“You’re being really critical,” my daughter snapped back.
She was right. I was being critical. And when she uttered those words, I immediately felt a wave of sadness, thinking how I’d reacted with unnecessary judgment. It was not the way I wanted to show up—not as a parent. Nor as a person.
I took a breath, turned around, and left the kitchen where both of my daughters, ages 24 and 26, remained. Several hours went by, and I began to reflect on both my behavior and why I’d responded the way I did. Using some of my VIA character strengths—curiosity, love and perspective—I asked myself a few questions:
- When I reflect on my comment to my daughter, what arises for me—what am I thinking? What am I feeling both emotionally and in my body?
- Can I get a sense of why I behaved the way I did?
- Which action steps will I take to remediate the situation?
- What do I need to express and how will I do that?
Bringing awareness—nonjudgmentally—to the present moment is the essence of mindfulness. When we bring awareness to any given situation, circumstance, conversation, sensation, or emotion, we are bringing an opportunity not just to handle an experience, but also to accept any negative emotions or thoughts that have surfaced. That awareness, in the moment, gives us the ability to pause, as Viktor Frankl so beautifully teaches us: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In that response lies our freedom.”
Let’s face it, I clearly didn’t choose to pause before criticizing my daughter. I didn’t use my breath to help me create that precious space in which we can mindfully choose our response. But it wasn’t too late. I turned to my self-compassion practice to bring awareness to how I was feeling (disappointed), reminding myself that I was not alone (I’m sure someone out there criticizes their kid on occasion!), and that I can comfort myself (with a snuggle from my dog).
Bringing awareness to how I was feeling, and how to treat myself with kindness, allowed my sadness to soften and uncovered a path for understanding. My husband and I have been living without kids in our home for nearly two years, since our third and youngest child, now 19, left our nest to head off to college. It took a few months to adjust to our new normal—one with much more quiet, no more basketball games in the driveway, and less need for Oreos in the cookie jar.
Now, there is a new new normal coming upon us. Our son will be living at home while taking his college classes online, and our two daughters have decided to give up their apartment leases and move back into our home to save money—for who knows how long.
A few hours after the altercation with my daughter, we found ourselves sitting together outside, soaking up the late-afternoon sun. I inhaled a slow, deep breath. I turned to my child and apologized for having been critical. I explained that I was sorry for my behavior and grateful that she had pointed it out. I then went on to share my anxiety about all of us living under one roof as a family of five for an indefinite time period. That it would take some readjusting, the need for creating rules and boundaries, and the importance of respecting one another’s physical space.
“It’s okay, mom,” she said. “I totally understand.“
This anecdote may sound trivial, and in some ways, it is. It fits into the spectrum of everyday reactions when it comes to just about any close relationship. But what stands out in this particular scenario is not simply the positive resolution. It’s the awareness that my positive psychology training and mindfulness practice have taught me. That I have the capacity to nurture awareness at any moment, to feel and act, to love and forgive. And for that, I will always be grateful.
Caren Osten is a certified positive psychology coach, writer and mindfulness meditation teacher. She works with individuals and groups, who seek to cultivate greater positivity, clarity and calm as they navigate life’s daily stresses, challenges and shifts. Caren leads workshops at Kripalu and MNDFL meditation studios, and speaks publicly, sharing the benefits, practices and science of optimism, self-compassion, mindfulness, and resilience. A contributor to The New York Times, Psychology Today, Mindful magazine and others, Caren writes about health and wellbeing, travel and education. She earned both her Certificate in Positive Psychology (CiPP) and and her Certificate in Positive Psychology Coaching from the Wholebeing Institute. Learn more about her work at www.carenosten.com and find her @carenosten on social media.