VTC: Repaying the Kindness of Our Parents

by Ven. Thubten Chodron

Many of us Westerners are not familiar with recognizing and repaying the kindness of our parents. Since the breakdown of the family structure and the advent of pop-psychology, many of us are more familiar with looking at families as dysfunctional and codependent, populated by wounded inner children and perpetuating child abuse. I do not want to ignore the pain and tragedy that occurs in some families. However, I think it is important for our own happiness and the happiness of those around us that we have a more balanced view of our families. Since we see what we look for, constantly dwelling on our disappointments in the relationships with our parents over-emphasizes their importance. Blaming our parents for what we see as harm done to us, our heart closes. Until people can resolve their negative emotions towards our parents, it will be difficult for them to be good parents to their children.

One remedy for this is to change our way of looking at things, to dwell more on the kindness we have received from our parents. When we reflect with clarity on our family, we will see great kindness there and will realize that we have been the beneficiary of that kindness in ways not previously noticed. For example, our mother carried us in her body for over nine months and then gave birth. Her body getting stretched this way and that, becoming huge, she was uncomfortable. But she went through this for our benefit, and because of it we are alive today. She—or whoever took care of us as children—had to get up in the middle of the night to feed us for years. When we were toddlers, our parents (or people whom they asked to look after us when they were busy) protected us from danger as we innocently played with electric plugs or put random objects into our mouths. Our parents taught us to speak, tie our shoes, brush our teeth and hundreds of other little things that we now take for granted. They saw to our education, and they taught us basic manners enabling us to get along with other. When our self-centeredness got out of hand, they disciplined us. (As a child I thought that all the discipline I received was unfair. It was only as an adult that I came to realize I may not have been the easiest child to raise!) Our parents had many things going on it their lives and perhaps were often worried about financial, health, social, or family matters, but they did their best to raise us, given that they are limited human beings just like us.

When we give ourselves the mental space to contemplate this kindness, incredible healing can occur within us. Gratitude will replace sorrow and bitterness. We will see that we have received immense kindness, and this will open us to want to share that kindness and love with others. It will also improve our relationships with our parents, enabling us to express our love to them. And in this way we will repay our parents’ kindness.