Posted by Kristen M. Ploetz in Bookshelf on March 8, 2013
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you might have picked up on the fact that patience has not always been my strong suit. It’s gotten way better over the past couple of years. Much better. Wine helps. Increased amount of sleep over the past two years (for M and me) and a recent return to running are certainly key reasons too. But also in my bag of tricks are the two books tied for #7 in my Top 8 Parenting Books:
Buddhism for Mothers: A Calm Approach to Caring for Yourself and Your Children, by Sarah Napthali
Momma Zen: Walking The Crooked Path of Motherhood, by Karen Maezen Miller
As the titles suggest, the principles that inform the authors of these books are from Buddhist teachings. Prior to reading these books (which, I believe, were book club selections with my former group . . . that memory is a little hazy now), I had no experience with Zen meditation or Buddhism in general. I still don’t really, meaning that I did not go forth after reading these two books and begin incorporating a formal Zen practice into my life.
But through the stories that the authors share, I took away the greater principles of insight and perspective about motherhood, all offered within the context of Buddhist teachings. I also am now more aware when I need to go back to these books for a “refresher” (though both of my books are out on loan . . . perhaps I should consider an electronic copy as well).
These books are good for that period of the first three years, particularly for a first time mom (and perhaps for moms of 2+ kids . . . I just don’t have that particular point of view to know whether the books are as helpful “the second time around”). However, I do think the underlying messages are applicable to any point along the parenting spectrum.
It helps that they are short books containing essays, making it easier to read a chunk or two at a time when you have a spare moment (which feels like never when you’re juggling an infant and the rest of your life). In fact, that is how I preferred to read these books, a bit at a time. Reading in small doses helped to solidify the message that the authors were trying to get across. It is also not the kind of book that you have to read chronologically (though I did the first time for both books); you can certainly pick and choose something to go back to that might help you gain some much needed perspective. The personal anecdotes they share are also entirely relatable and translatable to your own set of circumstances.
The authors do not sugar coat the challenges that come with becoming and being a parent. That’s why they resonated with me. They are written by two women who understand the drudgery that comes with being a parent, no matter how much you love your children. If they had been written by non-parents, I’d be skeptical about whether they knew what they were talking about, much less whether they had an appreciation for how to apply what they try to teach the reader.* But these women help the reader see the broader picture and how to incorporate acceptance, calm, and a filtering lens of joy, no matter what situation is at hand (like tantrums, sleepless nights, frazzled nerves, and time that is not your own anymore).
These books might not be for everyone to the extent that they are based on Buddhist principles (primarily mindfulness; and it truly is a practice). I’m not a religious or even spiritual person, and so for those passages/quotes that seemingly draw upon something “divine” or from a “higher level”, I was able to tenor (ignore) it in a way that worked with my particular leanings, primarily because I can find value in the underlying principles from a purely humanist point of view. Not everyone may wish to do that kind of refocusing when reading these kind of books, though I still believe they are worth checking out if you are even remotely curious about living more mindfully as a parent.
Either (or both) of these books are a nice addition to the nightstand reading at the end of the day. Even a few pages of reading before sleep can help put a positive spin on the day just ending, and set the tone for the days yet to come.
* Here’s what I mean by that: one of the medical professionals that M has seen in the past year does not have children of her own. While this might make her more objective on some levels, this always makes me skeptical about whether she can really appreciate the ability to incorporate the advice she gives, at least the portions that we (as M’s parents) are supposed to do. I don’t discount her academic understanding of a situation, but I’m someone who tends to prefer advice from someone who’s “been there, done that” even if it’s not exactly the same set of circumstances. I want to know that someone has previously been in the trenches and occupied the same mental space as me if I’m going to take their advice. But that’s just me.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz