Tuesday, April 24, 2012

thoughts on parenting

I wrote this yesterday on a Buddhist bulletin board where a young mother was suffering with the overwhelming nature of having a baby boy she adored. I kind of liked it, so I think I'll save it here:

First of all, welcome. I hope you find something useful here.

When my daughter -- first of three kids -- was born, I was panic-stricken: How the hell was I supposed to do things 'right?!' I didn't know, but I knew I wanted to do the absolute best for her ... and didn't have a clue. At the time, my sister with two kids of her own reassured me a little. "Adam," she said in a mock psycho-babble tone of voice, "you can read every book that was ever written about child-rearing or you don't have to read any of them. Either way, you won't know shit."

Her advice, after quite a lot of experience, was right on target. Every moment is new. And the required attention is exhausting. Not only is there the birth itself, but there is a terrible corner that has been turned ... suddenly, the subtle or gross self-centeredness with which I had been living was shattered. Guess what -- I wasn't the center of the universe! I'm only half joking about this. It's a pretty severe change. Since most of us survived our parents' ineptness, it's a good guess that you and your boy will too.

For my money, trying to divert yourself from current circumstances is not the best route. Sure, get out to a movie or dinner if you can, but don't take on some zippy new project. Buddhism means coping with what is in front of our noses right...now. It does not mean stuffing our mind's mouth with a lot of 'Buddhist' cotton candy.

First: The first rule of parenting is this: All parents will fail. Not "some," not "maybe" -- all parents will fail. And since this is true, it's time to slow down and take it easy on yourself.

Second: Find small escape routes. Get someone to watch the baby and jump in a warm bubble bath. Wine, tea and aromatic candles are optional. For 20 minutes ... bliss out.

Third: Go outside. This is one of the simplest and most effective tools I know for bringing the blues into perspective. No, it doesn't get rid of them ... but a wide sky can help to mitigate things.

Fourth: The baby will win. You will not win. Get used to it. Just because the baby will win does not mean you have lost. It just means the baby has won. My brother-in-law once told me that when his son was a baby, he was determined to get up every time the baby cried in the night. My brother-in-law was a Type A, I-can-do-everything-and-more kind of guy. But he had a full-time job, so getting up each time the baby cried was a challenge. He did it for about a week until one night, in the middle of the night, he heard the baby cry, got out of bed ... and passed out. The baby had won.

Fifth: The best thing you can do for your baby is to take care of yourself. This is harder than it sounds. Do it anyway. You have to see what you need and then find ways to fulfill those needs irrespective of the I've-got-to-be-perfect chattering mind. If Ben&Jerry's is what you need, do Ben&Jerry's. If A, B, C, D, E ... is what you need, then seek those things out in your heart and nourish them as best you may. Not perfectly of course (see rule number 4) but as best you may.

Sixth: When it comes to Buddhism, all I can tell you is what my Zen Buddhist teacher told me after my daughter was born. He was a Japanese man, the abbot of a monastery, and was given (like a lot of Japanese people) to an immodest use of understatement. After my daughter was born he told me TWICE (which is the equivalent of a Marine Corps drill instructor screaming in your ear), "Take care of your family." Never mind the scriptures and the imagined realms of something called "enlightenment" ... just take care of your family. My teacher had no children, but he too knew ... the baby will win. And further, Buddhism has to do with the here and now, not some hymn-singing 'there' or 'then.' If you want to make a little meditation or reading part of your escape-route agenda, fine. But remember, the baby will win. Why? Because the baby is now and Buddhism concerns itself from muzzle to butt plate with what is now.

Just slow down and take good care of yourself. This IS Buddhism.


No comments:

Post a Comment