Thursday, September 15th, 2011
Buddhism and Parenting Attachment
parenting-attachment/ © Alena Ozerova - Fotolia.com
At the core of Buddhist practice is the notion that we can release ourselves from the three mental poisons–anger, attachment and ignorance.
Each of these has a multitude of practices within the myriad forms of Buddhism, aimed at reducing their harmful effects.
With the problem of attachment, we have to learn to let go.
Never has the concept of attachment and the idea of letting go come more sharply into focus than when thinking about our children. They are so intricately woven into the fabric of our lives in the early years that it seems impossible that, one day, the task at hand will be allowing them to leave home as they begin to make independent steps in the world.
This issue was recently raised when our eldest daughter, Amber, went on a school journey for five days.
She was very keen to go and while I was aware that our homely eight-year-old girl would undoubtedly feel homesick at some point, we allowed her to make the choice and supported her decision. A week before the trip, we had tears at bedtime as she was worried that she would miss her Mum, Dad and younger sister. We gave her the option of missing the journey and staying at home, but she had set in her mind that she was going and wanted to stick with this.
Encouraged by her school, we agreed it would be good for her to establish some independence from us. The trip went well–she thoroughly enjoyed days packed with team building games and seaside visits. However she struggled with the nights. Sharing a room with eight chatty girls was fun for the first night but quickly deteriorated into accumulated lack of sleep, which we all know leaves adults and children alike tired and emotional.
As her Mum, I had to tackle the idea of attachment–hers to mine and vice versa. Somewhere in my mind she is still my baby and I had to practice that hardest of parenting skills: letting go.
In Buddhism, attachment is one of the main causes of suffering. The failure to understand that we must eventually let go of everything– those around us, possessions, and ultimately our own being and identity–is the root cause of all grasping, clinging, sorrow and grief. Attachment is described as having a clingy, tight, sticky quality.
Buddhism teaches us to recognise and then unpick the attachment from our relationships and develop the love and compassion aspect. Love as defined by Buddhism is the wish for that person to be happy. Compassion is the wish for that person to be free from suffering. It is very tricky to differentiate the attachment from the love and compassion aspects of our relationships, especially our parental relationships.
On Amber’s return from the school trip she told us it was one of the hardest things she had done and she had real moments of loneliness. However I have noticed that she has been more loving, thoughtful and, dare I say it, helpful both to me and her younger sister. Perhaps this difficult event for all of us has forced us to confront our attachment levels and encouraged us to be thankful for the love and compassion in our relationships. One thing is for sure–there will be a lot more letting go for me to practice in the years to come.
© 2011, Jack and Helen Hamilton. All rights reserved.
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