Dharma in Parenting

March 29, 2011 § 6 Comments

Since beginning my studies of Buddhism and really taking a look at how I view the world we live in, and how I approach the events that arise in it, I’ve been surprised at times at how what I’m learning about will crop up in my daily life.

I do try to meditate here and there, grab snippets of time for study (reading articles and blogs to learn myself up!) and sangha time. Mostly, though, my life is about being a mom, a wife, and a secondary school teacher.

Brushing my hair with a peanut-butter smeared hair brush and rushing in to work with dried up kids’ toothpaste smeared on my work pants is just daily reality for me; more so than thinking about dhamma and mindfulness, the eightfold path or the four noble truths. That’s hardly the image I see in my mind when I think “Buddhist.” You know, serene, calm, golden aura all around this unflappable person. A BUDDHIST. That Buddhist, is not me. It’s not most of us.

That being said, there are moments in this daily life in which the teachings will just scream out to me, and I’ll find something we talked about during sangha, or something that I read about popping into my head and out of my mouth.

My kids are still pretty young — 7 and almost 5 — so very impressionable and still in the shaping phase of their lives. I hope they pick up a couple of things here and there.

A few days ago, I had what in the teaching world we call a “teachable moment.” It’s that moment, completely unexpected, when you have a golden opportunity to impart some knowledge on someone, and THEY are the ones who are asking for it, and are fully ready to receive. I had such a moment when my son’s heart almost audibly broke when he realized he would NOT be getting an iPod touch any time soon. We had to tell him that an iPod costs about $229 for a brand new one, and that most kids his age don’t get their own. He is, currently, exposed to a couple of his friends who DO have their own — and also have their own TV in their room, their own computers, and who knows WHAT else.

We had to explain to him that on the salaries of two public school teachers, there just really wasn’t any way that we’d afford a $229 present for him … and that it would take him the better part of almost two years on his current allowance to save up for his own iPod.

I’m sure this is a familiar speech for most of us — either because we got the same speech from our parents, or because you’ve given the same speech to your own children, or both.

I found myself saying “If you keep looking at what others have that you don’t, you’ll always be unhappy. You’ll always feel like life isn’t fair. Look at where you are now, and what you DO have, and try to be happy in that. Be happy with where you are NOW, because you’ll only be unhappy if you keep your eyes on where you think you WANT TO BE.”

What’s this? Dukkha? Suffering? Coveting? Attachment and ambition causing suffering?

I think I would have used almost those exact words, honestly, regardless of my having studied the Four Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path, or anything else about Buddhism. The difference, though, is that I now feel that I have a deeper understanding of the message in those words. Rather than repeating in an empty way, something that my parents told me, there is a more fully developed Intent (yes, with the capital “I” because, I mean the Buddhist Intent) behind the words I am using to communicate with my son. I can also back it up by example in how I lead my own life. It’s not just something I say, it’s also what I do. As a teacher, I call that ‘modeling,’ and it is considered the most effective way of communicating a behavioral concept.

I don’t know that he’ll get it, although not being biased AT ALL (haha) I think he will. I don’t necessarily want he or my daughter to be Buddhist — it may not be ‘for them.’ I do, however, want them both to learn to be TRULY happy.

If I’ve learned anything in my studies, it is that happiness comes from where we are NOW, appreciating our reality the way it IS. That’s not just a Buddhist concept anyway. Take the Latin expression ‘carpe diem’ — ‘seize the day.’ While the origin behind that expression is not necessarily the same as the Buddhist ideal of ‘living in the moment,’ it shows an awareness of the importance of the here and now. You hear that platitude “Yesterday is past, tomorrow is a dream, today is a gift, that’s why they call it ‘the present,'” (which makes me want to gag, as an aside), which also demonstrates that awareness of the need to appreciate the moment, the immediate surroundings and where we are NOW.

I’m going to have to thank my children some day for bringing me daily reminders of what is important in everyday life — and for highlighting the teachings for me, even while I’m rinsing out jam from a dress-up princess costume.

Anywhoo, there’s a sink full of dishes with my name all over it — someone please find me the dharma in THAT, ok?

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§ 6 Responses to Dharma in Parenting

  • Earl Rectanus says:

    Now I don’t know too much about that image of serene Buddhist monks, but I thought they were celibate and not householders. Maybe it is closer to the truly evolving enlightenment to be seeking awareness in the chaos of new life, than it is to create ultimate tranquility in the sterile order of a monastery. I bet scriptures of all sorts could weigh in on both sides of that one, but I’m pretty sure I’m right about it;-) You sound very serenely on the path to me.

    • LOL Earl you’re right! I didn’t really think that image through all the way to the idea that the stereotypical image being that of monks, and not of householders. I do definitely think that the new way of things is the idea of seeking awareness “in the chaos of new life,” as you put it. I tend to agree with you about that for sure. After all, isn’t there more involved in achieving awareness while also handling everyday life than there is in achieving it with all ‘distractions’ removed? I’m sure there are some who would hack me to bits with that one, but that’s just my opinion πŸ˜‰ Thanks Earl!

  • Inclusive Action of the Heart says:

    Dear Beginning Dharma
    Thank you for this blog & the wisdom in this post. Applied Buddhism indeed πŸ™‚

    I’m also a parent of two kids, 7 and 4. I also know this scenario of not being able to afford toys… and frankly, I wouldn’t buy an iPhone for a young child as I esteem it to be inappropriate consumption. Mindful consumption (aka the second & fifth precepts) is about not buying into ‘damaging chains of production & consumption’. When I try to explain money & earning & buying power & ethical production to my children… normally I just come across as a ‘mean dad’ & thus loose the ‘teachable moment’. I wouldn’t want to across as all preachy but I probably do. I do however want to stop any entitlement thinking in my kids before it gets to big.

    When my kids were younger, babies almost, they taught me ‘joie de vivre’, the sheer happiness of being alive. Here & now. Then this window begins to shut & the ‘Dad I want this’ and ‘Dad I want that’ takes over. It’s probably right to remind them about being happy for what they’ve got & not to get caught in the trap of comparative poverty. What some buddhists call ‘Bougeois Suffering’. Of wanting things one hasn’t got but sees in advertising & ‘how the other half lives’. I am at peace because I have made that choice for myself. However I need to remind myself that my children have not made that choice for themselves. For time being, they think Father Christmas makes all the decisions.

    Time is the greatest gift we parents give our children, though I didn’t realise this as a child. Not until I became a parent myself. Now I do, this gives rise to real thanks to my own parents.

    FYI – Thich Nhat Hahn has a whole load of dharma talks about dish washing. Enjoy those dishes.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I agree, I don’t find much value in letting a child that young have an iPod touch/iPhone or any such thing. I do let them play with mine and use the apps that are appropriate for them (I’ve downloaded some learning activities and age-appropriate games). Other than that, there is just too much that can go wrong in letting a child use these devices while unattended. There are many other things that children need to acquire first — imagination, socialization, creative/free thinking — all of which kids acquire best while ‘unplugged,’ as my husband puts it.

      I agree about coming off as ‘preachy’ when talking to them about these lessons — there is that risk. That being said, I find that my kids come away from those with at least a bit of information they carry with them. They parrot it back in play or conversation, so I know it’s in there somewhere πŸ™‚ It also takes YEARS for them to fully develop a real understanding of what we’re teaching them, regardless of the ‘lesson.’ They are learned by having them reinforced and supported by other everyday events, like little comments you make when they say “I want that!” when they see an advertisement on TV or a toy in the store (mine tends to be “Oh, but you have something like that already. Do you play with it any more?” — the answer tends to be ‘no,’ and the topic is dropped LOL). Hopefully, they WILL get our message by the time they are old enough to make a decision about where they seek their happiness!

      THANK YOU for the recommendation of Thich Nhat Hahn. You can be sure that I’ll be hunting down his material! I’ll admit to finding a guilty pleasure in the smell of the dish soap as it first bubbles up while I’m filling the sink πŸ˜‰

  • star says:

    I like your comment on a comment, that kids take time to get “a real understanding of what we’re teaching them… They are learned by having them reinforced and supported by other everyday events…” I like it because your original post started from a position of you doing the very same thing.

    Deeper into the reasons that iPod Touch will not satisfy (as seen through my current understanding of what Dependent Arising is saying) is because we are seeing it as necessary to who we are. Whether it’s because we think it will give us pleasure, or increase our status in the eyes of others (or for some whole host of complicated reasons) we define that little gadget as enhancing our existence, somehow, and that causes the longing for it when we don’t yet have it, and the grief over it when we lose it. When we define things primarily in terms of what they will do for us, it leads to trouble.

    The question I have about parenting and Buddhism is this: Does Buddhism honestly show us some truths about human nature and the way our default way of being causes harm to us and others? Or is it a religious “belief”? If the latter then I can understand your statement that you “don’t necessarily want he or [your] daughter to be Buddhist” but if it’s the former, why would you not want to pass on the skills and the insights that make getting through this life so much smoother? (I ask this question not as judgment on your statement, but because it’s a question I ask myself, all the time, as a parent myself.)

    • Star, I’ve been thinking a lot about your question! I can honestly say I don’t have a real answer. I guess my feeling is, while as a parent I take very seriously my role and responsibility in shaping how my kids view the world, I also try to be careful that it doesn’t become ‘mind control.’ By that I mean, I don’t want them to BE BUDDHIST in the sense that, I don’t want to insist that they HAVE to see things the way I do. While I point out to my kids the events in the world from my perspective — from the point of view of the dharma — if they happen wander in another direction because they see something shiny there, I want them to be at liberty to investigate it. I can only hope that because of my prompting, that they will turn away from the ‘shiny’ (i.e. ‘Heaven,’ etc.) and go to the more ‘practical,’ (i.e. Mindfulness).

      What that indicates as to the nature of Buddhism as a religion, or not a religion, I don’t know if I have the answer to that. Let me change that, I KNOW I don’t have the answer to that. I’ll keep that ‘pebble’ in my thoughts. It’s like a worry stone, I’ve been coming back to that question and turning it over in my mind since you asked it. Love it!

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