Even if we are wonderful as parents, it’s easy to lose the mindfulness that makes us wonderful.

Look for these four common pitfalls:

1. When we become very familiar with people, we stop noticing things about them.

We’ve all had the experience of driving ten miles to get home and then realizing we must have made numerous turns during those ten miles, but we can’t recall making any of them!

It’s easy to do when we drive over familiar roads—we can drive these stretches without even noticing anything along the way. And while we are apparently noticing enough to get to our destination safely, it’s not an attentive, conscious, mindful way of driving.

This same phenomenon happens with our children: We stop noticing what is going on for them because we are around them all the time. We don’t notice when they are upset or excited or hesitant. We don’t notice when something has happened to make them preoccupied. And since we don’t notice, we don’t check in with them.

2. We interact with our kids in terms of who they have been so far rather than who they could be. 

Perhaps you’ve noticed that your children are more thoughtful or expressive with people they don’t see often—even with strangers—than they are with you.

Your kids didn’t change, really; they’re just interacting with someone who interacts with them in a different way—someone whose communication with your kids is not shaped by history, so they’re perhaps more curious about them, more ready to listen to their stories.

What this means is that if you change your perspective and approach, your kids likely will interact differently with you, too.

3.  We think we know who our kids are, so we stop being curious about what makes them tick.

When we kids are small, they are learning and changing every day in noticeable ways. Then later, the dramatic learning and changing slow down, and we begin to think of them in fixed ways. We also stop being inquisitive or perhaps even interested in what is going on for them.

Try this out:

Decide to consciously notice new things about each of your children or grandchildren. Slow down and focus on each conversation while thinking about these questions:

  • What are their interests and passions?
  • What are they worried or concerned about?
  • What are they currently working on or learning?
  • What is their world like right now?
  • How have they changed recently?

It is this simple: If you notice something new, then they are no longer the same person for you, so you begin to interact with them differently. Patterns in relationships only become fixed and solid when we stop learning about and being interested in each other.

4.  We think we know what their world is like.

I remember a long time ago trying to explain to my daughter, Amy, why doing her homework was important. She was in the seventh or eight grade, and my reasoning included being able to go to college.  She set me straight pretty quickly. “Dad, college is so far away. I’m just worried about whether somebody likes me.”

From that time on, I kept reminding myself that I didn’t know what it was like to be a teenager, even if I once was a teenager.

This note is simply a reminder to slow down, be more mindful, be more curious, and appreciate not knowing who your kids are or what their world is like. Not knowing is a wonderful perspective to embrace. It opens the door to all kinds of new discoveries!


Paul Axtell is a writer and conversations expert. This blog is based on his award-winning book Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife Cindy, where they enjoy time with their grown children and their 13 grandkids.