Mothers: Passionately Attached or Compassionately Detached?


We talked last week about the conflict we feel as mothers. Our children are our lifeblood, young or old, they are most precious to our hearts. And we agreed that because of this intense attachment, we tend to push, to scold, to worry, to nag. This doesn’t fit too well with what the Gita preaches, which is the goal of detachment, aiming for a state of equilibrium, where one is swayed neither by pleasure nor by pain, by success nor by failure.

“How,” one of our members asked, “can this be reconciled with being a good mother? Am I supposed to let my children fail, simply because it doesn’t matter? Am I supposed to take no pleasure in their achievements nor push them to succeed?”

The answer to that is of course a resounding “No!” As mothers we absolutely owe it to our children to guide them, to teach them, to show them right from wrong. It is our duty. So how do we reconcile our role as teacher, mentor and guide with that of detached observer? By practicing compassionate detachment. In terms of our member’s question, my thoughts were as follows.

Push your children to achieve their highest potential. Hold them to the highest standards. But rather than telling them that they must come in first, that they must win the championship, be the best dancer, score the winning goal, or get the highest marks, practice telling them to do their very best. And teach them that by doing their very best, they have done their duty. It doesn’t matter after that whether they win or lose, whether they come in first or third or tenth. To strive to the utmost to fulfill one’s fullest capability is in itself success. A subtle change in approach, but one that makes a world of difference, both for you and for your child.

We have to look at our own expectations, our desire to be the best and have our children make us proud. Our pride should come from how hard we try and the same goes for our children. In this way, we continue to strive for excellence, without stressing competition, aggression, intimidation, jealousy and fear. Ugly emotions.

If we frame success in terms of effort, then the ugliness disappears and all that is left is an individual challenge and a self directed goal.

To be compassionately detached is to be free to love and yet be detached, not from our loved ones, but from the expectations that breed disappointment and anger. If we can love our children as beautiful fellow travelers on the road to perfection, who have been entrusted to our care for a brief while on their journey, then we can show true compassion that is free from toxic attachment.

Too often, we equate attachment with affection. But it is no such thing. Attachment is a selfish desire for payback. “You are mine, I raised you, I need you to do this or that. You disappointed me, you let me down.” How is this love? Real love comes only with equilibrium and lack of expectation. It comes with compassionate detachment.

Our homework was to identify what we think our duties are. If the goal is to perform duties without expectation, then what exactly do we perceive as our essential duties?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Image: Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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