Parenting as a Spiritual Practice
Parenting is a labor of love. It’s a path of service and surrender, and like the practice of a Buddha or a bodhisattva, it demands patience and understanding and tremendous sacrifice. It is also a way to reconnect with the mystery of life and to reconnect with ourselves.
What instructions might the Buddha give on using parenting as a spiritual practice? Read these wise ideas here:
1. Mindfulness. Be as mindful of our children’s bodies as we are of our own. Be aware as they walk and eat and go to the bathroom. Then, instead of sitting up all night in meditation, sit up all night when our children are sick. Know when they’re afraid and when it’s time to hold them or comfort them with lovingkindness and compassion. Learn awareness and patience and surrender. Be aware of our own reactions and grasping. Learn to let go over and over and over again as our children change. Give generously to the garden of the next generation, for this giving and awareness are the path of awakening.
2. Attentive listening. We have to listen and pay attention to the rhythms of life. We can learn to sense how deeply children want to grow. Just as we learn in meditation to let go and trust, we can learn to develop a trust in our children so they can trust themselves.
3. Respect. A story: A family settled down for dinner at a restaurant. The waitress took the orders of the adults, then turned to the seven-year-old. “What will you have?” she asked. The boy looked around the table timidly and said, “I would like to have a hot dog.” “No,” the mother interrupted, “no hot dog. Get him meat loaf with mashed potatoes and carrots.” “Do you want ketchup or mustard on your hot dog?” the waitress asked the boy. “Ketchup,” he said. “Coming up,” she said as she started for the kitchen. There was a stunned silence at the table. Finally, the boy looked at his family and said, “You know what? She thinks I’m real.” All beings bloom when treated with respect.
4. Integrity. Children learn by example, by who we are and what we do. They watch us, what we communicate by the way we drive, the way we talk about others, and how we treat people on the street. This is how children learn. We teach them by our being. If we are to offer respect and integrity to our children, we have to slow down, we have to make time for our children.
5. Lovingkindness. The central image in the Buddha’s teaching of loving-kindness is a mother holding and protecting her beloved child. Many of us try to control our kids with discipline, by shaming them, by hitting them, by blaming them. But when we come to sit in meditation, we see how much pain we carry from the blame in ourselves. We find so much judgment and shame and scolding whenever we try to sit quietly. How hard we are on ourselves. We were not born being hard on ourselves, we learned it from parents and school. We all long to feel loving and to feel loved. To feel that the child in each one of us is honored and respected.
Parenting gives us the chance to astonish ourselves with love.
Adapted from an essay by Jack Kornfield in Voices of Insight, edited by Sharon Salzberg (Shambhala, 1999). Copyright (c) 1999 by Sharon Salzberg. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala.
Adapted from an essay by Jack Kornfield in Voices of Insight, edited by Sharon Salzberg (Shambhala, 1999).