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Buddhism and Infant Parenting

My wife, six-year-old daughter, and I recently welcomed twin daughters into our family. They are terribly adorable and photogenic. While we are having lots of fun adjusting to the chaos of having two newborn babies in the house, it turns out that raising infant twins is a lot hard work.
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My wife, six-year-old daughter, and I recently welcomed twin daughters into our family. They are terribly adorable and photogenic. While we are having lots of fun adjusting to the chaos of having two newborn babies in the house, it turns out that raising infant twins is a lot hard work. Who would have thought, right? And I have a whole new appreciation and admiration for my wife who has literally been a rock-star-twin-mommy-superhero these past several months.

Like most normal babies, these girls have healthy sets of lungs are not shy about giving us regular demonstrations of their capacity and abilities. While I try to endure the crying spells with a good dose of love and patience, I'll admit that sometimes it seems that the exact frequency, pitch, and intensity of their baby screams are perfectly designed to illicit the maximum physiological and emotional reaction from the depths of my consciousness and endocrine system. (I'm sure that evolutionary psychologists have figured out an explanation for this phenomenon already: perhaps some variant of the "squeaky wheel gets the grease and improves chances of survival" idea.)

A few years ago I spent some time studying up on Buddhism and other Eastern religions. Coming from a Western background it was all very interesting, but also very new to me. I learned some approaches to mindfulness meditation and inward-focused spirituality that have been very helpful to me and my family. A few weeks ago it occurred to me that Buddhism might also have something to offer when it comes to managing the stress of dealing with a normal crying baby who, despite eliminating all other potential causal factors (has she eaten? clean diaper? warm temperature?) is still continuing to cry for no apparent reason.

One of the central ideas of Buddhism deals with how to prevent suffering. In a nutshell, Buddhism teaches that suffering exists because of personal attachment and desire and so the way to prevent suffering is by eliminating attachment and desire.

Applied to my current situation, it occurred to me that my "suffering" (impatience and aggravation with the incessant baby crying) is caused by desire. Specifically, I desire that my babies stop crying. I then have a desire for what I'll do with my "free" time after they've stopped crying and gone back to sleep (ha ha, I know). Thus, it occurred to me that the way I might decrease my suffering would be to separate myself from my desire for them to stop crying so that I can move on to the next task on my mental checklist. Instead, I could try to "embrace the moment" and more intentionally try to accept whatever was happening. I could try to not have an expectation for a quiet, peaceful baby sleeping session and instead be more mindfully present and enjoy the rare privilege of getting to parent twin baby daughters.

I wish I could report that this epiphany has changed my life forever and that now I live in a constant state of "zen parenting" filled with bliss, enlightenment, and spa relaxation music. But that hasn't happened. Instead, I've had some occasional successes here and there. Now when I'm having a difficult moment with one of the babies, I try to "get my zen on" by closing my eyes, taking some deep mindfulness breaths, and try to focus on the moment and not let myself be preoccupied with a desire for them to immediately calm down and stop crying. On good days this helps me relax, have more patience, and remember that in the bigger scheme of things, their infant months will go by in a flash. On other days I tell myself that "enjoying the moment" when the "moment" is a shrill screaming baby in my ear at 2:30 AM is literally the stupidest idea I've ever had. Other days I meet somewhere in the middle by rocking my baby with headphones in while listening to zen relaxation music. Sometimes I "win" by successfully making it through the crying spell with my wits intact and gratitude for the experience. Other times I give in to the aggravation and let myself experience despair and hopelessness and think "this will never end!!!!" All in all it's a mixed bag.

Nonetheless, I appreciate the perspective that the Buddhist tradition has provided in terms of combating my more natural urge to just want to get everything "over with" and move on to the next task at hand or phase of life. Sometimes I'm able to channel some Buddhist perspective and take some time to be more intentionally and mindfully present in the moments and experience of caring for my two perfect infant daughters.

Now if I could only learn to be more "mindfully present" when one of them pukes all over the place when we're out in public after forgetting to bring the diaper bag. Baby steps.