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Buddhist Parenting

by Karunagita

... a bit more tolerant, a bit kinder every so often, with people
that irritate.

Linked to love very closely, one of the things that Buddhism teaches us is that we cause our
own unhappiness so much of the time by trying to hold onto, and hold fixed, things that
aren't fixed; things that we can't own. We can't own anyone, we can't own anything, we can't
hold onto them, we can't expect them to be ours or to stay the same for ever. You can't hold
anything fixed as it flows past. And that's what we try and do so much if we love somebody
— you know — it's a natural, human, conditioned tendency, to want to hold on.

But actually everybody changes, all the time, and I think again one of the great gifts of being a
parent is that we live that reality so much of the time — because you see your children
change before your eyes! They change and grow — maybe not from day to day — but if I
haven't seen my children for a week or two weeks, which I quite regularly don't because I'm
separate from their father, then they seem to change just in that time.

So we are living that reality that we love them hugely and unconditionally and yet we can't
hold them fixed; we can't hold onto them.

It's like loving with an open hand. From the moment they can walk, they're walking off down
this field away from us to things that are more interesting, or whatever; they're constantly
moving away, almost from the time that they have motion.

So it's a constant sense of loving and letting go.

I want to read out a bit that I've put in the book about this 'letting go' because I think it is
something that is very, very important. It's just a reflection I had when cleaning out the toy
cupboard... which is probably something that those of you who are parents will do every so


‘Periodically, Ella and I tackle the toy cupboard. We make piles of what she and her brother
have grown out of and take them to the local charity shop, relegate them to the bin, or pass
them on to other people. It's a process we enjoy together — harmonious teamwork, spiced
with nostalgia, and rolled with a satisfactory outcome: a clear space, a job well done, and
some forgotten games rescued from the depths to happily occupy the following hours.

And one morning I did this alone — Ella wasn't there, and the Buddhist Centre needed a lot of

So without Ella there, I found myself lingering over these toys, wanting to keep them just a bit
longer in case one or both of my children were to again experience joy in building a brightly
coloured house and garden of Duplo blocks.

Remembering my delight at witnessing that co-operative and creative play, my satisfaction that
all was as it should be, it was easier to drop a couple of macho robots into the bag (the
contrast highlighting to me my own expectations of how children SHOULD play). I left the
pirates and their ship, in the unlikely event that Jay would want them once more in the
imaginary games he still plays in the bath (Or was it me that was not ready to let them go?).’

...So, more than anything, that sort of periodic process epitomises for me this thing of 'letting
go'. At each stage of my children's life, it's like with each clear-out of the toy cupboard you
are having to let go of different phases. Somehow the baby toys are easier to let go of, but at
the stage my children are at now — which is ten and twelve — it's like soon there won't be a
toy cupboard to clear at all! And it contains games that challenge me, rather than train-sets
and Lego.

So, what I wrote here was:

‘In my heart I feel a mixture of sadness, excitement, delight and pride as I watch them grow
into themselves, but it is the sadness that is most present as I decide that I will, after all, take
the big box of Duplo blocks to the Buddhist Centre.’

So that is one of the great areas of opportunity for us as parents: this mixture of
unconditional love — that we can feel an insight into our capacity to feel love — combined
with this need to keep letting go, and do it with our hands open.

And there is something very powerful about just living that reality, day in, day out.

Growing In Awareness

The second area of the three areas I want to pick out and talk about today is about
'awareness', because awareness is fundamental, certainly within Buddhism but also within
spiritual life, within spiritual development — including awareness of ourselves, both in terms
of how we are in the moment, and also knowing ourselves — what makes us tick; what
presses our buttons; what makes us react.

This is an area that I find really exciting because there is something so powerful in just
knowing about what presses our buttons. It gives us a bit more space; it gives us a bit more
choice — you know — that moment when you can think, 'ah — yes, I know, this is
something I react to.' It just gives us that little gap to be able to choose to react slightly
differently, at least at times.

I think that this, again, is another great gift of children. I mean, children are the perfect
mirror... you know... I stopped swearing the moment my children started talking!...
[LAUGHTER] ...that's the most simple level. Whatever we say comes back again; what we
do comes back again.

And it's not only swearing... I mean, Ella went through a lovely stage recently where she
would kiss me on the forehead, which is something I very much associated with a 'parent-to-
child' sort of thing — but it was just something I did to her, so she would do it to me. And
greet me with, 'Good morning, gorgeous!' — which obviously, again, I did to her...

So there is that very immediate level of a mirror, that is happening all the time. But also there
is a deeper level, of just being able to know our own buttons... And I think again that is
another area where having children is very powerful.

Throughout writing this book I have been thinking: am I writing 'Growing as a Parent — What
Buddhism Has To Offer' or am I writing, 'Growing as a Buddhist — What Parenting Has To
Offer'? — and I think it's obviously a bit of both.

And I think this is an area very much in which parenting has something to offer, in terms of
our own growth, because we are pushed to react in a much broader spectrum of emotions than
we might be otherwise. You know: I can go out in the world in all sorts of ways, and I'm —
you know — I'm mature, I'm calm, I'm reasonable! But actually, there are moments with my
children where I'm not! And I have been pushed to react both in terms of real delight, joy,
pride, excitement, but also at the other end of the spectrum, in absolute rage.

One of the things particularly, when my son was small, was tantrums and wilful destruction.
You know — he would have a tantrum and he'd be throwing things, to actually destroy them.
And every time, I reacted, and I would be absolutely furious with him; and it always got
much much worse.

And then I remember there was one moment during it, when he did this, and it was one of
those moments where you have awareness — you know — awareness came in as if from the
outside and said: 'This is the sort of thing you react to... and you know what's going to
happen when you react!'

And there was something about that awareness that just gave me that moment of space, to be
able to stop and think, 'Yeah!' — you know — and just say, 'Ok... when you've finished... I
am going to go away now and shut the door, and when you've finished I am going to make
you pick up everything,' — and just go away and shut the door.

There was something in this awareness. Actually, I found my main experience was
humiliation. I could then see this four-year-old or three-year-old being who was wilfully doing
this — he was making me do it. When he knew that button worked, he was pressing that
button to get a reaction. And that was quite a humiliating thought — you know — but it was
that awareness that helped me then shift how I reacted to that... and he gave up quite quickly
— he's a very bright child! As soon as I stopped reacting, he gave it up too.

So there is this thing where — you know — it's awareness of our own tendencies: 'I know I
do that'. And also awareness of — you know — what do we draw on when we're parents?
Without awareness, the tendency is either you just repeat what your parents did, or you do
the complete opposite because you didn't like it. So again, there is awareness that needs to
come in, in terms of being able to do something, to find our own path with that.

I also think there is something extremely galvanising about this idea that children do copy us;
they do learn by imitating us. I have found that very galvanising, that reality, in terms of at
one point having this image of myself huddled over a computer, working too hard, feeling
stressed, reacting because of that [stress] — and thinking: 'Is this ...

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