Parenting, Children, and Mindfulness

A Wonderfully Rich Practice by Bud Reiter-Lavery

Few of the local Sangha members have young children. I have two neighbors with children under the age of three who used to do formal sitting meditation alone or in groups, but haven’t done so since the birth of their children.  Similarly, I didn’t go on a retreat for six years—the time from the birth of my first child until my second child was age three. Perhaps the formal structures of practice that we have created, such as weekly two-hour meditation meetings, five day retreats, etc., just don’t work well for parents with young children.

My two girls are now ages five and eight, and I am discovering that I have more energy to engage them and others in mindfulness practice. I am also a lot less concerned about whether I lead a group or go on retreats. It is clearer to me now that my whole life is my practice, which means that for me, parenting is a salient part of my mindfulness practice, every day. My wife and kids are great Dharma teachers, both in how they can pull out the compassionate parts of me and when they unintentionally show me all the seeds I still need to transform. Frankly, when my girls are tired and prone to crying, I often find myself at the edge of my practice—and sometimes a bit beyond it.

I considered starting a monthly mindfulness morning for folks like me with kids, but I have made it much simpler and with fewer expectations. Once a month my girls and I have a mindfulness morning while my wife, Lisa, goes to church. This gives Lisa a chance to be more focused at church, and it gives the girls and me a wonderful chance to gently and simply practice. They love reading stories about the Buddha’s life. We also do a juice and cookie ceremony, color in a coloring book of scenes of the Buddha’s life, sing, and sometimes do outdoor walking meditation. We go with the flow and do whatever seems refreshing and enjoyable. I have invited the neighbors with children to join us, but I don’t really care if they come or not. The time is for the girls and me to enjoy being, to enjoy our mindfulness. It is a very relaxing time for me. I think it would drain me if I carried expectations about providing this as a service to the community.

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Being married and having children mean that I have several other people’s needs to consider. We inter-are. So we’ve worked out a schedule that includes time for me to go to retreats and weekly Sangha meetings, making sure that I still have lots of time to be with my family. Last fall was the first time I took them on a retreat with Thay, so we are integrating family mindfulness in formal ways, but mostly in very informal ways. While I still periodically sing Dharma songs to them each night when I put them to bed, most of my practice involves just being present with them.

One of my favorite quotes about mindful parenting is from Dharma Family Treasures.  It goes as follows:

Master: I have no tolerance for those who use their children as an excuse for not practicing.

Hermit: I have no tolerance for those who use their practice as an excuse for not parenting.

Beggar: When we fully immerse ourselves in parenting as our practice, we answer the question, Of what use is it merely to enjoy this fleeting world?

O sincere trainees, create no Dharma orphans. Quickly is dew gone from the grass.  Quicker still are children grown.

Bud Reiter-Lavery, True Wonderful Awakening, lives with his daughters Katie, age eight, and Theresea, age five, and wife Lisa. He practices with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Durham, North Carolina.

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