Tag Archives: buddhist parenting

You is kind. You is smart. You is sometimes a jackass.

“If you don’t start out too big for your britches, how are you gonna fill ’em when you grow up?”
– Stephen King

There are times, many, in fact, that I wonder if Cole doesn’t have a tad more ego than the average dirty-pants’d six-year old. Maybe ego is the wrong word. Maybe it’s not. I’d like not to admit that he’s either overly self-centered or bursting with an unrealistic (bloated) view of self. But he does think pretty well of himself. He’s happy to be Cole. So happy that, upon playing a “What Are You Thankful For?” game with the family, Cole wrote one word: Me.

From a Buddhist perspective, ego is a center of self, but it’s the false center, the one derived from others. True center is the one you’re born with — that’s the self. A kid is born without consciousness of self, and once born, the child because aware of the Other. The child is aware of his mother, how she holds him, smiles at him, and tells him, “You are precious to me.” And through that love and care, he feels good and important and valuable.

And then, through that interaction with the Other, he becomes increasingly aware of thatthingwecallself. He goes to school and learns that he’s not the center of the universe. Sometimes he fails. People don’t like him. Someone rolls her eyes. Another tells him that he’s not cool. Problem is, though, that’s not real awareness. It’s reflected. It’s born of a million different interactions with Other. It’s a complex, growing, tangled thing that’s shaped by how the world reacts to us. Ego changes. The reflected center grows and shifts and mutates until it’s a great hulking thing that we believe is … us.

(It’s not.)

Now is it possible that I’ve bolstered inflated Cole’s view of self? You bet it is. I lavish praise on the kid. I may have, on occasion, given him a line from The Help: You is kind. You is smart. You is important.


I’ve gotten better, though. I have. I didn’t realize that I might be doing him a disservice with the over-the-top ERMERGERD YOU’RE SO GREAT until sometime last year. And now, I’m careful to praise him for hard work, rather than intelligence; for kind action, rather than sweetness; for a job well done, rather than innate ability. And I’m honest. When he asks, “Am I the best bike rider you’ve ever seen?” I give it to him gently, but I give it to him true.

He’s working out his identity. I’m working on ensuring that identity is solid and realistic about his strengths and weaknesses. Again with the balance.


Filed under Uncategorized

Let’s just stop doing that

“When she was young and had her first child, she didn’t believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking–the first of his life. And she told him that he would have to go outside and find a switch for her to hit him with. The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, “Mama, I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a rock that you can throw at me.”

Parenting, for most of us, isn’t what we expect it to be. More days than not, it’s full of power struggles and complaining; tantrums and sullenness; irritation interrupted by moments of pure joy. It’s struggle. A beautiful struggle, I’d argue, but it’s not easy.

Today is National Spank Out Day. Before I begin (what? I haven’t even gotten started yet), let me be completely clear: I have spanked Cole. In his six years, I’ve probably spanked him four or five times. You’re not going to hear judgmental railing from me. I understand how it feels to have your back against a wall.

I have always hated spanking, but I believed, for a long time, that it was sometimes acceptable under certain circumstances. The last time it happened in our house, I gave Cole several warnings prior. He knew he was pushing me to the very edge. He pushed me over. I sent him to his room to await that dreaded spanking. I sat down and stared at the carpet. Because I’d told him that he was getting a spanking, I knew I had no choice. Either I followed through or I would look like I didn’t mean what I had said. I’d look weak. And so I steeled myself. I hardened my heart. And I popped him twice on his legs. He wailed. I left the room and wailed, too.

I read this, about how a child’s brain reacts to a spanking, over at hand-in-hand parenting:

When a child is spanked, his or her limbic system (the emotional center of the brain, and the part of the mind that mediates learning and understanding) goes into alarm mode. The child’s brain clearly perceives spanking as an occasion of danger, and responds accordingly.

For the child, it is an experience of being small and unable to control an overwhelming and unpredictable force. In this state, his mind can learn nothing. His prefrontal cortex, the center of reason and judgment, shuts down. Hence, a child’s behavior during and after a spanking is not thoughtful behavior. It’s reactive.

The “control” that the parent is striving for has everything to do with fear, and nothing to do with teaching, learning, or a child’s understanding of concepts of right and wrong. What the child “learns” is that, seemingly out of the blue, for reasons he can’t fathom, he has been hit or hurt by a person who loves him. This is a confusing lesson indeed.

Spankings are perceived by a child to be random acts of violence. Over time, they create a wedge of fear and resentment between child and parent. The more time a child spends with his mind shut down by the fear response that physical attack brings, the more reactive his behavior becomes. A vicious cycle results: a fearful child becomes aggressive or withdrawn, the parent spanks in response, the child becomes more frightened, and loses control of his own behavior more often.

So, though a spanking may result in a quieter, more cautious child for a few hours, that apparent peace has a high price. A child’s sense of safety, and with it, his ability to reason, to cooperate, to learn, and to trust are all eroded with every spanking—so is a child’s openness to love from his parent.

How do you feel about that? It tears me up. I think it should.

The more toward Buddhism (and Christianity – what the hell) I leaned, the less I spanked, until it became so distasteful to me that I knew I’d never do it again. It was a gradual awakening, but it came. It’s the same reason I yell a lot less and I generally lose my shit fairly infrequently.

Months ago, and before I determined that this sort of violence would never again happen in my home, I had told Cole that if he came home with another red card from school that he’d get a spanking. Well the red came. The spanking did not. He remembered though, and when he climbed into the car with me that afternoon, he asked me if he was going to get a spanking. I said no. And I let myself be weak. I let myself be honest.

“I made a mistake when I said that, Cole. We’re not going to spank anymore.”

“Never again?”

“Never again. I don’t think it’s ok. I don’t like it.”

I haven’t, and I won’t.

Spanking is violence. And worse than violence, it’s hitting a defenseless being – your defenseless being. When you reach out your hand with the intent to hurt, it’s violence. If I hit an adult for disappointing me or pissing me off, I’d be facing assault charges. Why are we not extending the same courtesy of “personhood” to our children? Spanking devalues a child. It also devalues a parent. If Cole obeys me because he fears me, well, that’s not really respect, is it?

They’re people. They’re little and they’re silly and they’re sometimes irrational (heeeeey, I’m little and I’m silly and I’m sometimes irrational). We teach our children not to hit. And we teach them that if a friend or a stranger hurts them, to find an adult and get help. And yet, we also teach them that being subject to parental violence is somehow a condition of childhood. That it’s alright if the violence is coming from mom or dad. That’s some bullshit, innit?

There are better ways. There are ways that aren’t dehumanizing for child and for parent, and ways that don’t breed distrust and fear. For me, it’s stopping to remember that a six-year old and a thirty-two-year old have disparate points of view. It’s also stopping to look at my child and say to myself, “I love this human being more than I’ve ever loved another. Why would I ever hurt him?”

Ten times outta ten, Cole isn’t making a concerted decision to annoy, disrespect, or harass me. He’s six. He wants things just like I do. He feels things just like I do. When he misbehaves, it’s typically born of a wish for significance, belonging, or autonomy.

And what do I do? I relax. I listen. We talk. Sometimes, we do a little quiet time. Sometimes, I walk away; I have a smoke. And sometimes I still raise my voice. But when he is man grown, maybe with children of his own, I’d like Cole to have those tools. I’d like him to remember what his mother used her hands for – to hold and hug and tickle and arm-wrestle and paint and guide – not to hit.




Filed under Current Events, Mindful parenting

But it’s so pretty

There’s a reason the Kaiser only watches Nick Jr. and Disney. No commercials. Turn on Nickelodeon. If you don’t have children, this won’t mean anything to you and you’ll mutter something about “all that junk” they’re selling. If you do have wee folk in your house, flip it on and watch your child’s eyes light up with desire. Now wait. Waaaait for it. The supplications will come. The “I want” and – scarier – “I neeeeeed” ring out of their mouths like they were BORN to do this. By “this,” I mean desire a lot of extraneous shit.

Cole and I took a trip to the beach a few weeks back, returning on the afternoon before Father’s Day. I had already gotten Jed a book, but we needed to fill a gift bag with some cool daddy stuff so we headed to ye olde Walgreen’s for the perfect card and perfect fireworks (South Carolina, you ARE good for something and don’t let anyone tell you differently) and perfect dark chocolate.

As we walked into the store, the Kaiser inundated me with his desire to buy something for himself.

“But mom, I haven’t bought anything in FOREVER.”

That is a lie. We acquired no fewer than five quickly forgotten souvenirs at the beach the week prior. And a hermit crab because I’m a sucker. So I explained this, and reminded him that this was about Father’s Day, not about Cole. Because… not everything is about Cole.

“You don’t love me,” he spat out.


“I do love you,” I said, “but you’re still not getting anything.”

If the kid relates material acquisition to love, the next thirteen years of his life are going to be rife with disappointment. I explained this and we had a chat about what matters (family and kindness and fun with friends and love). He didn’t care; all he sees is the shiny plastic car that his mother is not going to buy.

I’m writing about this today because upon waking, my first thought was the shiny new iPhone 4 that I’m thinking about buying. It’s $200, and that’s a lot of money to me. But I want it. I want it so badly. I don’t even have an iPod and that’s how I’ve been justifying it to myself. 

You can play angry birds like everyone else.
You’ll have musics!
It looks so damn cool.
Your phone is so old and crap.
It’ll be so damn cool.

Hello, beautiful.

But I can’t afford it. I can’t afford to get an iPhone and get my dog to the vet for a check-up. I can’t afford an iPhone and pay my car taxes on time. I can’t afford an iPhone because that’s $200 less in my Sara’s-gonna-buy-a-farm fund.

Need vs. want. Non-attachment. Learning, just like the Kaiser, what is important and what’s not. He’s young now, and that means he doesn’t really pay attention to his mother’s purchases or lack thereof. But someday he will, and one thing I know is this: I can talk all day about the things that are important and the things that are not, but the tangible choices he sees me make … that’s what matters. 

(I still want an iPhone.)


Filed under Buddhism, Mindful parenting

Two a Weeks

Today, I finally found a comfortable mental space from which to watch the Kaiser (not) play soccer.  It only took me the entire two-month-long season to figure it out. I’m not terribly competitive. I like to be good, but I don’t have to be the best. And yet, watching my four-year old play soccer has been…. excruciating. If I’m type B, he’s type X.

Confused Cole


It’s what I perceived as laziness that made me absolutely insane.

“Cole, you gotta at least try.”
“Dude, why won’t you run?”
“Don’t you want to kick the ball?”
“Well, you did pretty well, but let’s try to actually, like, move next time.”

Cole on the ground

Get UP, Kaiser. Get UP.

As I watched him, though, throughout the last few months, I realize that while he’s kinda lazy (it is what it is), he’s also simply uninterested. He’s four and he’s a gentle, cerebral kid. He was accidentally pushed down in a game and came to me.

“I don’t want to be tough, Mommy.”

What the fuck do you say to that? I don’t particularly want him to be tough, but neither do I want him to be left out, taken advantage of, or hurt. It’s a fine line. And as I sipped my latte and watched him somersault and pick flowers on the field, I began to let go.

It doesn’t matter if he’s good. It doesn’t matter if he likes soccer. It doesn’t matter that he’s never going to win a Best Defender Award. It’s cool that he’d rather sit on the sideline with me, clutching his stuffed dog and singing old Guster songs.

Cole in the net

He got stuck... Four times.

When I stopped cheering (read: yelling madly and pointing toward the goal) and let go of my expectations, I was blessed with the utter joy of watching a really cool kid do some really funny shit. My lesson, then, is to live like the Kaiser plays soccer: realize it’s ok to be last, take frequent breaks, look forward to snack time, and don’t take anything too seriously.

Cole and Hayden

You don't have to be good to look cool.


Filed under Buddhism, Raising Kids

Down by the River

I reminded the Kaiser that we had to go pick up his soccer junk today – cleats, shin guards, jersey. His smile turned to a frown.

“Aren’t you excited about soccer?” I smile that big, dumb parent smile.

“Mommy, will I hafta run?”

Aaaaaagh. This only confirms my growing concern about the kid’s epic laziness. Walking to the car from the front door, he asks me to carry him up the hill. My general response is a look of annoyed disbelief and a resounding, “Hell, no.” In all seriousness though, as I watched the kid nosh Cheese Doodles while staring, dead eyed, at his rainy-Friday-night movie, a kernel of dread grew. What if he… what if THIS:

I want his coats to fit.

He tends toward non-physical activities — books, puzzles, trains, talking until I want to stab myself in the ear. That’s ok. I, too, would far prefer reading a book to taking a jog. And granted, the kid isn’t even vaguely out of shape. But he is lazy, and I find this a distasteful trait, probably my least favorite human weakness. I will not abide it, and so I’ve devised certain plans/steps to ensure that this does not become the Kaiser’s future. He will thank me later.

1. Cheese Doodles are disgusting — we shall skip the chip aisle altogether upon future trips to Walmart.
2. Television time is limited to one hour a day. Unless I’m writing a blog, in which case all rules are forfeited.
3. Physical activity is necessary to general well-being. I’ll set a better example through yoga and soccer practice time.
4. In the interest of being alive long enough to see my child make the U.S. Olympic team, I’ll stop smoking. Again.

Most of these steps involve a change in me, not in the Kaiser. Isn’t that a bitch? Yes, it is. It’s also how the universe works, I think. While I can’t change his actions, I can change mine and watch those changes ripple into other lives. Thanks, Buddha.


Filed under Uncategorized

Be the Buddha: Zen Parenting

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today. -Stacia Tauscher

Be present. Just be.

They come through you but not from you. -Gibran

Implicit obedience scares me. “Because I said so,” parenting grosses me out. But I do it. I’ve even said that horrible phrase, although I had the decency to cringe as I uttered the words. The justification for this sort of thinking often sounds like this: The child is three; he’s not owed an explanation. I call bullshit. Why should his age or lack of understanding exempt him from a basic courtesy? What does authoritarian parenting teach except that if someone’s bigger than you, more powerful than you, then you must obey? Yahtzee.

Alright, so how does this parenting relate to Buddhism? Simple: The singular goal of Buddhism is to alleviate suffering. Where better to start than with my own child? And how better to teach him compassion than by acting compassionately? My primary concern as the Kaiser’s mother is to lighten his suffering, to inform and guide him without causing pain. I don’t talk to him about Buddhism; I try to be the Buddha. It’s less annoying that way.

Karen Miller, Zen Priest, articulates this far better than I can in an interview with BellaOnline:

Either we deceive ourselves by rationalizing being too punitive and harsh or rationalizing being too lax and indulgent. I never want to hit my child, because it doesn’t take too much sense to realize that violence creates more violence. But every situation requires that I examine what I as the parent can do differently: using different words, different rules, a different tone, a different setting, or a different tactic in order to see a different outcome. In sum, when I take on discipline as one of my responsibilities, I am being self-disciplined. And a self-disciplined parent produces a self-disciplined child.

And honestly, I screw up. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I’m sarcastic (yes, to a three-year old. I KNOW.) Sometimes I’m just not there, in the moment, involved. When I fail, I try to recognize it and acknowledge it. I apologize to him, sometimes three times in a day. I don’t know if I’m right on this, and I’m certainly no expert on anything motherhood or anything Buddhist. But here is my best advice:

  • Turn off the TV.
  • Turn off the cell phone (If I don’t, I text and parent – No good.)
  • Puzzles are glorious. So are books.
  • Take a walk. Talk. Or don’t.
  • Leave work at work.
  • Listen – the tiniest mouths say some really cool shit.
  • Just be. Be present. Be attentive. Be involved. Be consumed.

Peace, Love, and Mindfulness


Filed under Buddhism, Raising Kids