Would I be a better parent if I was Buddhist?

Jul 22, 2013 at 1:00 p.m. ET

Every mother has those moments as a parent when she tries to go to her Zen place — a place that is quiet and where she can clear her mind, a place that is free of screaming toddlers demanding more juice.

Buddhist statue and mom

Buddhism is based on the fundamental belief that we should have insight into the true realities of life, achieving this through meditation, awareness, kindness and wisdom, making us wonder... would we be better parents if we were Buddhists?

Buddhism 101

A religion that is practiced by millions around the world, Buddhism finds it roots nearly 3,000 years ago, when a man named Siddhartha Gautama, was "awakened" or "enlightened" to become Buddha. Originally taught in Nepal and Northeastern India, Buddhism, as with most things, eventually made its way west. Now, Buddhism can be found in nearly every corner of the globe, including right here in America, where both branches of the religion, Theravada and Mahayana, are practiced. For some, Buddhism is a way of life, rather than a religion, in the traditional sense, with followers oftentimes pulling elements of Buddhist practices into their lives, while leaving the religious aspects behind.

Find your inner Buddha

A large piece of being Buddhist is following the Eightfold Path, part of the teachings from Buddha, in which will eventually lead to the end of suffering in your life... to put it simply! We can't help but think that the divisions of the Eightfold Path sound a lot like what we already preach to our kids (does that make us like Buddha?)

  • In Buddhism: Seek wisdom by seeing reality as it truly is.
  • In parenting: The reality is that it's going to take 18 months to potty train your son or that you are going to get up 12 times between bedtime and 2 a.m. to put your preschooler back in her bed. Once you accept that this is your reality, it will be easier to accept and to move forward in life.
  • In Buddhism: Be ethical by speaking with truth in a non-hurtful way, acting in a non-harmful way and having a non-harmful livelihood.
  • In parenting: This is where the Zen comes in, moms. Leave the morning screaming about everyone getting their shoes and coats on at the Buddhist temple door. There's no need to go the route of Ghandi (who was not Buddhist, FYI) and be a pacifist, but use your words and your intent with your kids to get them to where you want them to be.
  • In Buddhism: Use concentration to make an effort to improve in life, to be mindful and to meditate.
  • In parenting: There is nothing more than a mother longs for than being able to have complete silence for even a second during the day. Imagine if you integrated meditation into your life — the practice of shutting out everything around you to make your mind still. The advantages of meditation, for both adults and children, are known to work wonders for your mind and this could be your solution to getting some peace and quiet while you pee... "Mommy's meditating!"

Karma in parenting

It's as if karma was made for parents. A philosophy that is followed in both Buddhism and Hinduism, karma is the notion of, in the most basic of terms, "what goes around, comes around." Think about how accepting the role of karma in your life would change the way you parent... and what you teach your kids. While children can easily see the works of immediate karma in their own young lives — you hit your sister with that truck, she's going to come back and hit you with her doll — the concept on a larger scale is a good building block for when their minds develop as they get older... and wiser. Learning the true meaning of cause and effect and how their actions today impact their lives later will help them make better choices, in theory.

As a parent, putting karma to work for you can go a long way. While it might seem like there are more times in your life that karma is a you-know-what, and you'll be wracking your brain to figure out what you did to deserve a 6-year-old who thinks that climbing out his second story window and jumping off the roof (superhero-style) is a good idea, realizing that on the scale of the universe, it is all balanced, can be a relief.

Putting karma to work is also a practical lesson in selflessness for both parents and children — doing acts to "bank" good karma defeats the purpose of the practice. It's easy for kids — and adults! — to think of karma as a "I'll do this for you, then you do this for me" way of life, which is counter to what Buddhists believe and does not come from a place of awareness or wisdom. As much as you'd like to be, remember that you are not in charge of your own karma, much like you are not in charge of your stubborn, Bieber-obsessed tween.

Real life lessons in Buddhism

"For me, Buddhism is a way of life and a tool I can use to keep things in perspective," shares Brock Miller, Dad to a 3-year-old son and a daughter who is due to arrive any moment. Brock tells us that for him, using the philosophies of Buddhism not only have helped him move forward personally, but they've helped him see the bigger picture as a parent as well. Brock Miller and son, Kellan

"I have these inherent views of what my child should be doing or how he should be acting," Brock explains. "In reality, those are just conditions that I've picked up along the way and that I'm projecting onto Kellan, which is not fair to him." And, he shares a message that hits home with every parent, Buddhist or not: "He is his own person and should walk his own path."

Brock also shares about his experience with a satsang (a group meditation) with one of the country's leading spiritual leaders, Adyashanti, and this particular concept which seems simple enough, but in practice is actually quite hard to achieve: "There is no should or should not, only what is and what is not." Try imagining applying that philosophy, which is entrenched in Buddhist thinking, into your life as a parent. Even Brock, who has been studying Buddhism for nearly 10 years admits that it's difficult.

However, he also shares that when he can apply Buddhist methods to his role as a father to his son, Kellan, he finds more success. "It makes a world of difference in how I react with him, which then creates a chain reaction in the way he responds to me with his behavior," Brock explains. "I catch myself all of the time trying to teach him something in a very specific way and Kellan's response to me generally isn't great in those instances. But, when I let him do things his way and just offer some direction, a helping hint or show him by example as he's doing it himself, he responds much more positively."

Tell us

Could you integrate some of the philosophies of Buddhism into your parenting methods? Do you think that being Buddhist would make you a better mother?

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