Jeff Mueller applies some Buddhist philosophy to parenting, and feels like a better person as a result.
Photo by: Axiraa
Walking a Path
I’ve recently become fascinated by a series of blog posts by tech nerd and writer Patrick Rhone. It’s about how he’s applying the precepts of The Eightfold Path of Buddhism to his use of social media.
I know, “This is supposed to be about parenting!” I’m getting there.
Patrick has thus far considered the first four steps along the path: right understanding, right intention, right speech, and right action. These steps encourage the follower to accept the world as it is and approach it with compassion, speak only with the intent of helping others, and act ethically and with respect toward people.
Who wouldn’t want their kids to do all of those things?
The trouble is that kids learn these things by watching you, the parent. And if you’re bad at these things–which, let’s be honest, most of us are–there’s a chance they’re going to be bad at them, too.
“Cars are terrible. No one should drive them. They should be abolished. People aren’t smart enough to operate them. Too much risk. What a dumb idea.”
I’m probably at my worst when I’m in a car (see also “Right Speech” below). Automobiles aren’t going anywhere. They were here before I was born; they’ll be here long after I’m dead. Complaining about them is pointless. Yet, I do it a lot.
This constant desire for my own personal vision of a better world–one without cars–will only make me miserable, which will surprise no Buddhist. They’ve got their own term for it–dukkha, which is the suffering caused by the want of things you can’t have. Few things are more painful than wishing for something that can never be.
By grousing about the world instead of accepting it as it is, I’m contributing to my own frustration and anxiety while showing my girls that it’s okay to get bent out of shape about things you can’t change. What I should be doing is accepting the world as it is and learning to work within the existing system in a way that makes my life easier.
Being mad and complaining is so much simpler, though. Being thoughtful sets a better example.
“Living intentionally” has become a buzzphrase. Not many people really know what it means, but if you’ve ever tried to spend time with your kids while mentally fogged by the screen of a portable device, that’s a moment in which you weren’t living intentionally.
It’s one example, but there are many like it. However, this is the one I struggle with frequently. One minute, we’re building something with Duplo, and I’m totally focused on my kids and what we’re doing. I grab my phone to check the weather, forget what I was doing, and now I’m jawing with my friends on Twitter.
It doesn’t happen as frequently as it used to, but it still happens, and I feel massive guilt every time I catch myself doing it. I know my kid gets irritated. She’ll sometimes let me know by saying, “Dad, put your phone down.” Those moments sting, especially when I realize I’m sending the message that it’s okay to only give a fraction of your attention when you should be giving 100%.
“GUH. What a jerk! That guy up there just totally cut off three cars and nearly caused a huge accident just to get to his exit!”
And from the back seat I hear, “GUH! JERK!”
I wasn’t even talking to her! I was talking to my wife while completely oblivious to the three-year-old in the back seat. But now she thinks that guy is a jerk. And she thinks it’s okay to call people jerks. Bad dad. Very bad.
I try to correct the situation. “No, no. I shouldn’t have said that. He’s probably a nice person. We all make mistakes.” But the damage is done.
If I hadn’t said anything at all, she wouldn’t have known the difference. My statement didn’t contribute a single positive thing to the environment around me. Yet I blurted it out anyway.
I can’t seem to stop doing this. But I’m trying.
This one? I’m actually really good at this one. Right action is my jam. What constitutes right action? No killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual misconduct, and no abusing intoxicants. I suppose that I’ll one day have to explain where some of our downloaded movies came from. And some of our TV shows.
Okay, fine. I should stop that, too.
But for now, I feel like I’m doing pretty well here. One out of four isn’t great, but it’s a start.
Setting a good example is hard. No system or set of guides will be perfect for everyone, nor will any off-the-shelf philosophy make you a good parent overnight. It’s a daily struggle. As with achieving enlightenment, being a good parent can be a pursuit that fills a lifetime. If you’re actively trying to move toward being better daily, though, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re on the right path (no matter how many steps it has).