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?

10 Answers 10


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
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 23:37
  • 1
    When we attach to something over there our here-and-now becomes unbearable. That's what I called "inverse projection of attachments".
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 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.


Yes. The question is a complete misunderstanding of the Buddhist concept of attachment; having incorrectly applied the teaching of non-attachment to the wrong context or situation. Since Buddhism is about preventing and ending suffering, obviously it does not teach parents to not be attached to their children, in a manner that would lead to neglecting the welfare & well-ending of the children.


I heard someone say yesterday that if it wasn't for attachment, the longing, a mother's desire for her child, then she may be more likely to leave their child and not look after them. Up until a certain age a child will need someone to look after them and it is important they have someone to look after them. Loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity may provide the child with the emotional security the child needs but that will be broken if the parent abandons the child or does not provide those elements to the relationship at the right times or the attention is unpredicatable (this is what attachment theory discusses).

I have looked at buddhism and meditate regularly but I am not an expert on what the Buddha said however...I think that what is most important is that we recognise our emotions and urges and we act on them if they are sensible and in that way we are not so 'attached' to the emotions and urges to a degree that would cause distress.

In a mother and child relationship they will have a natural biological and psychological strong bond but if the mother is attached to the extent that the desire for her child overrides logic then problems will arise. How good would a mother be if she kept a child in a dangerous situation because she was so strongly attached to the child? No good at all! It is of course natural for the mother to feel distressed after separating with her child but feeling it and acting on it blindly are two different things.

The child may still crawl to the mother and put itself in danger of course but that is because it is a child and has not learnt to separate its emotions from its actions, it knows no better and it does literally need its mother (or someone else) to survive. This programming is hardcoded into the child's brain.

This is for me what the buddha meant by non-attachment, we practice it, we recognise when it is sensible to look after someone through our responsibilites and love (equanimity, compassion, loving kindness, sympathetic joy) and the current situation and people we are dealsing with and we are able to then easily work out the correct situation regardless of our attachment. The buddha spoke about ignorance in equal measure; the mother also needs wisdom in the same level as non-attachment.

Husband and wife relationships I feel are slightly different because if, in an ideal world, we are so free of attachment people could go off and do their own thing at the drop of a hat then we wouldn't stay in relationships for very long! However we have a preference to be in relationships, possibly a slight preference to monogmous relationships (based on my open relationship / 'polyamourous' friends experiences they do seem more complicated!). To know someone takes time so to chop and change partner can cause difficulties, also it is beneficial to know that you have someone committed to you in times of trouble, also our sexual 'needs' puts you at risk if you have many sexual partners and the natural distress of a breakup I think can also be factored in here (it would be natural to feel sadness but we don't need to be attached to it and can let it fade). Emotions may guide us to split up (hatred, dissatisfaction) or keep us together (neediness) but it may be possible to overcome difficulties by not being so attached to our emotions and stay together or separate if that is what our good wisdom really tells us is the best course.

Practising non-attachment and understanding allows us to detatch ourselves from our naturally arising emotions and be able to behave in ways which are ultimately more compassionate, kind and loving.


Householder THelper, parents, interested,

Children, Bullets

A gun shoots its children — its bullets — outward. We shoot ours inward, into our heart. When they're good, we're shot in the heart. When they're bad, we're shot in the heart. They're an affair of kamma, our children. There are good ones, there are bad ones, but both the good and bad are our children all the same.

When they're born, look at us: The worse off they are, the more we love them. If one of them comes down with polio and gets crippled, that's the one we love the most. When we leave the house we tell the older ones, "Look after your little sister. Look after this one" — because we love her. When we're about to die we tell them, "Look after her. Look after my child." She's not strong, so you love her even more.

once having received a guest wishing to make use of your offer and depends in many, nearly all regards, on you till able to go on if wishing, it's a great, nearly unrepayable gift of yours, how ever large or small it might be.

Having a guest means not only to to welcome him, but also that it's not ones own, can not be controlled, and will in all cases depart one day.

All you do is a matter of your generosity, free will, and nobody would have an inherent right of your many sacrifies. That being the case, a child has huge debts and whether seeing or not, parents are the children first Gods, sometimes the only.

When ever a child comes proper after his duties toward the parents, it's proper to reward the main duties:

"In five ways, young householder, the parents thus ministered to as the East by their children, show their compassion:

  • (i) they restrain them from evil,
  • (ii) they encourage them to do good,
  • (iii) they train them for a profession,
  • (iv) they arrange a suitable marriage,
  • (v) at the proper time they hand over their inheritance to them.

If being not only the first god, but able to give secound, teacher in the world, third, teacher toward heavens, or even the highest, teacher toward liberation, that that of what your child owes to you increases strongly.

The later kind of Gods have certain duties in regard of giving ways to freedom and release and this is something one should mostly focus on, since on day there will be seperating. What can be more of joy for a God as to see his heirs in boundless states, overcome the misseries of bounds.

Even the Lord Buddha, no debts and duties at all, looked always toward this for his children, his monks, and departed on his own last journey only after he knew that his guest could gain of what their wished to attain, right view and the path to liberation.

So no more gift for a guest as to give him/her samples of right view, giving into higher and Sublime and not tending backwards and toward lower.

That's way people with right view, right directed, are not bound by their following, but "pull" them, headed in the right direction, if the guest wish so, toward liberation.

So be really a God for them, someone "liberal" and not someone devoted to lower, bound and worshipping those who actually would owe one much. What ever one gives, one gain: so there is no higher gift as that of giving toward release.


Children are like vines. Wherever a vine sprouts up, it has to look for a tree to climb up. If one tree is 15 centimeters away and another 10 meters away, which tree do you think the vine will climb up? It'll climb up the nearest tree. It's probably not going to climb up the tree 10 meters away because that one is too far off.

In the same way, schoolteachers are the people closest to their students. They're the people who children are most likely to take as examples. So it's essential that you schoolteachers have good manners and standards of behavior — in terms of what you should do and should abandon — for children to see. Don't teach them just with your mouths. The way you stand, the way you walk, the way you sit — your every movement, your every word — you have to make into a teaching for the children. They'll follow your example because children are quick to pick things up. They're quicker than adults.

So watch out of what and whom you fall for, venerate and regard as worthy to give into. That will be the foremost orientation your child could gain from you.

No one is more lost if been send of into pseudo liberal orphanage of no orientation.

Good to look that you yourself, do not become again such a heavy burden for many, as suffering comes from what is dear, taking no more birth in any womb, headed to heaven and beyond. Look out the mass fighting and killing for their childs.

The sorrows, lamentations, the many kinds of suffering in the world, exist dependent on something dear. They don't exist when there's nothing dear. And thus blissful & sorrowless are those for whom nothing in the world is anywhere dear. So one who aspires to the stainless & sorrowless shouldn't make anything dear in the world anywhere. (to sample mother Upasika Visākhā)

(Note that this is not given for trade, exchange, stacks, entertainment and akusala deeds, but as a share of merits and continue such for release)

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