to consciously “go inside” and be aware of what is sensed or felt in the mind and or body, using the breath as an anchor. This practice can include a sitting/walking meditation, body scan (systematic scan of body parts) or yoga session. Informal mindfulness practice involves finding brief moments in everyday life to pay attention to events and surroundings in the present. Instead of multi-tasking and spending extended periods of time on automatic pilot, a person practicing informal mindfulness may simply focus on one thing at one time.
By now you are wondering what this has to do with having grandchildren. Actually so much in my life has changed due to mindfulness. As part of my therapeutic work, I took part in an extensive mindfulness-training program and continue to practice regularly through yoga and other types of mindfulness meditation. When I raised my own children, I prided myself on the fact that I could accomplish so many things in one day. I could multi-task the day away– which is the exact opposite of what I try to do today. I certainly endeavor to be more present, focused, and accepting, particularly when I am with my grandchildren. I try not to do other things while I am with them. I strive to be more aware of the time I am spending with them and make every minute count—no talking on my cell phone in the car but talking or singing with them instead. I also attempt, for example, to have more eye contact with them and respond rather than react to difficult situations. At the same time, I seek to be empathic when they are expressing strong emotions.
Being a grandparent is a special gift and I am grateful for the experience of having these little people in my life. Mindfulness practice has helped me truly understand and appreciate these new relationships.
*Pam Siegel M.P.H., M. F. T. is a psychotherapist in West Los Angeles specializing in mindfulness practices to help with eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and other life stresses and transitions. For more information visit www.pamsiegel.com