What is mindfulness and how can it be used as a tool for Co-Parenting, especially in light of the fact that patterns and triggers that existed in the relationship will continue to show up in the Co-Parenting relationship?


We all know what it’s like to be mindless – eating a bag of chips in front of the TV without hardly noticing until the bag is empty, acting unconsciously, reacting without thinking, talking on the phone while trying to get other things done. And we know the impact of being mindless  – overeating, gaining weight, loss of connection and disruptions in relationships, and emotional reactivity without tools to regulate ourselves or learn what our emotions are telling us.


Mindfulness includes an awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings. Learning to observe thoughts, emotions, and other present-moment experiences without judging or reacting to them.

While it may be hard to be mindful all the time, it’s a practice that’s proven to have many benefits. Research shows that mindfulness can reduce rumination, anxiety, stress, and depression and improve mental health, cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, and relationship satisfaction (APA). Mindfulness involves becoming more aware of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Feeling tightness in our belly, our shoulders rising, our speech getting faster and louder. All of these are somatic markers that can lead to better self awareness that lends itself to better decision-making and problem solving – SO important to be an effective co-parent.

When I notice I’m leaning forward and out of my center, I take a few breaths, pull my energy back and focus on taking my seat, centering myself back into my core. I feel my backbone, a source of strength.

When we’re not being mindful, we tend to have more emotional reactivity and get hijacked by our emotions such as fear, anger, or losing sight of our higher goals and intentions. And we’ve all been there.

Mindful Co-Parenting

So, what does mindful co-parenting look like?

Mindful co-parenting may be supported by some form of mindfulness meditation or it can simply mean paying attention. Attention equals intention. When we’re paying attention to our body, thoughts, and feelings we’re more likely to be attuned to our intention to be a good co-parent.

Paying attention to our triggers, activation, and reactivity helps us become aware of our patterns in conflict, not getting our way, what we do when we’re hurt. We may still do those patterns but more quickly we’ll notice we’re in pattern, can make repairs, have a do-over, live more in the present.

Next time you feel triggered, take a few deep breaths, remember your intention to co-parent with the best outcome for your children. It helps you to slow yourself down, get out of the reactive limbic brain, and activate your higher executive-functioning, problem solving brain.

Mindful co-parenting includes identifying what matters most to kids, and parents being mindful of their children’s needs and wants. By simply paying attention and planning ahead, you and your ex can reduce the potential negative effects of divorce on your family. (Gaies & Morris, Mindful Co-Parenting: A Child-Friendly Path through Divorce).

Awareness Leads to Choice Point

In my own experience of practicing mindfulness, I knew I reached a milestone when I could notice I wanted to say something snarky or passive aggressive, and chose something different. It’s that moment of noticing and being mindful of the part of me that can act out or say things from a place of hurt, or anger, or frustration. From this moment of pause, taking a breath, there is this beautiful moment of choice, what I call a choice point. I can do my snarky dance or do something more compassionate, more connecting, more solution focused.

I can remind myself that there’s not a good outcome in that knee-jerk reaction. It’s what we want to teach our children and we have the opportunity to model it.

In that space of choice, I can express how I feel about some behavior or expression. I can make a request – a profound teaching I learned in teaching Couples Communication was “turn gripes into requests”. Making a request shifts complaining and passive aggressiveness into assertiveness. When we ask for what we want, we have more chance of receiving it, especially if we express it in a thoughtful way. Ask for 100% of what you want and expect to hear no sometimes. We don’t always get what we want.

A self-inquiry mindfulness practice is to notice what happens when you don’t get what your want. What patterns do you go into that are destructive or not helpful to the situation?


Think about a time when you reacted from a place of mindlessness and reactivity and imagine what you would have liked to have done instead. What are the markers in your body, thoughts, or emotions that can inform you and invite you to take control of your system by being more mindful of the outcome.

Mindfulness Meditation practices can include taking a few minutes a day (or up to 30 if you are really activated) to notice your breath, your nervous system activation, your body sensations, emotions, and thought patterns without judgment, just observation.

For more resources on Mindfulness, visit your local health care practitioner’s website or your local community for resources on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and other offerings related to mindful parenting. There are also a number of books available on this topic that can be useful for co-parenting such as Mindful Co-Parenting: A Child-Friendly Path through Divorce by Gaies & Morris, among others.

And remember, it’s a practice. You may not do it perfectly, but the more you practice observing and being mindful, the more you can live in the present and make good choices that feel better for you and your children.

Valerie Sher, PhD, is a Coach and Educator with a private practice specializing in couples and family therapy, divorce coaching, and co-parenting practicing in the San Francisco and Marin Counties.  More information in her bio on the “Find A Professional” page.