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Learning Mindful Parenting From Dragon Moms

“Before you cross the street, take my hand.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

In John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" we see a mundane example of mindful parenting, helping a child to live in the moment rather than in the future. The work of mindful parenting is in the quality of the attention we bring to each moment, and in the commitment to live and parent as consciously as possible. I feel that I am parenting mindfully when I am seeing my children clearly, as they are, without the veils of my own expectations, fears, and needs so that I can see what is truly called for in each moment.

But I live in a society in which so-called "tiger parenting" seems to be widely practiced as a way of achieving success for children. Popularized by Amy Chua in her attention-getting Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and an incendiary Wall Street Journal article, "Chinese Mothers are Superior," this style of parenting may be loathed by some while lauded by others as the only way to get your kids to the top. For these parents, it's the results at the end that matter. But when is the end?

For some parents, it's painfully obvious that the end is early. I have found great lessons in mindful parenting from those who raise children with terminal diseases. Emily Rapp calls them dragon moms who are “fierce, loyal and loving as hell.” Their experiences have taught them, “how to parent for the here and now, for the sake of parenting, for the humanity implicit in the act itself, though this runs counter to traditional wisdom and advice.” Rapp contrasts her way with tiger mothers who are “animated by the idea that good, careful investments in your children will pay off in the form of happy endings, rich futures.” She confesses that she is a dragon mom because her child has a terminal illness and is likely to die before his third birthday; she knows he has no future.

In The Power of Two: A Twin Triumph over Cystic Fibrosis, we meet another dragon mom, Hatsuko Arima, the mother of the twins. When her daughter Ana passed away last year after an incredible journey of 41 years surviving CF and two double lung transplants, Hatsuko received sympathetic condolences. But she confessed to me that while sadness was certainly there, she was also filled with joy from deep gratitude that Ana had received 41 years of life in which she had been able to accomplish so much. From Ana's birth she had been prepared to expect a short life for her child. Parenting with a consciousness that time is limited for one's child can give appreciation for the preciousness of each day.

Some people will dismiss the Dragon Mom as a special way of raising a child with a short life expectancy that can’t be the right way to raise a “normal” child. But Rapp ends her essay with her belief that she has learned something valuable for all parents, “Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is.”

Her message for me as a parent is that living for the future is an illusion: “parents who, particularly in this country, are expected to be superhuman, to raise children who outpace all their peers, don’t want to see what we see. The long truth about their children, about themselves: that none of it is forever.”

Many spiritual teachers tell us of the power of now, to be mindful, to be attentive. Good parenting may involve no more, and no less, than respecting and listening to your child. Those of us whose children do not have terminal illnesses live with the belief that our children have a future for which we must prepare them. But the reality is that this is not always true. Some of our children are taken from us long before we have planned. And for those who are not, parenting for the future may rob us of the presence required to see and listen to our children in a way that enables us to respond to them in the present moment.

In the past few years two of my friends have lost their young children; one in a car accident and the other to cancer. They both remind me to keep trying to discover a way of parenting that leads to deep connection, empathy, and love for both our children and ourselves. Mindful parenting is moment-to-moment awareness and appreciation of "everyday blessings." I try to balance the need to prepare children for a future, while reminding myself to never neglect living fully and loving them each day.

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