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Mindful Parenting: Being Okay Not Knowing the Right Answers

Bonnie Harris

Health, Wellness, & Safety

What am I supposed to do? How much should I push? When do I pull back? What is the right answer? When is this child ever going to learn….?

Is it human nature or do we learn it in our chaotic world filled with addictions to performance and product and the “shoulds” of life? Most of us worry about what has been and what will come. It’s amazing how much one simple “should” can create anxiety in an otherwise perfectly fine moment.

We know that the key to less stressful living is focusing on the here and now, letting go of the past, and not overreaching into the future. The most precious moments and lessons we can pass on to our children come out of the times when we are completely connected in the moment. Whether it is a moment of screaming and meltdown from an angry or scared child to a moment of blissful adoration, connection is all that matters.

Connection means to be present without any assumptions or fears about why. The moment has nothing to do with whether I think I am a terrible or wonderful parent, whether my child is disobedient or perfect, or what this all will lead to. It’s all about accepting the moment: This is what is happening right now. This screaming is what my child is doing. It doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that my child is upset right now. This is the moment to deal with.

The more uncomplicated the moment, unfettered by here we go again or what is going to become of him? the better that moment will be. No judgments, no criticisms, no lessons to be taught—just be and accept what is happening. You don’t have to have the answer. It will appear when you let go of having to know what it is. That is true connection.

Surrender to what you don’t know

The biggest pitfall of parenting is the amount of worry we spend on doing the right thing. No matter the amount of worry and anxiety, none of it ensures better parenting. Think of the times when you have felt most connected to your children. There was no effort involved. You were just there, present and engaged. You probably weren’t “teaching” anything — just enjoying and understanding each other. How often does that happen in your day?

Think back to a happy memory with one of your parents. What were you doing? I bet it was not a moment your parent was trying to teach you to be a better person. The simple moments are the ones that last, that ground us into belonging. These are the moments our children need much more than teaching lessons.

Are you willing to simply be present with your child regardless of how wonderful or how awful the event? Can you just stay with what is and not try to figure out the right thing to say or do? Can you let go of past and future fears, expectations, and longings to just be. Can you be more and teach less?

When you are problem solving with a child, you not only don’t have the right answer or know the best outcome, but you shouldn’t. The point of problem solving is to guide your child through her own thinking to come to her own conclusions, and then make it work for both of you. But if you start off with the “right” outcome in mind, your agenda will interfere with the process and derail your child’s thought process. What you think is best may not at all be what works best for your child. Your agenda will keep you stuck in the outcome.

The true measure of faith in yourself and your child is to allow the unknown to be okay.

There is nothing that tests faith and trust more than parenting a child you fear will take wrong turns. What parent doesn’t fear this? A strong foundation and family structure is essential to provide that child with a launching pad from which he can trust being in the present. Once that structure is established, faith and trust is what it’s all about. To parent with creativity (which involves a lot more fun than many parents are now having) involves building that trust because you are never going to know how it will all turn out. So why not just surrender to the unknown. It feels like such a risk, but your worry does nothing but interfere in your relationship. You can deal with mistakes and problems when they happen.

Next time you feel that clutching sensation — “What do I do? What do I say? I have to stop this behavior right now” — try saying to yourself, “I don’t know what to do and that’s okay. It will come.” And then breathe. Leave the situation for as long as you need (could be an hour, a day, a week), wait until emotions have cooled, and then trust that the answer will come when connection with your child can happen. Take the risk of not knowing where it will go. When you let go of the outcome, you allow possibility for creative solutions that you would never come up with otherwise, and you teach your child the power of creative solutions as well.

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Bonnie Harris

Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed. is the director of Connective Parenting and is an international speaker and parent educator. She has taught groups and coached parents privately for thirty years. Bonnie is the author of two books, "When Your Kids Push Your Buttons" and "Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With”. You can learn more about her work at or follow her on Facebook