Monday, May 19, 2014

5 Non-Parenting Books for Mindful Parenting

12 Days of Gratitude: Someone who has changed my life, even though I don't know them. 

Authors often reach through the pages of their books and move us, make us think, inspire us, and more. So, when I considered this gratitude prompt -- someone who has changed my life, even though I don't know them -- I suspected my choice would be an author. 

Years ago, a good friend was graduating from college and Thich Nhat Hanh (whom I had not heard of at the time) was speaking at her graduation. His presence and his words impressed me. His aura was one of peace, mindfulness and wisdom. That friend could tell, and she gave me a copy of one of his books: Being Peace. It would be the first of many that I would read -- all of which would have an impact. I am grateful for his words and am highlighting three of his books today as I share 5 non-parenting books that have helped me be a more mindful parent. 

Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh

When I first read Being Peace (which I revisit often), I was struggling with "the big question" -- what to do with my life, working to untangle what my "purpose" was. I had passion for creating peace in the Middle East (youthful zest and optimism), yet also felt a bit out of place with that quest as I had no personal connection to the region other than a semester abroad in Egypt. I felt uncomfortable finding my place as a peacemaker, which I felt drawn toward being. 

Thay (as Hanh is often called) brought things together for me by showing me that being a voice and a presence for peace was an all encompassing role -- something that could be done everyday no matter where I was. He showed me that changing the world begins first with changing myself and that all of my actions matter. Every interaction with another person (and with myself, even) was a moment to be peace or to foster more anger, resentment, frustration or hate. I still revisit this book and this message. Particularly now as a parent, I see how my ability to be peace affects my children. If I can focus each day on being peace, I will model this for my children and will be mindful of my thoughts, actions and attitudes as a parent. 
If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work."

Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh

This book further extends the words and message of Being Peace and brought forward, for me, the importance of being present to life. Today, most people find themselves pushed toward multi-tasking. As moms, we often pride ourselves on multitasking (I recall nursing Caterpillar while making cookies with Wild Thing). Peace is Every Step reminds me that less is more and to shift my mindset so that I am present to each moment and focused on the task at hand -- the singular task at hand. Being present for me is the key to mindful parenting. When I am juggling too much or not truly paying attention to my children or my own feelings or needs, I lose my center and can no longer be mindful as a parent. 
Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.  
Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.” 

True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh

This is the last of Thay's book that I will share here, though he has many, many books, including books for children. My brother gave me this book, and I am deeply grateful to him for doing so. Examining and focusing on love is so important for mindful parenting. This book, particularly, helped me on my journey toward fully loving and accepting myself -- even those traits I am not proud of, or the deep hurts that I can sometimes feel scar me and hold me back. He uses beautiful analogies to foster healing and wholeness in our hearts.

"When the mother hears her baby crying, she puts down whatever she has in her hands, she goes into its room, and takes the baby in her arms...The mother does not know yet what is the matter...but the fact that she has it in her arms already gives her child some relief."
I've written of this book before and am re-sharing a few thoughts related to the passage above: This (comforting my children) is something I do often for them, but Thay uses this example as an analogy of something we must do for ourselves (out of love for ourselves and for those closest to us).

He speaks about treating one's negative feelings in this way. Instead of burying them or pushing them aside, we should pick up our jealousy, our anger, our resentment and hold it, recognize it. This allows us to release it. 

I've benefited as a parent from this idea in helping my sons work through their emotions. When Wild Thing went through a particularly challenging phase (when he was 3), he was full of anger and full of the need to defy me. Often, he was angry at me and would even hit. My initial reaction was to make him stop and to shut down the whole situation. However, when I would tell him he should stop and try to calm him, often the whole situation would escalate. Then, I tried a different approach. I accepted his feelings, but focused on helping him change his mode of expressing those feelings. I helped him to hold his anger and manage it. This worked so much better. Being able to tell me he was angry with me was important to him. We also worked on different options for his angry energy. Rather than hitting, he would run or give me a big bear hug -- both of us embracing his anger until it dissipated. Thank you, Thay, for helping me find a workable, mindful, helpful solution to a major parenting challenge.

When Things Fall Apart by Pedma Chodron

I've written about this book on the blog before as well -- first sharing about it in a post I wrote after the tragedy in Newton about a year and half ago. In the wake of tragedies, the book draws me toward it. The book's focus is those difficult times and the healing (and grieving) process they demand. As a parent, this book resonates well with True Love as both remind me to create space for my emotions and to create space for my children's emotions as well -- to honor our need to feel things, even the painful things, the hurt. So often, we want to shield our children from pain, from sorrow, but this is impossible. We can help them navigate their feelings, help them come together and be there for them when they fall apart -- and we must understand that this will happen to us as well. As a parent, I often feel like I'm falling part or grieving for a world that confounds me and fills me with sorrow, as was the case recently when nearly 300 girls were taken from their families. Chodron also writes of those moments as the moments that wake us up or put us back to sleep. I choose to let them wake me up, to motivate me to foster care and compassion in the world, to be a force for good, to "be peace."
"We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” 

Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to a Good Life by Jamie Oliver -- or your favorite cookbook. I chose a cookbook as my final non-parenting book for mindful parenting because for me mindful eating and regular meals together as a family is key to being engaged with my children and my spouse in a way that promotes mindfulness as a parent and family. By taking time to make meals for my family or to cook together as a family (which we also do), I am awake and present to my family. I am focused on nurturing us physically, which extends to nurturing myself and my family emotionally as well. I don't actually use a ton of the recipes in this Jamie Oliver cookbook, to be honest, but I love its message of growing your own food, being close to your food source and feeding your family good, real, whole food from nature. 

Are there books (parenting or otherwise) that help you to be mindful and present as a parent? What other parenting resources do you appreciate? Is there an author who changed your life? I'd love to add some new books to my reading list and to check out some new cookbooks, so pass your favorites along. I also want to recommend Abundant Mama, a valuable resource I appreciate so much for mindful parenting. Her Facebook shares and writings often pull me back to center. 

...and check out where I'm sharing this post: Good Tips Tuesday, Mom's Library and the Sunday Parenting Party. 

You might also like:

5 Beach Books for Moms
5 Tips for Raising Boys to be Good Men
Compassion + Healing


  1. Great post and points of reflection! I would like to make more time to read real paperback books. I am going to shift my time and priorities a bit to make time for them. The only author that popped into my head is Dr. Wayne Dyer - his quotes resonate with me and help me see things differently especially during stressful situations.

  2. They are all interesting choices as books, especially Jamie Oliver´s. Apart from my own book (which admittedly is a parenting book) I think that "In Praise of Slow" by Carl Honoré is a real eye-opener.