When I was recently asked to review a new book called, Zen and the Path of Mindful Parenting – Meditations on Raising Children, I did panic a little at what I might say about such a book. I’m naturally a bit of a hippy at heart and I love subjects like this but I wanted a broader perspective and opinion. So, I thought it would be fun to ask my friends Sarah and Laura (you can meet them both at the bottom of the post!), to also have a read too.
Here is what we made of it…
Zen and the Path of Mindful Parenting
by Clea Danaan, Leaping Hare Press, £8.99
1. What is the book about?
Sarah: This is a great book on taking your parenting one step at a time. It is aimed at people who already have some knowledge of Buddhism or Buddhist practises.
Laura: It is like a guided meditation to parenthood. It covers a range of problems that a parent may face and suggests ways in which you can cope with them better. It doesn’t seek to solve the problems or make them go away but rather gives a different way to approach them.
Hannah: It’s about using mindfulness practices to help navigate the difficult path of parenting.
2. Can you describe what mindfulness means to you after reading this book?
Sarah: Mindfulness means to me slowing down, cherishing the smaller things in life and making the most of those gorgeous innocent years.
“I found myself teaching three five year olds about the effects of wind and how to work out wind direction the other day!” – Sarah
Laura: It means being really aware of everything that is happening around you and then somehow being at peace with whatever emotion you may have. For example, you may be really frustrated by something your toddler is doing but by being mindful you try to clue into exactly what is causing the behavior or exactly why you feel the way you do.
Hannah: This was very much my first experience of mindfulness and it is about being present and noticing. Noticing that your child is screaming. Noticing that you find it annoying or embarrassing, or whatever else you might be feeling. It is in the noticing that you become present, you accept your circumstance and a little burden lifts from your shoulders.
3. Have you found the book has made a difference to your everyday life? Were there any concepts that particularly struck a chord?
Sarah: I’m going through some hard times at the moment and I found it boosted my confidence. My calm way of parenting isn’t that unusual and could really benefit my children. There were many points in the book that struck true to my experiences and reading them in the context of mindfulness was comforting.
Laura: I’ve found myself trying to be more patient when dealing with situations that would usually exacerbate me. I often find walking with my toddler really trying as she will want to balance on walls, stop and pick up leaves, splash in puddles, hold my hand to be able to jump higher, which just results in my arm being tugged … the list goes on and Zen master I am not!
“After reading the book I found myself approaching a situation like this differently. I asked why was I frustrated? Did it really matter if we were late?” – Laura
As a problem solver I realized that we could both be happy by leaving the house earlier and that even at my age, I think that jumping in puddles is fun – we just don’t do it often. Can I really blame her for wanting to enjoy the world?!
The other approach I’ve taken is realizing that unpleasant moments pass. The best example of this being the toddler tantrum. Often, particularly when they are in public, tantrums are hideously embarrassing. Some people look round in sympathy but I often feel pressure to try and get it to stop as quickly as possible. After reading the book, I’ve tried to focus on other things in situations like that – maybe focusing on the air temperature or the ground beneath my feet. It’s a little bit like counting to ten before dealing with the situation. No matter how terrible it is at the time, there is something encouraging thinking that it is only a moment and will be gone really quite quickly.
Hannah: I found it instantly made a difference. I was able to be a lot more patient and reduce the yelling. I was also able to be less scared; fear of going out (which I’ve written about here) or fear of something awful happening to one of my kids. There is quite a bit of guidance through different emotions, including pain and loss, that I found incredibly useful.
Throughout the book there were little ‘playtime exercises’ you can do with your children to help them to practise being present. There was one in particular that I have found incredibly helpful for Gabriella, who is now 9, for when she’s feeling overwhelmed or suddenly upset (normally by something her brother has done!). You locate the place in your body that hurts. For her it was either her throat or stomach, and just the act of noticing it made her instantly calm down.
4. Did you find anything difficult to comprehend?
Sarah: I found that the author’s style wasn’t one that you could sit down and read in one go. The central theme was the Hero’s Journey, but I didn’t really associate myself with this journey, so for me, it wasn’t so successful. She randomly places quotes in the middle of prose and I found that it really broke my concentration of the topic in hand. So much so, I ended up ignoring the quotes, so probably missed something meaningful along the way.
Laura: Some of the ideas just went over my head but I think this is partly because I didn’t identify with the problem that she was exploring, so it just didn’t feel particularly relevant. At some points I would be nodding in agreement and then terms like ‘meditation altar’ would be thrown in and I would find myself growing more skeptical again.
It is obvious that the author subscribes to a form of Western Buddhism; at the start of the book she suggests that there was a selection of ideals that people could pick from but throughout the book more Buddhist concepts were introduced such as the eight-fold path. This isn’t a bad philosophy and certainly people of any faith (and none) could identify with it to an extent but on a personal level, it isn’t a school of thought that I follow so found I switched off when there was too many mentions to this kind of thing.
Hannah: I wouldn’t say there was something in the book I didn’t understand, it was more what wasn’t in there…namely discipline. It’s one thing to notice your kids acting up, and she in fact gives some guidance to how it is often our ego that is reacting when our kids don’t do exactly what we ask them, which I understood, hence I’m being more patient. But I struggle with what to do when my child is actually naughty; bites someone or pulls the cat’s tail. How does you deal with a wriggly toddler intent on destruction in a mindful way?
5. Who or why would you recommend the book to others?
Sarah: I would recommend this book to friends who are actively considering or practising mindfulness and/or Buddhism, but not just as a general gift.
Laura: I would recommend the book to others in that I found it thought provoking. I think I will return to it as something to just dip into on occasion when I have a specific problem or just want to seek a moment of calm. It’s certainly not for everyone but I did find myself parroting bits of advice to people!
Hannah: There were a few moments in the book, which really made me think I must lend this to so-and-so.
“The assurance that parenting is amazing but also really hard and we need ‘allies’ reminded me of both being a new parent but also a step-parent.” – Hannah
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in mindfulness techniques and being a calmer parent. There may be times that you raise your eye-brows (in fact I laughed out loud in a few unintentional places) but on the whole it is a lovely, honest book about a real mum (with loads of kids that she’s home-schooling, whilst writing books and working in other capacities!!) and she talks candidly about how she feels at times and how she uses these techniques to become mindful and takes control of a situation.
Does this sound like the kind of book you’d like to read? Does the idea of Mindful Parenting appeal to you?
We’d love to hear you think. Join in the conversation on the Mums’ Days Facebook Page or tweet @mumsdays with your thoughts!
Meet Sarah and Laura
Sarah is a mum of two girls, Ava born in 2010 and Eliza born in 2012. They live in East London with Dad, Ryan, and our two cats, Elsa and Ana (!). Sarah has given up her job in London theatre to be a stay at home mum and her interests are blogging all things family related, especially Pinterest, as well as travelling, reading, crafts and cooking. She has recently spent her time fundraising to replace our local playground.
Laura is a secondary teacher in an all-boys school but is currently embarking on a blessed year of maternity leave! In her spare time she enjoys keeping fit, reading, visiting new places (especially if it involves brunch!) and hanging out with friends. Laura lives in Edinburgh with her husband, Mike, and three children, Ben, Katie and Thomas. Laura also writes the blog Edinburgh Life with Kids and you can tweet her here @ediwithkids.