Parenting as a Path
I soon became aware of imprints so deeply ingrained that the “sink or swim” dilemma of being a first-time parent presented a remarkable flood of natural responses. Having been a ’60s teen, I had questioned many of the norms of society, and as a new parent I think it is safe to say I felt confused. Believing that each child is born with their own imprints and personality, I was convinced that I should allow the child to awaken and be his or her own being. The first major shock to my belief system was when my fourteen-month-old son suddenly demonstrated what appeared to be an imperfection. Selfishness raised its ugly head and roared through his tiny voice, “No! Mine!” Now what was I to do?
I pulled out some books and poured through the lists of developmental stages of children and was reminded of the fact that this stage was in fact very natural. Of course! What did I expect! The Dharma certainly states that attachment and anger sprouting from I-grasping ignorance is the root of samsara. The grasping to exist and the accompanying throwing karma propelled my child to take rebirth. Now how was I, on the one hand, going to accept this behavior as “natural” while on the other hand beginning to guide my child in behavior that was in line with my own values? I tried to educate myself and attempted to meet these challenges, at times methodically, but also spontaneously.
Children are masters at figuring out their parent’s approach as well as the environment they inhabit. They are superb observers, and before they can even articulate their needs, they’ve figured out how to get what they want. However, if the needs of the child or parent are not met, both may find themselves erupting into outbursts and tantrums. Whenever I would fall into the trap of focusing on my needs, I would get frustrated and anger or resentment would arise. It became very clear to me that self-cherishing, thinking about my needs before others, was the root of my suffering. However, I remember Lama Yeshe saying, “Middle way, dear. Don’t be too extreme one way or the other” and “Be gentle with yourself and you will be able to be gentle with others.”
It became clear that my children needed to develop coping mechanisms to deal with life’s many challenges. Children literally scream out for boundaries. Lama talked about “idiot compassion,” and I too became aware of the literal meaning of “spoiled.” I began to realize how important it is to help our children become more aware of the effect of their actions on themselves, others, and the environment. I remain in awe of the enormous responsibility we have as parents, to guide our children to actualize their greatest potential. At the same time, my children are very good at reminding me to practice what I preach, to walk the talk. In reality, they are training me ..
This article can be read in its entirety in Mandala