Name: Anna Peterson Macsalka
Occupation: Founder of Zenimal - a screen-free meditation device that teaches mindfulness through 9 guided audio meditations which can be used at home, in school, or on the go.
What brings you joy as a parent?
The thing that really fills my parenting cup is seeing my kids act with kindness and empathy—especially when they don’t think I’m watching. Knowing that they will spread compassion into the world as they continue to grow brings me endless joy.
What are some of your challenges as a parent?
One of my biggest challenges right now is walking that fine line between sheltering them from anything potentially frightening or “negative” versus showing them every facet to the human experience which can be pretty uncomfortable at times. I have a strong impulse to want them to only feel joy and love, but ultimately that is doing them a disservice.
What inspired you to create Zenimal?
I suffered from severe anxiety as a kid until I learned how to meditate when I was 8 years old. It changed my life forever. After I had my first baby, I knew I wanted to give her this gift as well as giving her autonomy over her own wellness. I did a lot of research and realized that anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping are not uncommon issues for kids. So I jumped into developing a screen-free tool to offer this to everyone.
Why do you think it's important for families to implement mindfulness?
Now more than ever, we are living in this hyper “connected” world, but the connection is not the kind our brains are wired for. We are so overstimulated and over informed that the default mode network in our brains lives in a constant state of overdrive which diminishes our ability to make human-to-human connections in the present moment. There is science-based research that says screen addiction is real. Each time we engage with a screen we are fed small doses of dopamine which our brains ultimately want more and more of each time.
A family based mindfulness practice can quiet the inner chatter and constant need numb out the present moment with our devices. This allows us to see and hear our loved ones clearly. Humans are wired to maintain these physical connections for survival so it feels good when we can ground ourselves as a group. It allows us to feel safe and secure. What are some ways parents can implement mindfulness with their family?
My two favorite ways to develop mindful connections are 1) having meals together—devices powered off—and 2) being outside in nature together—again, devices off. Even going for a walk as a family around the block without screens can boost the feeling of togetherness. Before we dig into dinner, we always go around and each person says one thing they are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be profound, my 4 year old son’s favorite thankful thing is usually a construction vehicle or something else with wheels. But, hey, it’s still growing his ability to feel grateful and thus, helping to develop a keen sense of joy.
When did you start your own mindfulness practice?
I started my mindfulness practice when I was 8 years old. I have always turned to it to help me through challenging times in my life.
What is the best advice you received or lessons learned as a parent?
The best thing I’ve learned was from my dad. No matter what time of day it was, what was going on, or what feelings were being felt, he always, always reminded us “don’t forget you’re a good kid”. It wasn’t the kind of “good” that counterbalances “bad”, but the kind of good that let’s you know you are always enough. No matter what you do or say or think, you are a good kid. I was 36 years old when he passed away suddenly and it was the last thing he said to me. Even though we were “adults,” he never stopped reminding us. This is why I chose to end each meditation on the Zenimal Kids with “don’t forget you’re a good kid” because we can never tell our kids enough that they are glorious just the way they are.
How do you practice self care?
I make it a point to get up early each day to get at a cardio workout of some sort in, stretch, journal, and meditate. I run Zenimal by myself and I’m a mom so it’s imperative that I’m living fully in the moment and this daily practice allows me to do this. I used to feel guilty about it, but now I realize the stress and worry is unbearable if I skip it.
I also try to be hyper aware of when I want to numb out something I’m experiencing. I try to pay attention to mindless eating, frivolous screen-time, or pulling away from my family which are all my go-to’s when I’m uncomfortable with what I’m feeling. It’s tough, but just being aware has helped me learn to embrace and love the struggles, not push them away.
How do you make time for your relationship with your partner?
This is a tough one! My partner and I have been together for 20 years and we both love being parents, so we often forget that it’s necessary to have time away from the kids. We are still mostly isolating ourselves because of the pandemic which makes it challenging to “get away”. But our kids still go to bed early, so we try to make the most of our nights. Even if it’s while folding laundry we try to check in with each other daily.
Are your parenting styles different from your partner's? How do you manage parenting with your partner?
We’re lucky and mostly see eye to eye on parenting matters. Of course, we have different thresholds for silly things like potty-talk and staying up past bedtime but in general we have the same goal in mind: to make them kind, empathetic, and mindful humans. We try to always communicate that we are all on the same team and to listen more than we speak.
How do you spend quality time with your children?
We try to get out at least once a week for a long hike and anytime we are with the kids our phones are out of reach. While this isn’t always possible, we do our best. This allows us to make the most of even the smallest activity together.
What parenting tools work for you and your family?
Again, just listening is always a go-to. I have an impulse to find immediate remedies to challenging feelings and moments, but I’m learning to just sit and listen and not try to constantly problem solve. While you can’t always directly empathize with what someone is feeling, you can validate the feeling and listen to them talk about it. Trying to reduce the need to “armor-up” and push the struggles away continues to be an internal battle for me.
Favorite parenting books or resources?
I love all of Janet Lansbury’s books and her podcast is fantastic. There also are so many wonderful kids books out there now. We have all of the Little Spot books (A Little Spot of Anger, A Little Spot of Love, etc.), several A Kids Book About books (our favorites are Feminism, Racism, and Shame), and my personal favorite kids book is The Rabbit Who Listened.
What do you wish for your children?
I wish so many things for them, but above all I wish for them to find empathy, love, and kindness in each moment and for them to discover their purpose through these actions.