As a mother of three, Rabbi Andrea Goldstein of Congregation Shaare Emeth knows something about parenting. She also knows about Mindfulness Meditation, a calming practice that reminds us to concentrate on the present moment.
Goldstein, 42, has pulled from her experiences and her skills in both areas and started a weekly group called Mindful Parenting, geared to parents with children at home. Members at Shaare Emeth and non-members alike are welcome, and there is no charge for the meetings. (For details, call 314-569-0010.)
Goldstein made time recently to talk about the group.
How did this group start?
We started last spring, after I spoke to a group of parents from our preschool here at Shaare Emeth. I talked about Mindfulness Meditation, and the preschool director and the parents all had a great desire to learn more.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
There are many forms of meditation, of course, and mindfulness is the attention we pay to our experiences as they happen, moment to moment. The idea is to be intentionally aware and to experience without judgment. In the course of a day, we spend a lot of time thinking backwards — if only I had done this or that — or fast-forwarding to what we need to do for a future event, and so we miss what is happening presently.
So it’s a matter of focusing on what’s in front of us?
Yes – trying to pay attention in the here and now, with intention. Sometimes what’s happening is uncomfortable or unpleasant, and we want to get out of the situation. Say you’re stuck in traffic. You may be mad that you are running late or mad at the other drivers, but you can learn to acknowledge that though you are stuck in traffic, you can calm down and accept the situation. When your attitude changes, that can have a ripple effect on your family.
How did you learn about Mindfulness Meditation?
Four years ago I participated in the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, a nationwide program for people from all streams of Judaism. There I learned how to hold intentional mindfulness about whatever is happening, rather than defaulting to a reactionary position.
And you decided this practice could help parents?
When you become a parent, you can, if you choose, get schooled in mindfulness quickly because having a child eliminates your control. You may think you are still in control, but you are not—and that emerges in the stories we tell about our children.
What issues does the group discuss?
We have a policy of confidentiality regarding personal stories, but we do discuss three general principles of mindful parenting. They are Sovereignty, an acknowledgment that our children are sovereign beings and we must respect their needs; Empathy, which involves putting ourselves in the place of the child; and third is Acceptance, being able to accept that our children are unique beings with desires that may be different from our own.
Can you elaborate on that last one?
It’s not about giving in to a child’s every wish. Maybe we derive great pleasure from singing, even find spiritual fulfillment from music, and maybe our kid can’t carry a tune and hates music. We have to accept that. How we communicate our acceptance of that to the child is what is most important.
What materials do you use with the group?
I use a book called “Everyday Blessings: The Inner World of Mindful Parenting” by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn. They are not Jewish, so I take topics from the book and present them through a Jewish lens or I use a Torah portion to illustrate key points.
What has been the response?
It’s been lovely. Parents find mindfulness meditation helpful and calming.