Buddhist philosophy says that we shouldn't get attached and try to form bonds with something and desire or crave it because everything is essentially impermanent and this will lead to suffering. But how can you raise a child without being attached? Wouldn't that make you lousy parent?

Of course the older a child gets, the more you'll have to let go. Every child needs to find his/her own way in life, but that doesn't take away the fact that, especially in the early years, there is a big attachment to your children.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding the concept of attachment? Or is there another explanation?


Love and attachment are only incidentally related. Of course that depends on how you define love.

I would propose that love can be crudely understood as the act of giving. Naturally "investing" yourself in any "thing" particular will cause attachment to that particular "thing". And when we give, we have a tendency to at least subconsciously perceive that as an investment.

You can however rid yourself from these reflexes. You can give without expecting. Without succumbing to remorse if your feel your gift is non accepted or squandered. Children have a talent for giving parents that feeling.

Please note that I am not saying that you should not have any expectations towards your children. I believe you should. But you should not think of these goals as the desired fruits of your love. You should love unconditionally and independently set these goals in terms of what you genuinely believe will make your child happy. You will need a certain level of detachment/distance to make that assessment. You will even need to accept that your child (or anybody that you love) may reject the goals and head straight for something that makes them unhappy. If that is so, it is an experience they must be allowed to learn from (at least to the extent that the resulting harm to them is not devastating). Not expecting anything in return for your love will make it a lot easier for you to give it even then.

Try seeing the child not as your child, but the child that you choose to love regardless of the outcome. That is love without attachment.


Parents are supposed to practice Brahmavihara towards children. Attachment doesn't benefit them in any way. What benefits them are kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. Attachment or clinging just makes you sad and afraid. Lord Buddha had no attachment. But he still preached the Dhamma, Vinaya and created a system which benefited many beings. Sometimes he would travel a great distance to help people attain enlightenment. He advised the Arya Sangha to do the same. Even after 2500 years, millions of people around the world still benefit from it. All that good work is done because of compassion. Not because of attachment.

You provide for your children because of Metta (friendliness). When they get sick, you take them to the doctor because of Karuna (compassion). When they study well and get into good positions in the society, you become happy because of Muditha (sympathetic joy). When they get married and leave you or when they get busy in life and don't visit you as much as they used to, you stay calm because of Upekkha (equanimity).

Attachment doesn't do any of that. It only makes you sad & afraid.


I’m a clinical psychologist. I wonder if the various definitions of ‘Attachment’ might be the cause of some confusion? In psychological literature ‘Attachment’ is a crucial element of a healthy parent-child relationship. It refers to unconditional love and sensitive, empathic and compassionate parenting. It is not referring to a parents misplaced sense of ownership, or a way of imposing ideals, or living vicariously through their children - all of which (to my limited knowledge) may come under the Buddhist concept of ‘Attachment’.


While you have attachment, you also have love for your children. Attachment is the cause for wanting to do things that you think will make you happy. (And ultimately will not.) Love is the cause for wanting to do things that make others happy. Buddhism (and most, if not all, religions) makes the case that there is no greater compassion then that of parents, especially mothers, who work so hard and endure so much pain (and poop!) for the sake of their children. Love will make mistakes but we don't know the result of all of our actions so, if you are acting with Love, and trying to act with as much wisdom and compassion as you possibly can, I think you are doing good stuff! You, a future Buddha, are raising children, future Buddhas themselves. That's pretty awesome. (My twins graduated from college in 2013. Sweet! and Whew!)


IMHO, the answer boils down to difference between beginner's and advanced practitioner's attitude.

In beginner's mind, there is a strong conflict between Samsara of day-to-day life, and the peace of Nirvana. Buddhist practice is seen as a mean of cutting the fetters that keep reengaging one in the endless cycle of Samsara with its pointless activities and endless frustration. The challenges of day-to-day life are taken as nuisances or obstacles distracting one from study and practice.

In an advanced practitioner's mind though, Samsara is seen as an inverse projection of attachments, and Nirvana is understood as a fully integrated experience free from conflict between desirable and undesirable, not a place apart of Samsara. For such practitioner, all activity becomes dharmic practice, with glimpses of Nirvana hiding in the here and now, behind the curtain of dualistic mind.

As someone who's been married for ~19 years, and a practicing Buddhist for about the same time, I can say that married life provides endless possibilities for overcoming one's pathological habits, dropping one's hang-ups, surrendering one's egoistic facades, and sacrificing one's petty personal goals in the name of the higher good. As long as one operates in the right context, basically that growth requires overcoming the ego, married life becomes the best dharma school one could ask for.

As far as actual parenting (my son Matthew is going to be 16 in March), there is nothing as satisfying as helping another sentient being emerge less caught up in illusions than you were.

Finally, when we speak of attachments in (Mahayana) Buddhism we don't mean commitments or responsibilities. We mean attachments to preconceptions, prejudices, to (illusory) certainties, to self-image, irrational attachments to unrealistic expectations, all kinds of obsessions etc. In this context the answer to "How can you raise a child without being attached?" becomes very obvious -- the less attached you are, the better you do as parent.

  • I didn't understand, "... an inverse projection of attachments". – ChrisW Sep 29 '14 at 23:37
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    When we attach to something over there our here-and-now becomes unbearable. That's what I called "inverse projection of attachments". – Andrei Volkov Sep 30 '14 at 2:31

There are many teachings to consider in buddhism's appx. 3000 year history. Today, the prescribed practice of buddhism for the modern age allows any individual to better understand and experience one's own enlightenment, without undergoing the austerities that Shakyamuni had to prescribe based on the people's capacity to understand at that time. Obviously, there are many transient things that would be considered "normal" necessities in any time period, such as food, shelter, clothing, etc. In reality, it is those very needs and desires that propel us to strive for bigger and better ideals and goals. Although on the surface, the teachings of Buddhism might be interpreted as implying that we should rid ouselves of all attachments, which would be impossible, the true intent of the teachings is that we should not allow our life to be ruled by attachments. In the complete picture, our ultimate mission as humans is to relieve the sufferings of others. Being a parent is another vehicle that gives us the opportunity to manifest our innate enlightenment. Embrace your children, encourage them to always do their best, and live your life fully so they can learn by example.


There was an interesting thread on this a few years back at Dharma Overground, where Stefanie Dunning gave a parental viewpoint. The "Actual Freedom" she mentions is some kind of modern very hard to understand (that's not a criticism; I just find them opaque) branch of contemplative practice, but I think her comments can apply to the Buddhist practitioner.

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