Photo by: John Morgan

The Right Now Way

by Karen Maezen Miller
Photo by: John Morgan

Parenthood is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and there is no one harder on you than yourself. To be fair, we parents are nudged along in fear and self-doubt by experts who don’t mind telling us that the way we feed, hold, handle, speak to, and sleep with our kids is dangerous, particularly to their future test scores. No wonder we wake with a groan each morning as if we’d spent all night being kicked in the ribs by a little monster.

It’s not just the experts who dole out the body blows. We do it to each other. Venture into a park or playgroup and you’re bombarded by advocates for dueling parenting styles. We hurt ourselves, too, every time we fix on one way as the right way. One blind curve and the right way turns into the wrong way in a hurry. Perhaps we feel so inadequate because parenthood shows us the limits of what anyone can know, particularly about the future.

As parents, we think our job is to create an ideal outcome — a happier child, a smarter child, a more successful child. It’s a silly notion, isn’t it? That we are supposed to shape something presidential out of what looks like seven pounds of putty in our palm. The pressure alone makes us feel as though we’re doomed to fail. But this focus on the future outcome blinds us to the marvel that already appears before us. It’s not putty. Babies aren’t blobs. Do we ever notice, and trust, the wonder of life happening continually and miraculously by itself?

One day — it seems like only yesterday — my baby rolled over. Sat up. Crawled. Walked. Spoke. Ate with a spoon. A fork. Rode a trike. A two-wheeler. Read. Wrote. Made up a song. Climbed a tree. Boarded a bus. Turned a cartwheel. None of it was hard for me, to tell you the truth. What makes my life as a parent so hard is my persistent negative judgments about myself and my child, compared to my expectations.

We expect it to be the way we want it to be; and the way we want it to be is the way we call right. There is no right way to parent; there is only a right-now way.

Like it or not, this is the offering that children give us, over and over: right now. Children always show us the present moment unfolding. Our full attention is the only thing of value we can give them in return. Good thing too, because it is the only thing that makes a lasting difference.

We spend a good bit of our lives as parents thinking it will get easier some other day: when the baby is out of diapers, then out from underfoot, then out of our hair, and then finally out of the house. It is always going to be easier some other day. But we never have to wait that long. It gets easier as soon as you get out of your judging mind — the mind that picks and chooses one way as best and regards all other ways as less.

And what a happy day that is! When we liberate ourselves from the idea of parenting success, we liberate our children from failure, all without accomplishing a single thing. Freedom is instantaneous the moment we accept the way things are right now.

When we focus on what is in front of us, what is truly facing us in a situation, we know what to do and not do. I’m never confused when I see my daughter reach up to touch the open flame on the stovetop, only when I try to deduce some future impact on her performance. Since in the thinking about what to do we become terribly confused, I tell parents to stop thinking about all the worrisome what-ifs and just stay present to what is. Then, if we overreact, we can always say we’re sorry. There is no right way to parent, but saying we’re sorry is something we can all get good at.

“Mommy, I feel sorry for God,” my daughter said not long ago, “because he has to create a million billion fingerprints!” And here I am complaining about making another bowl of macaroni and cheese. As far as I’m concerned, she can call the source of creation whatever she likes; I’m just glad she’s taken the responsibility for fabricating the human race out of my hands. I can make a mess out of the simplest things.

Karen Maezen Miller is the author of Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life and Momma Zen. She is a Zen Buddhist priest and meditation teacher at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles, California. Visit her online. This piece is excerpted from the book Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life© 2010 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

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This is so true! It is absolutely ridiculous! My mama raised us right and there were 4 of us....sometimes I think people that come up with all that are just looking for attention they did not get when they were raised...let's look at their childhood and see what happened there. GIVE US GOOD MOTHERS A BREAK!

This was very timely excerpt to read for me tonight after spending an hour and a half trying to get my 3 year old daughter to bed. In the end what worked was just patience and understanding and being there with her to hold her hand.

Well said, Karen. It's so true, and I know it, yet I can still be hard on myself or compare myself to others. It's a process to rid ourselves of this judgmental thinking.

As always, I love your writing.

this is very thought provoking. by turning this vignette around and looking at how i "parent" myself; it amazes me how much i judge. how often i second guess myself. how often i am SO mean to myself. how hard is it to trust my instincts? both in my actions and how i treat myself? only as hard as i make it......

Agreed! When I focus on the here and now, life is so much simpler.

"We spend a good bit of our lives as parents thinking it will get easier some other day..."
so TRUE. my big one for this line of thinking is "when he sleeps through the night...." but i know what happens then. when that happens, i will miss snuggling with my little baby who didn't sleep through the night!
as always, thank you for sharing you.

This is so true. I often find myself judging myself or comparing myself to other moms. I see the happiness in my kids faces and know I'm doing something right..I hope. :)

Great insights, Karen. When I let go of my expectations (for both of my children and for me), life is simpler and more joyous. They do learn to walk, read, write, and the like in a series of progressive miracles. I'm becoming more comfortable celebrating those moments rather than trying to drive them . . . but it is a process.

Thank you as always for your wonderful words.

thank you for offering this passage. i will dance on the right now path tonight, and hopefully still be on it tomorrow morning.

perfect words to read this week. thank you.

Such wisdom. These moments we have, right now, are the only moments exactly like these that we will ever have. We have a choice to live into them and embrace them or wish them away. If only embracing were easier!

I am wincing right now, remembering those early years with my daughter when I still thought there was a "right" way and a "wrong" way to parent. While I've long since given up seeing anyone else's parenting in that light, I'm still quick to judge myself by those terms. Thanks for the reminder to keep it real. The right now moment is the only moment there is!

True. As a teacher I've found children respond beautifully when they know you are paying close attention to them. They become fully engaged...and engaging. Every small word and gesture each and every day matters.

Your words are always inspiring. I am my biggest critic, my harshest judge. I feel too tired to stay present, my mind just wants to race to the next thing on the list because the list is so long. When I stop and listen and I am present, my kids always have me smiling. Thank you for reminding me to be present.

Your wonderfully written words bring clarity to me as a mother and helps me to "just be," knowing everything will turn out the way it will be. Thank you!

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