Celebrating Small Moments
Parenting in the twenty-first century is a challenge. We can no longer rely on the certainty of tradition, and our sense of family and our roles as mothers and fathers, men and women, are not prescribed as they once were. So how do we do this parenting thing? Do we try to do it the way our mothers and fathers did it? Do we try to avoid raising our children the way our parents raised us? Do we do it according to the books? According to the way we see the family depicted on television? Do we turn to our friends as models? From my own experiences as the mother of just one beautiful daughter, I think that we do it the best we can, and that we draw on all the influences in our lives, some consciously, some unconsciously, as we make this very consuming, precious, irritating, and rewarding journey! In my own life, a connection with the Buddhist teachings and the practice of meditation has been extremely helpful in finding my way as a parent. It has helped me to realize, for one thing, that parenting is a practice. It is something one is constantly practicing and learning from.
One influence on how we parent—what kind of a journey we make day to day as parents—is related to goals we set for our children and to our view of our children, their childhood, and their future. For example, if you believe that it is your role to mold your children’s character in a particular way or to protect them from certain potential dangers, that will influence how you relate to them on a daily basis. If you want your children to grow up to be a doctor or a teacher, if you want your children to have strong moral values, if you want your children to go to church or learn to swim, if you want to help your children overcome a particular problem, all of those goals will affect how you behave as a parent and many practical decisions you make along the way. Buddhism views life more as a question than an answer, and therefore views the future of children more as a question mark than a hard and fast goal.
In that way, the Buddhist approach to parenting is one of discovery, which I think is another way of saying that it is a practice. Rather than fitting experiences with our children into a predefined view or set of goals, we could allow experiences to surprise us and allow ourselves to be surprised about who our children actually are. If you acknowledge uncertainty and change as healthy parts of life, then you are also constantly challenged to give up preconceptions about what parenting and having a family are all about. The anxiety about molding your children into successful adults or making them fit in could be replaced by open space—not necessarily complete relaxation but at least the space to appreciate your children and to allow them to appreciate themselves and to experience their lives as something more than just a path to being grown-up. If children can learn to be before learning to be something, that is powerful training for all of life, and that is the best practice of all.
As an adult, you reach a certain point in your life where you realize that the big plans and dreams you made will not all be fulfilled. You will not be the queen or king of the universe, attain an unsurpassable brilliant enlightenment that will dazzle others, acquire unimaginable wealth, or get whatever it is you want out of life. Even if you attain such goals, you’ll still feel empty. You just have a life to live, and you’ve lived most of it already! At this point, in a more poignant way, you begin to feel that the smallest moments in life, the stuff of ordinary existence, are very precious. In a way, that’s all there is. The rest of it is just conjecture. As a parent, you are constantly having your face rubbed in the reality of the present moment. It’s a great discipline and it’s a gift. Let us celebrate those small moments and aspire to share those gifts with our children and all sentient beings.
Excerpted from: “The Sacred Chaos of Parenthood,” in Finding Your Inner Mama: Women Reflect on the Challenges and Rewards of Motherhood. Edited by Eden Steinberg. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala Publications. Order the book online by clicking here.