Parenting As Practice

Parenting is a labor love. It’s a path of service and surrender and, like the practice of a Buddha or 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. Young children have that sense of mystery.

Children give us the opportunity to awaken, to look at ourselves, our lives, and the mystery around us with beginner’s mind. Suppose we look at child rearing in the spirit of the Buddha’s discourses on mindfulness. In the text, we are instructed to pay attention to breathing in and out; to be aware when standing up, bending, stretching, or moving forward or backward; to be aware when eating or sitting or going to the bathroom; to be aware when the mind is contracted, fearful, or agitated; and to be aware as we learn to let go, when the mind is balanced and filled with equanimity and understanding and peace. To further develop our awareness, the Buddha recommends sitting in meditation, practicing by staying up all night and contemplating the sickness of the body or aging, developing a loving empathy for the suffering of all beings, and bringing wisdom and compassion to them.

Suppose the Buddha gave similarly detailed instructions for using parenting as practice. It would be a nearly identical teaching. We would be instructed to be as mindful of our children’s bodies as we are of our own. To be aware as they walk and eat and go to the bathroom. Then, instead of sitting up all night in meditation, we can sit up mindfully all night when our children are sick. We can be mindful when they’re afraid and when it’s time to hold them or comfort them with loving-kindness and compassion. We can practice patience and surrender. We can become aware of our own reactions and grasping. We can learn to let go over and over again as our children age. This is giving generously to the garden of the next generation, for giving and awareness is the path of awakening.

Parenting gives us the chance to astonish ourselves with love. We’ve all heard stories of mothers and fathers doing superhuman deeds to rescue their children. Children can bring out this kind of love in us. They teach us that what really matters in life is love itself. As Mother Teresa said, “We cannot do great things in this life, we can only do small things with great love.” It is through our parenting of our own children and the children around us, it is in supporting other parents and supporting our schools, that we can reclaim or restore this love. The Buddha taught us that the only way we can begin to repay our own parents and all the generations before us is by bringing the dharma — which means respect, integrity, awareness, truth, and loving-kindness — to our parents, to our children, to all of life.

This excerpt is taken from the book, “Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are

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