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Thread: Parenting resources from Buddhist perspective

  1. #1

    Parenting resources from Buddhist perspective

    Hi, folks. Thanks to all for your kind welcome.

    I am the doting parent of a five-year-old son. Sometimes I've wondered if there are good "Buddhist books" specifically on parenting (or should I run in the opposite direction?!). Also, lately my son has started asking what meditation is and how it's done. He sometimes comes into the room when I'm meditating and imitates my body position. At such a tender age, I'm not sure the best way to answer, both in an age-appropriate manner and in such a way that leaves room for him to find his OWN answers, as his questions continue to develop. Much as I value my practice of Buddhism, I don't wish to turn him into a little Buddhist!

    Thoughts anyone?

    Gassho,
    PCD

  2. #2
    Welcome to Treeleaf . . . I've got three kids of my own (a 5 y.o., and 3 y.o. twins).

    Much as I value my practice of Buddhism, I don't wish to turn him into a little Buddhist!
    Why not? First, it sounds like he is initiating interest, not you pushing him into it. Second, where is the harm? My kids see me sitting, and they often will imitate it for a bit then move on to something else. Third, if he is asking you questions, you should answer as honestly as you can in a way he can understand. You know him . . . so you would be the best to determine what he could understand and what he couldn't, not a book. I have skimmed through a couple of books that, in my opinion, were not very helpful, so unless there is a great book out there that I'm not aware of, I say trust your skills. I imagine that your concern is about forcing him to believe something before he can rationalize it for himself, but, as parents, we do it in every other aspect of their upbringing. We shape their worldview daily in ways we can't imagine. So a little curiosity about an action as simple as zazen seems to me to very normal and deserves an honest answer. Tell him what you believe and do instead of telling him what he should believe and do would be my advice.

    Gassho,
    Bill

  3. #3
    I imagine that your concern is about forcing him to believe something before he can rationalize it for himself, but, as parents, we do it in every other aspect of their upbringing. We shape their worldview daily in ways we can't imagine. So a little curiosity about an action as simple as zazen seems to me to very normal and deserves an honest answer. Tell him what you believe and do instead of telling him what he should believe and do would be my advice.
    Bill,

    Well, you hit the nail on the head regarding my "concern about forcing him to believe before he can rationalize it for himself." What I hear under your sound advice is just to relax about these questions of my son and regard them as "nothing special"--they are on a par, you might say, with his questions about how to build a marble run or where the bathwater goes once it's down the drain....Perhaps he's teaching me, though, that my anxiety about his questions springs from my still having a sore spot regarding my own strict religious upbringing. Funny how the appearance of that wound keeps changing/moving.

    On a brighter note, how lovely is the work of parenting. As a parent of three (including twins), you're deeply awash in it. Deep bows!

    Thank you, Bill.

    Gassho
    PCD

  4. #4
    Much as I value my practice of Buddhism, I don't wish to turn him into a little Buddhist!

    I sort of see it the exact reverse... wouldn't I be remiss in NOT raising my kids according to my beliefs while I have them? It informs every aspect of their father. Wouldn't I be wrong to just let them drift without spiritual guidance and conceptual structure until they reach an age that I don't believe exists to begin with?
    When they get older, fine. they can stay with it, or find their own path. For my kids in my household, this is how our family works. I sort of feel it's supposed to be that way.

  5. #5
    I sort of see it the exact reverse... wouldn't I be remiss in NOT raising my kids according to my beliefs while I have them? It informs every aspect of their father. Wouldn't I be wrong to just let them drift without spiritual guidance and conceptual structure until they reach an age that I don't believe exists to begin with?
    When they get older, fine. they can stay with it, or find their own path. For my kids in my household, this is how our family works. I sort of feel it's supposed to be that way.
    KvonNJ,

    Thanks for your ideas about this.

    I offer this response humbly, not meaning to suggest that what my goals are as a parent should be yours or those of anybody else. But my primary hope (and my husband's) as a parent, beyond just offering our child the most loving and compassionate environment as possible in which to make his start in the world, is to pass along to him, through our behavior, our values. Beliefs, to me, are secondary. I realize that beliefs and values are not easily separable, but they are distinct. A person may well hold beliefs with which I agree, yet be a rather poor example of human being. The converse also happens, where I nearly completely disagree with someone's beliefs but that person is so compassionate, generous, and such that I am proud to be their friend.

    I'm more interested in trying to cultivate in our son such core values as generosity, compassion, lovingkindness, and so on, than I am particular beliefs. At such age as he starts to explore the realm of belief (and in some ways he already is), I will try to share the sense of the world that I have, but I also want to expose him to other ideas, and encourage him to keep asking his own questions, seeking his own answers. And perhaps, if I'm lucky, he will come to value radical openness: that no answer is ever final or complete, that abiding in the not-knowing is liberation, that compassion flows from the freedom. These things I know not because I have learned to believe them but because I have experienced them....

    Any of this make sense? It's hard to explain. It goes deep.

    Oh, and let me mention that my husband is not a Buddhist. He and I share few particular beliefs about religious or spiritual matters. But our values are nearly identical, and our commitment to pass them along to our son, shared. They are our common humanity.

    I've probably said more than I need to. Sorry if I sounded pompous or bored you silly.

    Anyway, back to parenting--my son wants to dance to some Cajun Zydeco music!

    Gassho,
    PCD

  6. #6
    Any of this make sense? It's hard to explain. It goes deep.

    Oh, and let me mention that my husband is not a Buddhist. He and I share few particular beliefs about religious or spiritual matters. But our values are nearly identical, and our commitment to pass them along to our son, shared. They are our common humanity.

    I've probably said more than I need to. Sorry if I sounded pompous or bored you silly.


    Oh, I hope you didn't read what I said as critical or preachy. It may have come out that way, but not my intent at all. I don't always word things well when I'm talking about this stuff.
    I just figure the kids are an extension of me. While I have them here, what's for me is for them.
    I dunno... this is hard to get out the way I mean it.

  7. #7
    Hi Guys,

    I just would second all of what was said here by everybody. My wife and I are also "winging it" every day as the parents of a 4 year old (with a little girl to come from China later this year). I am happy to tell you anything you want to know about time and the universe, but your guess is as good as mine on child raising! :roll: We take it day by day!

    As a matter of fact, we started off consulting the usual books on child rearing as new parents (Dr. Spock et.al.), and then I read a book that was a history of child rearing books. Seems that all the guys who have written child rearing books for the last hundred years have children who hate them (or no children at all). So, then my wife and I tried to trust our common sense more!

    My attitude about being a "Buddhist Parent" is just to be a "good parent" and a decent person. Provide a loving and stable environment for your kids, try to pass on values about being a good person who avoids harming others, try to tell them that happiness is not about materialism, and then ... cross your fingers and hope for the best! I think the following about sums up my wife and my attitude ...

    I'm more interested in trying to cultivate in our son such core values as generosity, compassion, lovingkindness, and so on, than I am particular beliefs. At such age as he starts to explore the realm of belief (and in some ways he already is), I will try to share the sense of the world that I have, but I also want to expose him to other ideas, and encourage him to keep asking his own questions, seeking his own answers.

    As opposed to trying to explain Buddhist ideas to him, set an example. Show your children how you live, what you value as important, how you react emotionally to situations, demonstrate in real life what your values are ... this is the best teaching I think. Later, as they get older, you can try to explain things in more detail (now, for example, I try to explain to Leon that all people are connected and we should try to be nice to each other. When he sees toys he wants on TV commercials, I try to get the idea in his head that buying things is not the way to real happiness ... so far, he seems to get that, but it will be a long fight ahead to beat the TV!!!).

    And this is right too, I think ...

    Wouldn't I be wrong to just let them drift without spiritual guidance and conceptual structure until they reach an age that I don't believe exists to begin with?

    Yes, I think we have to provide stability and structure to our kids. Most kids do come back to their childhood religion (80 to 90% of Amish kids, for example http://www.npr.org/templates/story/s...toryId=5455572!) after periods of experimentation ... and IF it was a good experience for them to grow up in such a family (many of the people I know who turned to Buddhism did not have such a good experience with their family religion). It is important, I think, to have home rituals, customs and holidays to pass down some traditions to kids. This is a big subject, and I will raise it on a thread on the forum in the near future.

    So, please tune in again in about 15 years and we can compare notes on how we did as parents!

    Gassho, Leon's Dad

    P.S. - The Buddha's idea of being a good dad was to leave the kid home in the palace while he wandered the earth. So, don't look there for an example! In the end, his son and wife came around to be his students, but ... I still don't recommend you go that route!

  8. #8
    hehe late as always!

    being a newb to both parenting and buddhism i stumble lots of places and im trying to learn from what ive tripped over. I wasn't raised with any spirtual beliefs per-se. I was told all good dogs go to heaven, taught whats right and wrong and kept (as best my parents could ) on the "right" path. And despite the music i listened to, the "bad" things i did, teens etc... i still came to find my way here. I will let my children decide for them selves when the time comes.

    As parents my wife and i are vegan, so there is no "X" in the fridge, and therefore so is our child and so will be our next child (children)- when they are old enough to question it, we will provide them with our reasons. If they choose to eat a burger im not going to go off the deep end its their choice in the end. Im just a guide along the way trying to keep a cool head and a steady guiding hand.

    Gassho
    Dirk

  9. #9
    PCD, I was glad to see your post about this, and all the wonderful responses. Will had suggested I do the same in a different thread, and now I don't have to.

    For a moment I thought I was reading my story, only I have a 5 year old daughter. I've been struggling with how to approach the subject, and find myself just answering her questions to the best of my ability and setting an example in daily life.

    I think the most difficult part is when she asks me about things that deal with Christianity. Being a "recovered" Catholic, well.. apparently still "recovering", it strikes a deep chord within me when she asks me about Christian concepts. The other day I was checking out a book from the Zen Center's library, I had brought her paper to draw on while I found the book I was looking for. She asked me, "Mommy, what should I draw?". I told her to draw what was in her heart. (Keep in mind Nonin, the Center's Abbott was 2 feet away) She replied, "How about a guardian angel? Everyone needs a guardian angel!!!" I was caught off guard and I'm sure the look on my face was priceless! After a very long pause, I started to say, "That would be lovely", but she suggested "Perhaps Butterflies". To which I replied, FANTASTIC!!

    I know I need to handle those situations with more tact, it's something I'm working on. ops:

    I did find a pretty good book though! It's called Dharma Family and it has a bunch of essays from very different types of families about how they integrate Zen Buddhism into their lives. It's very interesting and I have come away with a few good ideas so far.

    My daughter's current favorite book is called, "Zen Shorts. I love it too!

    I have a whole list of other books too if you are interested. They have Zen Buddhist themes, promoting compassion, loving kindness etc, in subtle ways.

  10. #10
    Folks, it's such a relief--a full body-sigh--just to be able to have this conversation with somebody outside of my own mind! Thank you, thank you, thank you. Gassho to all.

    To KvonNJ, no, I certainly didn't read your message as critical or preachy. Not at all. I appreciated what you said--it led us deeper into the subject.

    I do share your concern about how to "word things well"--sometimes emailing/posting is a very mixed blessing, because we can't hear one another's voices or read nonverbals, and misunderstandings can arise that otherwise wouldn't. But the folks on this forum, including yourself, seem understanding. I'm grateful for that.

    To Jundo, I look forward to the thread you mentioned about "home rituals, customs and holidays" to pass on. In our house, we're a little low-key on those, but for the ones we create for ourselves. To some degree, we take our cues on the cultural customs, etc., from our son--if he shows significant interest, we try to find ways of engaging in them....Loved your point, by the way, about how "the guys who have written child rearing books for the last hundred years have children who hate them (or no children at all)" (not to mention the Buddha's record!).

    My husband is native Chinese and knows little or nothing about Buddhism. I am American-born and nearly became a United Methodist minister (heretical minister, to say the least) before "discovering" my native tongue, you might say, of Buddhism in a seminary world religions class. Amazing how my husband's "common sense" about parenting and mine seem to mesh across apparent boundaries of culture, race, religion, nationality....ad nauseum. Back to "common humanity," I guess. Perhaps you and your spouse, Jundo, experience the same.

    Finally to Jenifer, thanks for entering the conversation. Enjoyed your story about your daughter's drawing!

    Our family is not so fortunate to have a Zen center nearby; not even a Unitarian Universalist community, which would be helpful, too, in some respects. So, in order to have some semblance of spiritual community here, we have a careful, very intentional involvement with a United Church of Christ congregation in this town. It ain't easy. We're trying to be good interfaith folks without hiding who we are or having to apologize for it. We pick and choose very deliberately how to be involved--mostly in social justice activities, caring for members of the community who are experiencing difficulties, and interfaith dialogue efforts. For the most part we don't attend worship. But our son has started asking lots of questions about Jesus, God and the like. Like you, Jen, I'm struggling with how to answer those questions. Sometimes the best conversations happen when I don't try to answer at all but simply ask my son, "What do YOU think?" Usually his response is absolute POETRY.

    Anyway, and I'm getting long-winded--thank you for your book reference and your offer to share your list of books. Would love to have it, if you could send it along.

    Thanks again, everyone.

    Gassho,
    PCD

  11. #11
    PCD,

    I find what you share fascinating and a truly adore your perspective... you are very articulate and your responses are well thought out. Thanks for your stories and input.

    I like your approach in dealing with your sons questions about Christianity, I will start asking her about her thoughts more often than I do.

    I am fortunate to have a Zen Center, and UU church near to me, and I'm glad that Nonin lets me bring my daughter to the center on occasion. If he hadn't, I would not be able to go at all. According to your profile, you live about 2 or 3 hours from me, there are people that drive that once or twice a month to sit on Sundays, or even just to attend one of Nonin's classes on Saturday. There are a ton of things for your husband and son to do in Omaha in the mean time. Just a thought if you were ever interested in checking it out.

    (Not to take away from Jundo of course, what he does here is wonderful, I just think it's good to actually sit with others on occasion.)

    So for the list of books, I was going to link to them individually, but found a nice list with a lot of the books that I have already made. So here it is:

    http://www.amazon.com/Mindfulness-No...lm_f_1_rlrsrs0

    Some of them I haven't read, but they all have lessons of Mindfulness and Nonviolence...

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Jenifer
    (Not to take away from Jundo of course, what he does here is wonderful, I just think it's good to actually sit with others on occasion.)

    .
    Certainly! If you find a group in your neighborhood that suits your temperament, and can get there regularly, you should. There is nothing like sitting with people in the flesh and looking them in the eye, and being able to have a "real time" (Zen pun intended) conversation with a teacher.

    As well, I like what we have around here too ... a slower speed conversation. We just look each other in the eye a different way.

    And the most important thing is to sit Zazen, every day ... moment by moment.

    Gassho, Jundo

  13. #13
    Hey PCD and all,

    My son will sometimes come in and mimic my sitting.

    He's three and has enough on his mind dealing with the issues that he has to deal with (is Superman, Batman, Flash, or Spiderman the coolest, or do I tell mommy and daddy that I need to potty, for example). If he brings up a subject such as "God" or "Jesus", usually due to his grandmother's influence, I tell him daddy's honest opinion (politely) they are made up stories.

    A lot of folks seem to have the concern of forcing their religious/ spiritual beliefs on their children. Forcing your religion on your kids is barging to their room on Sunday morning "Get dressed! You're going to church!", silencing their questions with taunts of supernatural punishments.

    In your case P, your son has initiated the contact out of interest in what mommy is doing so the issue of forcing Buddhism upon him is moot. IMO. Besides, the lessons of metta and stillness are useful even if he chooses another path later in life.

    I feel that as followers of the Way we have an obligation to provide answers to the best of our ability to any questions that arise concerning our practice and philosophy.


    P.S. To my surprise, I flipped over to the blog and was met with "Hey that's Jundo."

  14. #14
    Rev R,

    Thank you. And your point that "the lessons of metta and stillness are useful even if he chooses another path later in life" is one that I remind myself of daily. Ultimately, I suspect, my son will be more attracted to both metta and stillness less by what he observes when I'm sitting on my cushion and more by how I behave when I'm off the cushion--by how I treat him and how he observes me treating others....Whew.

    Jenifer,

    My gratitude both for the book list and for the invitation to Omaha. It takes about 4-4 1/2 hours for us to get there (we've been there maybe 5 times during our seven years living in South Dakota). We've enjoyed our trips, and perhaps sometime I will try to sit at the Zen Center, the existence of which I am happy to learn. (it would be nice to meet you sometime, too).

    Somehow, though, driving that far (very often) to sit doesn't seem the "greenest" choice.

    At the moment, I am grateful that a half-dozen of us living in this town gather weekly to meditate together within our various traditions (Quaker, Buddhist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Hindu, atheist) We sit in a circle (yes, I on my zafu) and meditate silently in our various ways for 30 minutes; we also have a sharing time, where we can "check in" with each other, offer support and insights. This interfaith meditation group has become a much-valued part of my life.

    Frankly, what I dream of being part of, someday, somehow, is a local practicing Buddhist community, where members can know each other well, be supportive of one another's lives and deeply engage with the life of the larger community. Though I once had the opportunity to be part of a local Buddhist community for a number of years, it seemed very inwardly-concerned. Practitioners barely got acquainted, let alone shared in one another's lives, and as a group were never involved in the broader community--say, working on social justice, peace or environmental efforts. I guess that I am very attracted to what has been termed "engaged Buddhism", but haven't yet had the good fortune to be part of such a community.....

    Guess maybe I went off on a tangent there, but I would really be interested in what other people's experiences of Buddhist community have been....

    Gassho, all,
    PCD

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