Momma Zen

Karen Maezen Miller summarizes both her book and my gripes with it when she writes, “[t]his is how I would live if I had mastery of myself.”  Essentially, a mother of one who happens to be a Zen Buddhist priest looks back on her anxious and strung-out first few years of motherhood, distilling lessons learned like “[l]etting food [just] be food,” taking a deep breath (or ten) to avoid losing her temper, living in the moment (rather than obsessing over regrets or to-do lists), and taking time for herself in order to better serve her family.  Far from producing the “messianic message[]” Miller envisions in the “gentle and reassuring voice” the book jacket advertises, her reflections grated on my nerves.  Throughout most of the book, Miller confesses her decidedly un-Zen behaviors while employing liberal use of the pronoun “we” (generalizing about mothers) and a didactic tone.  Of course, the latter would be totally appropriate in a missive directed only at first-time parents (which this book was, she reveals about half-way through) if Miller offered any unique strength, wisdom, or perspective.  And I personally have had many a ruffled feather smoothed by inspired or clever prose.  But – and the italics are key here – for me, Miller’s work largely lacks all of the above (her best: “[f]or mothers, finding a sitter is a nuanced blend of desperate need, blind faith, gut instinct, and overpowering guilt, delicately seasoned by a sense of your child’s developmental readiness and emotional well-being”).  At the end of the day, “Momma Zen” is a memoir that ought to become intensely precious to Miller’s daughter and a handful of others with whom Miller would “click” in person.  Unfortunately, most experienced parents will find nothing particularly well-written, new, or Zen; and newbies can find the same common parenting advice better delivered elsewhere (ahem, “Brain Rules for Baby”).


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