Top Six Parenting Tips

For nearly 20 years, I have worked as a trainer and consultant in schools, and with parents and teachers across the country, and the globe. I have found myself in a broad range of settings, from the inner city, to Native American reservations to the Mississippi Delta, and the upscale suburbs of Silicon Valley. In my coaching work, I work with young people and their parents, also from all walks of life. And I am mother myself of two girls. So like everyone else on the planet, I am involved in my own intensive learning laboratory called Life.

If I distill everything I have learned, and share now with parents, what follows are the “Top Six” parenting ideas or tips that make the most difference toward promoting positive, healthy parenting.

Please note: these tips run from Six to One, like the David Letterman Top 10. We end up with probably the most important tip, so read on through to the end!

Tip No. 6 Relax! Everything is Out of Control.

 Although we try to, and to some extent do have some control over our lives and our families, the hard truth is that we don’t have total control at all—and usually we have much less than we think.

Anything can happen. It is much easier to trust Life and our children when we realize that children have access to an inner wisdom about life they can tap into completely on their own.

This is the same intuitive sense of what’s right for us, and what’s wrong for us that we ourselves possess (and which we may or may not tap on a regular basis). Parents can work themselves into a frenzy trying to educate their children to be the “best people” they can be. But we forget that the source of their “best-ness” is actually inside of them, and very organic to them. It’s OK, and even beneficial to let go of the controls from time to time. Kids need to find the source of their own wisdom and joy for themselves. And it’s easier to let go when we know there is a source of, a support for life that lies beyond all of our own personal efforts.

Tip No. 5 Question Yourself, Question your Thoughts

One of the main causes of physical child abuse, verbal abuse of children and undue negative pressure on kids comes from negative thoughts we are thinking … about what our children are doing … and what their behavior means about us.

“My child is being disrespectful;” “My child will end up homeless if she continues on this path!”; “My child will lose all muscle mass, and become a jellified video game addict with no social skills.” These thoughts about an imaginary and probably untrue future generate fear, and in a fearful state, our actions can be overly severe—often creating the kind of issues we thought we were trying to solve.

Thoughts that revolve around ourselves have to do with how we look as parents. What our children are doing (or not doing) means something about us.

“Oh, I must be a terrible parent! Little Danny is having a tantrum at my mother-in-law’s!” Certainly, children mirror the parenting they are exposed to, and there’s no harm in reflecting on our mistakes. If a child seems to really be heading down a thorny path, we may need to take action.

But most of our bad parenting comes from what I simply call “bad thinking” in the moment. And ironically, these self-conscious and insecure thoughts about parenting perfection are precisely what get in the way of healthy and enjoyable family life.

"Most of our bad parenting comes from what I simply call 'bad thinking' in the moment."

Thought also shows up in the form of deeper beliefs, and subconscious patterns from our own childhoods. My husband and I clash around “risky” activities because as a child, I had almost no limitations placed on my activities, while his mother was a nervous wreck when he rode his bicycle down the street. Who is right on these matters? For me, adventuresome-ness is a value, and for him, caution. When we can back off from our personal thinking a little, we see the answer lies somewhere in the middle ground. Or, that our approach might be different for each child, for each situation.

When we recognize distressing thoughts as simply Thought, in the moment, although it may still grip us, we begin to loosen its hold by seeing we are reacting to thoughts, and not reality. Intense anger, sadness and anxiety can all be triggered just by our own thoughts—pulled from the past and projected into the future, and not by anything truly happening in the moment.

As we notice this whole process operating in us at deeper and deeper levels, insecure thoughts begin to lose their grip, and we are more present to respond to each moment in a fresh and insightful way, with new thinking.

Tip No. 4 Pay Attention to Your State of Mind

When we pay less attention to particular thoughts (following thoughts, believing thoughts) we are freed up to notice our overall state of mind, or mood. When frightening thoughts get on our eyeballs, our mood and feeling state drops. From this darker, heavy place, everything our children (spouses, co-workers, relatives) do looks like the end of the world. I talk to clients about “low mood glasses”: when our lenses are colored, they color everything we look at.

Suddenly, the whole world looks as if it is failing us, or we are failing the world. In a bad mood, or negative state of mind, as evidenced by our feelings, we can assume our thinking has become crap. This may not be the time to discipline your child, argue with your spouse, or wax your bikini line. This is a good time to step back, and try to be gentle with our selves, and our families.

"When frightening thoughts get on our eyeballs, our mood and feeling state drops."

For me, that often looks like telling my children I am in a bad mood. What I mean by that is: Don’t take me seriously right now. Sometimes it’s taking a walk with the dog, an overnight trip away from home if possible, or just lying on the floor in the midst of my emotions—simply allowing them to be present, without adding judgment to the mix. We are all human beings here.

When the mood passes, clarity will come, along with solutions, if we actually need any. Very often, the issues we thought were life-threatening and intractable are actually phases or storms in our children’s lives that pass on their own—sometimes more quickly when we make less of them.

In the meantime, before clarity comes, it’s OK to be upset, confused, worried and bummed out. Just know what’s happening.

Tip. No. 3 Forgive Yourself

A lot of parenting involves guilt. We lash out, over-react and, at the same time, see from somewhere deep inside, that our children (and others) are basically innocent and often don’t deserve what we’re dishing out. All of life can start to seem like a huge mistake—or at least a long, miserable series of mistakes, dark worry beads on a fraying thread.

In accepting our humanity fully, we see that no one escapes making mistakes. We all do the best we can, given how we are thinking in each moment. We assume that guilt or self-recrimination might help us do better, but if we pay attention, we may notice that guilt (guilty thoughts) actually creates more insecurity in us, more extreme emotion, and thus more extreme behaviors.

" ... we are the only ones who can truly make ourselves feel guilty ... And can we notice what this guilt does to us?"

It’s an odd little psychological boomerang. My husband asks me to help him with his paperwork. I can’t do it, as I have too much on my plate, but I feel guilty, as though I should help. (“A good wife would help.”) This little whirlwind of thought and emotion causes me to snap at him. “Why don’t you do it yourself? What am I, your personal assistant?” I want to punish him for “making” me feel guilty.

Can we notice this dynamic and see that we are the only ones who can truly make ourselves feel guilty? And then can we notice what this guilt does to us? I am not speaking of momentary shame, or humility—the moment when we realize we might be wrong about something—but rather thoughts of “I am bad, I am a bad person, I am a bad parent” that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Forgiveness is easy when we see the futility of guilt, its total non-logic. Forgiveness is really just dropping thoughts of guilt, and opening up to something new.

Tip No. 2 Enjoy Your Children, Love Your Children, Spoil Them with Affection

My older daughter is dramatic, smart, emotional and very funny. I have my moments of exasperation with her, when I read how she is as “obnoxious” or “loud.” And sometimes she can be these. But when I have the intention to enjoy her, I see that she is creative, a leader, an entertainer and great to be around. Her sense of my enjoyment of her is the fertilizer in the garden of parenting. Enjoyment is a form of love and this is crucial for children to feel. If enjoyment is the fertilizer of parenting, then love, love displayed, is the soil, air, water and sun.

I read an article about Mimi Silbert, founder of the non-profit Delancey Street, who has spent a lifetime housing, training and employing people who come from addiction and the mean streets of San Francisco. Mimi was asked about her childhood, and she said something interesting. She said she was “spoiled” with love, treated like a princess, totally cherished.

Now, Mimi is considered almost a saint in San Francisco. She is totally full of love and caring for everyone who comes through her center—no matter what their background or past. When I read this about her, I just thought, “Uh huh.” When we feel loved, when we feel we have everything we need (which is usually just about love) we don’t feel we need for anything, and when we don’t need anything, we have love to give.

"When we feel loved, when we feel we have everything we need ... we have love to give."

Parents worry about spoiling their children, and certainly too much permissiveness or letting our children walk all over us is not healthy. I once heard an eight- or nine-year-old child on the ski slopes of California tell his mother seriously and loudly that she was a “bad decision maker” and a “bad mother.” The mother said nothing at all. It took everything I had not to say something to the kid, but I could see how he had come to feel he could say such things without consequence.

Spoiling with love is not about not having boundaries. It is about not having boundaries around love, including love of our selves, and respect for our selves. We can trust love. It is the essence of good parenting, and of all relationships, and it asks us to question everything that gets in its way.

Tip No. 1 Love Yourself, Love Life ... and If You Don’t Know How, Find Out

Being able to love our children and our families more freely, more joyfully, is directly correlated to our own capacity to love ourselves and to love life—or, to love ourselves as simply a part of life. If we aren’t good at this, if we don’t know how to do this, then for the love of our children, it behooves us to learn how.

What has been most essential for me in parenting, in marriage, and in life, has been finding and following a true path toward love, toward “purpose” beyond the usual ego goals and ambitions of this world.

"Find ... a true path toward love, toward 'purpose' beyond the usual ego goals and ambitions of this world."

I have been lucky to have learned from some of the best teachers in the Three Principles world (the psychology I work with), and to have discovered and learned from many others in other spiritual and psychological traditions. For most of my life, I have discovered increasing levels of mental and spiritual freedom—and Love!

One can not believe in God, and still believe in one’s innate wisdom, still believe in love and caring, still believe in life. When our true intent is to be happy, to be loving, to be mentally free, then the right teaching or teacher will show up to help us do so. Whatever we need will show up.

So, find love within. Find that you are love—beneath all thoughts to the contrary—and as a river flows its due course to the sea, your parenting will follow this love along its courses of surprise, fulfillment and mystery, a blessing for your children, and for you.


Ami Chen Mills-Naim is author of The Spark Inside and State of Mind in the Classroom: Thought, Consciousness and the Essential Curriculum for Healthy Learning. She co-founded the non-profit Center for Sustainable Change, and directed the National Community Resiliency Project, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. She has been a global speaker and trainer in Thought-based resiliency and mental wellness work for 20 years, and is a coach, consultant, and mentor based in Santa Cruz, CA.

Her next open class in Santa Cruz, "Stress, Well-Being and Spirituality" is March 26, 1:30-3:30 pm at Santa Cruz Yoga, (402 Ingalls) a by-donation fundraiser for the Center for Sustainable Change.


Apology Accepted?

I want to apologize now,
this instant!

For every wrong
I have ever committed,
every last slender feeling
of yours,
I may have hurt
And to apologize for every
betrayal and abuse
ever inflicted by one human being
upon another
from the very dawn of homo sapiens
and into the future ...

Furthermore, I accept!
all the unspoken and still perhaps unseen apologies
perhaps due
to me
I forgive you on my own behalf
You, me and everyone else

Every snide remark
or forgetting to listen, or driving too fast,
Every lie and misunderstanding
Every slight or monumental
against the tender
and unshakable
of Who We Are.

One Thing.

I know that your delicate
and tender heart,
solid, liquid, gas
was born from the Self same
as mine.

That beneath all our
preposterous exteriors
we so simply want
to Love
& be Loved.

As vulnerable,
as new born as the
damp unfolding

How many kisses,
words of truth,
hours of listening,
sweet smiles,
firm "No's"
and shared silences


will it take
to restore you to
your Monarchy?

If I do not touch
you roughly
If I warm you with my breath
You may still fly

We may all still fly and

I believe

it is our


to do so.

And so, I will try,
again and again
to surrender to Love.

I may look
like an ordinary housewife
but every evening
for years and years
this has been my
wish upon a star

So be it.
You are loved.

And in the end, you may find you never needed me at all.

(Oh, but I do need you so!)

Some Observations on Grief

Is there a “way” to grieve? Is our grieving influenced by what we think grieving should be? Are “stages” of grief true or even necessary?

I have been noticing the process of grief within myself since my father died, and actually, the sadness and feelings of loss started even before he died.

This process has not been what I expected, although I’m not sure I was actively expecting anything at all. I guess it’s not been what I expected given the way our society generally portrays grief.

A few days ago, a dear friend called to express condolences and we began a conversation about all of this. He suggested to me that my thoughts might be helpful to others who are dealing with grief. At first I thought, “Oh, it’s too early to put anything up about Dad’s death,” (he passed May 3) but then I realized that it didn’t feel wrong to me to do so … It felt wrong because of what “people might think.”

This ignited in me a sort of rebellious reaction to what I now see as societal thoughts and mores around grief. And so, I have decided to go ahead and post (!)

… My hope is that these reflections might help others who have perhaps come to find their grief unbearable and stifling.

Notes on Grief

Especially, somehow, over these last weeks, I have noticed the deep logic of Thought—of those Principles, Mind, Consciousness and Thought at work—as different flavors of “grief” wash over me.

I am discovering that, at least for me, to “grieve” … to experience the death of someone close, is much more varied than what I imagined. I am not experiencing “stages,” I am experiencing various thoughts, and the feelings that accompany them. My Stepmom, and Dad’s new widow, has been calling these “waves” or “surges.”

For example,

The thought: “I am so grateful to have had such a Father” brings with it its own set of feelings that are sometimes tearful, but also rich, and life affirming. I can well up with gratitude, and feel so very, very lucky.

The thought: “I will never do x, y or z with Dad again” brings the flood of “loss,” and even then, interesting to note, these thoughts are not actually related to the present moment, but to an imagined, or projected future, an imagined scene without Dad in it.

The thought: “I wish I had never done that/said that to him,” and the pain of regret slices through me.

The thoughts: “I am so glad I had a chance to do that/say that to him. To help him [in some way] … to be there for his dying,” bring the feelings of satisfaction, and gratitude again.

The thought: “He is gone now!” Bereavement. Something close to anguish.

The thought: “He will always be with me; he is in my soul, now, even in my very cells” and I feel Whole, I feel the sacred connectedness of life, of two souls who did love one another, and the eternal fruit of such love.

I went walking through the park, alone, late in the evening on the day of my father’s death. The clouds were closing up on lighter areas of the sky, in the west, where the sun had gone down. So there were silvers, grays, blacks, a background luminosity to the sky before the darkness of night. And I started to cry, thinking of Dad. I cried for some time, but it was not a crying I needed to stop, or even be comforted about. The crying was rooted in my love for Dad—I was crying over the beauty of the sky, the beauty of Relationship, the sacred passing of a Soul. It was sadness and joy all mixed together.

Later that night, I got a call from a dear, old friend. She was crying a “hard” kind of crying, it seemed. She told me she was angry about cancer. Several friends or people she knew had died from it. I shared with her that although I had been crying a lot that day, there was a safety in my crying, and that safety came from a kind of rootedness in Love. Like, yes, I could cry and mourn and be bereaved, but when I settled into the underlying current of Love there, I was safe within all of these emotions. I could allow them to come … and also, just as importantly, to go.

I must admit, there are times even now, with the death so recent, when I am not thinking of my father or his death at all!

When I go out in public, or get on the phone, people ask me:

“How are you?”

And they tell me,

“I’m so sorry … “

And these are, of course, common and appropriate comments from well wishers.

However, I can certainly say that there are times when I have been completely fine, good, even. Sometimes, I feel a great joy and freedom that seems related to the freedom of spirit I imagine for Dad now. There is also a new freedom in my life that is directly connected to his passing.

And when someone asks me, “How are you? … I am so sorry,” I remember that I am “supposed” to feel a certain way, as a member of this society (“death” is a bad thing) and so I try to look somber and tell the only truth I can in that moment without seeming to be disrespectful, or an unloving daughter: “Oh well, you know, I am up and down.” True enough.

There were so many aspects of my father’s death that were actually positive and uplifting. I shared this with another dear, old friend who called during my father’s dying, and she said, “Well, we can intellectualize it, or spiritualize it, but it is still difficult.”

I know my friend was simply trying to help me access my “real” feelings—to "let them out," as we say. And in many cases, this may be necessary. But truly, in that moment when she asked, the dying did not feel difficult. I want to honor that truth for me. Death and dying do not have to be difficult. They often are, but they don’t have to be.

Essentially, what I have discovered is that there is no one way to grieve. There are no rules. We get many ideas about death and grieving from society “out there.” The truest Truth for me, however, is always what I experience through direct observation: I have a thought, I have a feeling. I have sad moments, I have grateful moments, I have regretful moments, I have feelings of deep love and peace.

At times, I am overcome with an emotion, a feeling of flatness or sadness, without being able to identify any underlying thought. I accept this as just another current of feeling. I know Thought is there, perhaps subconscious, but I do not need to dig it up and find it. Eventually, this too shall pass.

For my Dad’s wife, in particular, I understand that there is “breaking up of a shared energy field” in the home, in the space (I got this phrase from the book, “The Light of Discovery” by Toni Packer, in her chapter on Grieving). That field must feel broken, a part of it gone, in the entire shared life, and that must feel like a giant vacuum at first. There are habits and activities that were always undertaken with “the Other.” There were perhaps future plans and dreams.

Unlike my Father’s death, which was, I suppose, “expected,” others die suddenly, younger, their deaths fly in the face of all reason, logic and expectation. Perhaps there has been a suicide. I can see how this kind of death would bring up all sorts of intense thoughts and reactions.

At the same time, I am sure that gentle, grateful, hopeful, connected thoughts are still available to survivors … in all cases. There is still the capacity to focus on what was learned and gained from the relationship, what still exists for us, how that person does indeed live forever within us. There is still the capacity to reach for and achieve forgiveness for oneself and for the One who has passed. It is never too late for love.

I read a quote in one book from a family member/survivor, who said, “They are in my DNA!”

Beneath all our thoughts of pain, of the future, of regret, guilt or loneliness, lies the deep, quiet, eternal Love for the Other … the true Relationship that cannot be lost. This Love has no capacity to hurt, it can only heal.

Can we give ourselves permission to go deeply into this Love and begin to understand that we have truly lost nothing?

The great beauty of my Father, Roger Clark Mills (now resting in peace), is that he shared with me the most valuable thing on this great planet earth—-peace of mind.

For the first two weeks after his death, I had a hard time “motivating,” getting anything done. I was tired, I was sad, depressed, whatever. Then, I had a moment in my backyard. The sun was out, the grass had just been cut. Bees were buzzing, and I finally took the time to just sit down in a lawn chair.

Looking out on the scene, my mind became still. It was then that I felt him ... Dad. This was the space he so cherished, and a space we often shared. This was his greatest gift to me, to know what is valuable and real in this mixed up world—-peace of mind.

Within peace of mind, we can feel grateful for anything. Within peace of mind, we come into what all Loved Ones truly want for us after their passing. And somehow, within peace of mind, we share in an energy that includes them still.

With Love,

Your Mystical Mama