After a small hiatus, our virtual book club is back and today we’re discussing my favorite chapters yet of Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children – Becoming a Mindful Parent. Examining who our children are (as well as who they’re not) and exploring the question of “Is this All”? Both topics drove home for me the importance of letting our children become their own person and defining ourselves outside of our roles as mothers. Additionally, the question of “Is this all?” is especially salient on this 11th anniversary of September 11th.
Chapter 4 – Who Is Your Child?
Have you ever read something and felt like it was written especially for you? That’s how I was feeling when I read Napthali’s warnings on the danger of labeling our children in this chapter. The funny thing is this was something I totally thought I already had down. With my first child, C, I was always very sensitive to labels – probably because he was quieter when he was very small and I was vigilant against anyone labeling him as shy. I felt that I had been given that label as a child and it eventually became a self-fulfulling prophecy that took me years to overcome.
It was a different story, however, with my two year old daughter. Bent on keeping up with her big brother, she always seems to be running, climbing, and jumping into the action. When friends and family members talk about her as being “a go-getter”, “tough”, or even “fiesty” I never reacted to the labels like I would with C. In fact, I often swelled a bit with pride at the thought that my daughter was born with a self-confidence I didn’t have at her age.
It wasn’t until we enrolled in two weeks of swim lessons last month, at exactly the same time I was reading this chapter, that I started to recognize the potential danger in my attitude. The lessons at our local pool were the kind where mom or dad sits on the sidelines while the kids interact on their own with the teachers in the pool. We had intentionally waited a little longer to enroll C in this type of class because we wanted to make sure he was ready – what we didn’t want was a bad first experience. The perfect age to start was actually something I thought about a lot and when he confidently jumped into the instructors arms on the first day I gave myself a mental pat on the back for knowing him well enough to hold off on classes last year, even when most of his friends were taking them.
Unfortunately, I can’t say my daughter S had the same success. Without putting much thought into it, I signed her up right along with her brother – assuming that my outgoing girl would love every minute of it. She didn’t. She loved sitting in the water on the steps alongside her big brother but when it was her turn to venture out into the pool with the instructor, she froze up – and cried. Even then, I let the teacher carry her around the pool for a few minutes to see if she’d warm up. After two days it was clear she just wasn’t ready.
That’s when I woke up. I realized it’s unreasonable to expect my little girl to take everything in stride all the time. Labeling her as “tough” at two years old isn’t doing her any favors. Against the instructor’s advice, I decided she could sit on the steps – kicking her legs and playing with her brother all she wanted – but would not be made to do anything else unless she chose to.
Of course, there was a lot more to this chapter then just the perils of labeling your children. Something else that I really loved was the discussion on how rewarding it can be to play a role in the lives of children other than your own, as a way to practice Buddhist equanimity. The thought of how much it would mean to me to know there are other adults that truly care for my child, really has me looking at my friends’ kids differently.
I think it’s natural for us to measure other children in our lives by what they can contribute to our own kids- will they be good playmates for our children?, will they model positive behaviors?, etc. Letting go of some of that and looking for the specialness in the children we spend our days with has really made a difference for me. I find myself worrying less about finding perfect playmates and enjoying our time with other families more.
Chapter 5 – Is This All?
Although I’m not a buddhist, this chapter once again had me trying to figure out a way to incorporate meditation into my life. I’m so taken with the author’s description of it as a time to practice avoiding judging the moment or expecting anything of it. The idea of trying to regularly accomplish this so that “we might gradually bring this mind state into our daily lives” is so appealing to me.
I also felt Napthali did an excellent job of bringing perspective into this chapter. She writes that as tough as the daily grind might be – we can all feel grateful that we had the opportunity to mother when so many do not. In fact, she cites findings by the Australian Institute of Family Studies that as many as 28 percent of Australian women will never have children and only a quarter of those would choose it to be that way. Those numbers totally floored me! I also appreciated that she emphasized the importance of feeling gratitude, not guilt, for what you have and using that gratitude to look for ways to give back.
The rest of the chapter is a detailed discussion on the Buddha’s recommendations for achieving happiness, what he called “the eightfold path”. There is far too much information for me to cover here but I appreciated how this section, like the rest of the book, contains a great deal of tangible information. I did a lot of highlighting with the ambition of returning and rereading it often.
Now it’s your turn. What did you all think of these chapters? Was there anything that particularly resonated with you? (There was a lot I didn’t get to above.) Please share with us in the comments below.
And if you’d like to join in our book club, you still have plenty of time. I’m still working on figuring out the right time period between discussions so for this next round you have three weeks to buy the book before we discuss chapters 6 & 7 on October 2nd. You can also check out our discussions of previous chapters here.