Buddhism For Mothers by Sarah Napthali
Allen & Unwin, RRP: $26.95
Book reviews are rarely filled with wild enthusiasm for the titles in question. I’ve written a lot of reviews over the years, and the tone usually has been one of detachment and nit-picking, even if I’ve liked the book! They don’t call reviewers ‘critics’ for nothing. So I’m pleased in this case to discard any professional disinterest and shout from the rooftops that Sarah Napthali’s Buddhism for Mothers is a life changing read and I love it! In years of being a parenting tome raider I have never found a book so practical and positive about living well as a parent.
The book’s subtitle, ‘A calm approach to caring for yourself and your children’, is a good indication of the content. There are no breastfeeding tips or toddler tantrum tools here; rather, it is about reframing one’s own attitude to parenting in order to find at least a few snippets of peace in a day, if not a lifelong inner glow. Napthali points out that while there are many books about nurturing children, there are few that consider nurturing the parents who struggle to raise them. This book fills that gap by offering ways to reduce the suffering involved in parenting, which ultimately benefits everyone in your little tribe.
A friend referred to this book as Buddhism for Dummies and I can see her point. Certainly, it includes a pared back and simply outlined version of the main tenets of the religion. At the same time, it is not wholly about Buddhism; it is about not losing it at your kids when you know it is actually work that’s making you stressed, and appreciating the small positives in a day rather than dwelling on the challenging negatives that invariably crop up at the worst possible moments.
So, rather than being for Dummies, let’s say this is a summary of Buddhist concepts from which one can pick and choose some helpful tools for better coping with everyday stress. Concepts like meditation, transience and karma are discussed in a way that makes them easy to digest. Such terms are frequently hijacked by Western pop psychology, and misunderstood in the wider community, so parents and non-parents alike might enjoy this overview of the origins of these ideas.
But whether you wish to fully embrace Buddhism or use it as just one dish in your spiritual smorgasbord, Buddhism for Mothers basically suggests ‘it’s all good’. Many of us would love to have time for regular meditating at mountain retreats, but if we could simply learn to enjoy a daily shower without letting our minds stocktake our million-and-one responsibilities it might be a terrifically positive step towards a more peaceful day.
When you become a parent, it is common for your world to shrink a little. Some days for me it seems like there is no world outside the triangle of streets between my house, my daughter’s school and the local shops. But Napthali, and the many colleagues, friends and other knowledgeable sources she quotes in the book, remind us that however mundane or challenging or wonderful today is, the one certainty of life is that tomorrow will be different. The book encourages us to appreciate the good and examine the bad, rather than be swept along with life’s tides, often feeling out of control.
This ‘mindful parenting’ is at the core of the book. Mindfulness is about learning to be ‘present in the moment’. Have you ever driven all the way from work to home without remembering the journey? Found your keys in the fridge? Walked into the lounge room and forgotten why you’re there? These are the things we do when our busy brains stop noticing the fine details of life. It is logical that this might lead to us sometimes neglecting to fully appreciate our kids, or to fully develop ourselves as functioning adults.
Napthali’s approach is refreshingly free from any preaching or didacticism. She acknowledges that unless you are the Dalai Lama himself, you will have cranky days and unforeseen emergencies that challenge the most blissed out of meditators. The aim though is to try. Just taking small moments in a day to be mindful of your surroundings can bring many revelations and positive experiences. One of the few things that almost all parents agree on is that time moves fast. And, as that great mindfulness guru Ferris Bueller once said, “if you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you might miss it”.