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The Parent's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

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Classic Taoist wisdom applied to the world of parenting, guiding mothers and fathers to meaningful conversations and relationships with their children.

William C. Martin has freshly reinterpreted the Tao Te Ching to speak directly and clearly to the most difficult of modern tasks -- parenting. With its combination of free verse and judicious advice, The Parent's Tao Te Ching addresses the great themes that permeate the Tao and that support loving parent- child relationships: responding without judgment, emulating natural processes, and balancing between doing and being.

"A masterpiece. William Martin captures the essence of what it means to raise a child. Urgently needed, this precious book lifts parenting to new heights."-- Judy Ford, author of Wonderful Ways to Love a Child and Wonderful Ways to Be a Family

160 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1999

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About the author

William Martin

17 books130 followers
William Martin is an award-winning author whose work expresses the practical wisdom and inspiration of Taoist thought for contemporary readers. He is the spouse of Nancy, the father of Lara and John, and the grandfather of Jillian and Andrew.

A native of California, Bill graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in Electronic Engineering. After four years working for the Navy as a research scientist, he returned to graduate school. He earned a Masters degree from Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He did not find himself fitting within the Christian Church clergy structure so, guided by his love of the Tao Te Ching, he began to seek his own way. He spent two decades in private practice as a Marriage and Family Counselor in Phoenix, Arizona, and taught counseling for many years at Rio Salado College in Phoenix. He has been a student of the Tao for four decades.

In 1998 he and Nancy decided to simplify their lives so they sold most of their possessions, left their careers, gathered their remaining belongings into a 5X8 foot U-Hall trailer and moved to the Oregon coast. Nancy worked at a small Inn and Bill wrote a book. In 1999, after a year of strolling along the beaches, walking through the forests, and feeling the intense joy of the natural world, they moved to the mountains of Northern California. They live a somewhat private existence, connecting with their close friends and with their individual work. They walk, read, enjoy qigong and cherish their life together. Nancy is a traditional bookbinder, restoring old books and creating hand-bound editions of new ones (www.nwbookbinding.com). Bill continues to write and paint in the Taoist tradition.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 121 reviews
Profile Image for Badlydone.
70 reviews10 followers
February 27, 2011
As a general rule, I avoid books on parenting. I stocked up my shelves with (and actually read) various parenting books before my oldest son was born, but later found that they did little but take up valuable shelf space.

That said, this is the only book on parenting that I will wholeheartedly recommend to any parent, new or old. There are no specifics here - you will not learn how to discipline or how to become your child's confidante or any such thing. You are instead given a broader perspective on what it means to be a parent, using the ancient wisdom of the Tao as a guide.

The one message I took home from this book is that you cannot make your children do things you want them too - you probably cannot even teach them much. But what you can do successfully is model the behavior you want to see, guide them gently, and accept them to be separate beings and not your extensions.

The book has very short chapters and I now try to read a chapter everyday to keep the book's valuable lessons in mind as I go through another day of raising two wonderful and precious children.
Profile Image for Kaitlin.
7 reviews
October 25, 2016
Perhaps my favorite book on parenting to date! Fave quote:

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.
Profile Image for nananatte.
341 reviews113 followers
January 30, 2018
พ่อแม่เต้าเต้อจิง เป็นหนังสือทั้งเล็กทั้งบาง แต่อ่านไม่ง่ายเลย เวลาที่ใช้อ่านก็มากมายอย่างไม่น่าเชื่อ อ่านยากกว่า 'คู่รักเต้าเต๋อจิง' ไปหลายเท่า มีหลายบทเหมือนกันที่เราอ่านไม่เข้าใจ แต่ส่วนนึงก็อาจเพราะเรายังไม่มีลูก ไม่ได้เป็นพ่อแม่ใครด้วยล่ะมั้ง...

เราทำความเข้าใจเล่มนี้ได้แค่จุดเดียว คือ มองลูก มองพัฒนาการของลูก เพื่อสะท้อนตัวเอง
-ที่เราทำแบบนั้นกับลูก เพราะเราขาดสิ่งนั้นรึเปล่า?
-ที่เราเคี่ยวเข็ญลูก เพราะเราเคยฝันจะทำ แล้วทำไม่ได้ไหม?
-ที่เราตราสารพัดกฎกับเด็ก คือเพื่อตัวเด็ก หรือเพื่อความสะดวกสบายของตัวเองกันแน่?

มีบทที่ชอบเป็นพิเศษ ขออนุญาตยกมาให้อ่านเป็นตัวอย่างนะคะ:

การจะเป็นพ่อแม่ที่ชาญฉลาด ต้องเป็นเหมือนน้ำ
ดังเช่น มหาสมุทร
เต๋า สอนว่า
การเล่น มีเพื่อความสนุก
ธุรกิจ มีเพื่อประโยชน์ส่วนรวม
สงคราม ไม่มีใครชนะ
และความรักนั้นคงอยู่ เพื่อทุกคน

เธอ 'พ่ายแพ้' ในความรักได้จริงหรือไม่?

Profile Image for Dawn Wright.
4 reviews4 followers
January 6, 2016
This was enjoyable to read, as poetry. As for it being solid parenting advice, it's more ... pleasantly worded, New Age aphorisms.

I did take a few reminders from it, namely to not invest my own identity in my kids, and to let my life teach more than my words. The parenting style the writer advocates is extremely hands off: no correcting, no disciplining, no consequences except those children create on their own. It sounds very peaceful and utopian, but not always practical.

The spirituality the book advocates is very New Age and sometimes openly anti-religion. As a practicing Catholic, I didn't take offense, but I also know I some of this doesn't jive with what I believe. I still appreciated the wisdom of the writer, who has grown children, and his suggestions to simplify and be fully present with our children.

Would I recommend it as a parenting manual? Ummmm, no, but if you need to refocus and slow down a bit, it's bite sized reading that leaves you feeling a little more peaceful.
December 20, 2008
This book has helped me along the way. Whenever I feel overwhelming pressure to parent in accordance with the traditional christian, american values i pick up this book to remind me that one of the oldest cultures on this planet had a very different mentality, as do I.
Profile Image for Betsy.
15 reviews
April 4, 2008
My favorite parenting book. It still gives me peace to read it and it's my favorite shower gift for new moms.
Profile Image for Henna Pääkkönen.
84 reviews38 followers
April 24, 2015
Parenting is one of the most difficult and responsible tasks on this earth. It is getting more and more challenging in this overwhelming and fast-speed world where kids are used to getting immediate replies with pressing one button and where patience needs to be practiced. Modern technology is great, yet at the same time parents should try to ensure that their kids dont become overdependant on it, and still would know how to play without computer games and smart phones, and to become creative and imaginative and enjoy nature ... It is all about finding a balance and doing our best in helping our children to become good and decent human beings with correct values. I loved this book and this was easy evening reading each night before going to sleep. Great book! Fully recommendable to all parents!
Profile Image for Beth.
63 reviews10 followers
February 6, 2017
I don't think I'll ever be truly finished with this one. I keep it close and pull it out whenever I'm in need.
Profile Image for Meri .
462 reviews36 followers
December 27, 2020
Quotes that made me reflect a lot:

~ You can show them what you see, but your showing and their seeing are forever different things.

~ Don’t mistake your desire to talk for their readiness to listen.

~ You can control your children through threats and punishments and they will learn fear.
You can control their behaviour by praise and reward and they will learn to look outside themselves for approval and for worth.
You can watch over their every moment, every action, every decision, making sure they do it “right,” and they will learn to always doubt themselves.
Or you can love and guide without controlling or interfering and they will learn to trust themselves.

~ Do not ask your children to strive fot extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable, but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.

~ If you look to your children to provide meaning for your life, your life will be meaningless.
If you need them to be successful to feel successful yourself, you will always fail.
Your children were not born to complete your life.
They were born to complete their own.

~ When your children behave, give them respect and kindness.
When your children misbehave, give them respect and kindness.
When they are hateful, love them.
When they betray your trust, trust them.

~ Your children naturally love life.
Their love of life is spontaneous and unconscious. It delights in every nuance of light and color.
It wonders at every shape and form. 
It dances in their bodies without self-consciousness.
They are not taught this love.
It cannot be taught, only lived.

~ Admidst the hundreds of voices clamoring for their attention saying,
“This way. No, that way,” your children will learn to trust their own hearts. Thus they will act wisely. You need not worry.
How can you keep from worry?
Look inside yourself.

~ Perhaps the most courageous act of any parent’s life will be that moment when, even though it breaks your heart, you stand aside and let your children take the natural consequences of their actions.

~ But if you release ambition you can use all of life, good and bad, as fuel for the fires of joy.
Because you demand nothing you havee everything, as do your children.

~ In difficult timess children may thrive on conflict.
If you take the bait the battle rages.
Instead step back, breathe deeply, relax and stay at your center.
Battles require two parties.
One fighting alone soon tires.

~ Wise parents do not strive, yet their purposes never fail.
They are available, but never interfere.
They communicate, but never lecture.
They let their children go, but never lose them.”

~ The child you see today will not be here tomorrow.
The child arriving home from school, is different from the one who left from home this morning.
Every moment is a death of all that has gone before, and a birth of all that is to come.

~ Parents of the Tao refuse to level blame.
They watch the evening news without complaining.
They observe the failures of others and never gloat.
When their children let them down they remain serene.
The fulfill their own dutes and never worry about others.”
Profile Image for Parisa Assar.
44 reviews
April 26, 2020
This is a great daily-dose-shelter-in-place read for parents. It is full of words of wisdom to foster grace, confidence and compassion in kids.
Profile Image for Victoria.
Author 1 book17 followers
November 30, 2022
I saw this in a friend's LFL and thought, why not? IT's a quick read-through but intriguing enough that even after I finished, every time I noticed it, I was compelled to open to a random page and read. Taoist or not, most parents will find the entries calming as well as gently provoking. I'll keep this by the bed for those special parenting moments when I escape to my room to scream into my pillow.
Profile Image for elif kalafat.
194 reviews98 followers
October 17, 2022
written and most loved by those who want to be parents or those who want to realise their own trauma 🧡

while the world have changed, the children and the parents’ centre have not changed although everyone believes otherwise. this is the proof of it. thank you!
Profile Image for Cam Kennedy.
14 reviews1 follower
February 13, 2023
I have read this book before and I will read it again. A few pages each morning to pull myself into alignment as a mother and a tender human. This book is not just for parents, but for all humans who have ever been a child themselves. Thank you William Martin, I am grateful for your book.
Profile Image for Lisanne.
57 reviews13 followers
August 3, 2022
Prachtige teksten die de centrale ideeën van Lao Tzu vertalen naar de moderne tijd en de uitdagingen daarvan voor hedendaagse ouders. Ik heb het nu voor de tweede keer gelezen en mijn kinderen zijn inmiddels volwassen, dus veel "opvoeden" is er niet meer bij, maar opnieuw stemde bijna elke pagina tot reflectie. Ik heb veel bevriende ouders met jongere kinderen aan wie ik het zou willen uitlenen of cadeau doen.

Heel af en toe had ik een bedenking over de kwaliteit van de vertaling die soms een beetje gekunsteld overkomt, maar toch geef ik dit boekje van harte de volle vijf sterren.
Profile Image for Sudhir Pai.
66 reviews4 followers
February 6, 2019
I usually avoid reading books that are remotely spiritual, and most certainly take a 180-degree turn from anything to do with parenting, even if it's only a book. What prompted me to give this book a try is this one poem -
Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.

Filled with gems like these, The Parent's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents is a book of Tao philosophy that's more to do with life than just parenting. It's a must read for everyone.
Profile Image for Chris.
1,834 reviews72 followers
June 8, 2018
The entire book is superb. Martin has taken a classic of universal wisdom and marvelously rendered it not just for English readers but for our contemporary American context. And for parents, though I'd be surprised if anyone didn't find personal applications for themselves as part of the process. I've been reading a library copy, but have every intention of buying my own and revisiting it regularly.
Profile Image for Kate.
203 reviews15 followers
July 26, 2015
Absolutely beautiful. Words of peace and wisdom to help keep any parent on track. I borrowed this copy from the library but I want to have one always nearby to remind me of what is really important as a parent and a human being. A must-read for all parents. I loved every word and will revisit them often.
Profile Image for Roxanne.
121 reviews1 follower
November 12, 2007
This is a book I turn to when I need a reminder of how to guide my kids through life. I think it is a must for any parent.
Profile Image for Kasturi.
13 reviews9 followers
June 19, 2015
I have never been much for philosophical books. But the simplicity of this one was refreshing. It's not just about parenting, it's about life.
Profile Image for Jay.
19 reviews
June 13, 2017
A good read, thought provoking and relaxing, but verbose and repetitive. It could have been just as effective by cutting out about 25% of the repeating verbiage and themes.
Profile Image for Emir YILDIRIM.
6 reviews
October 30, 2022
tao te ching dünyasına bir adım atmak ve geçmişi daha iyi anlamlandırmaya çalışırken yaşantı ve aile ilişkileri üzerine belirli noktalardan sorgulamaları tetiklemesini veya var olanları beslemesini beğendim. her ne kadar beğenmiş olsam da bir yandan bahsettiği öğütlerin zaman zaman sınırları bilinmeyen bir çölün ortasına bırakıyor havasını hissettim: dengeyi nerede nasıl bulacağımızı, belirli sınırları nerede çekeceğimizi, nasıl daha geç kalmadan mutlu olacağımızı, sadece davranışlarımız ve açık destekleyici bir iletişim ile çocuklarımızın kendilerini bulacağına dair inancı nasıl yakalayacağımızı... yine de bunların temelinde yatan düşünceleri belki de başka bir anlayış açısından biraz tevekkül biraz merhamet başlıklarında hayal edebildiğim ve günbegün bu noktadan yaşamaya olan hevesim zaten arttığı için yazılanları beğendim. anlatılanların diğer her başlıkta olduğu gibi gelişmesini sağlayacak tek unsur ise zaman ve bu zaman içinde ayrılacak bir pay olsa gerek.

uzun seneler önce denk geldiğim ve şiir olarak kabul ettiğim zaman zaman dönüp okuduğum "make the ordinary come alive" dışında kalan kısmını okumak bu zamana nasipmiş. diğer bölümleri de bu başlık kadar değerli bence.

tao gereği mi emin değilim (gerçi muhtemelen) ama kendince kısa, öz ve akıcı olması da okunmasını rahatlatıyor.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Melinda.
Author 1 book8 followers
July 10, 2017
Excellent words of wisdom that I revisited this month. Perfect to keep in your purse, car, briefcase and pull out when you have a few minutes to read and think. I guarantee 5 minutes with this book will be more uplifting than 5 minutes of social media.

We live in a world where "parenting" has become a verb, with parents attempting to out-do one another to give their chid(ren) any possible advantage. Martin does a wonderful job of applying Taoism to the crazy world of American parenting, where the child is a god and the parent (all too ofe the mother) a sherpa. Essentially take a breath, let go, and watch what unfolds without neglecting your own needs.

This book was giving to my by the parents of a past babysitter we used early on in parenting. He was both a UU and a psychologist. It may be the best parenting gift I ever received. If you are a parent or know someone on the parenting path, consider buying/giving a copy of this book.
Profile Image for Glenn Hyman.
98 reviews4 followers
December 31, 2021
Martin reinterprets the verses of the Tao Te Ching as parenting advice. This is the kind of book that's great to have at your bedside or lying around your work or living area. It's the kind of thing that you can pick up every now and then and just read some verses, not requiring dedicated time for getting into a well developed narrative. Martin advises parents to be humble in parenting, recognizing that there's not a whole lot you can do to affect outcomes. It's their lives, not yours. That said, aim for simplicity and reasonable limits. Parenting is about being present, which is what kids mostly want.
Profile Image for Sarah Vaona.
47 reviews1 follower
January 16, 2018
I hesitate to even mark this as "read" because it's a book I'll continue to reread for years to come. The perspective of the Tao on parenting is beautiful. William Martin makes the material approachable and inspirational by dividing each lesson into poetic prose. I couldn't help but imagine myself and my child in each page, and I will use this book as a reminder to be fully present in each day. A necessary break from the typically parenting guidebook, the Parent's Tao Te Ching goes beyond tips and tricks and leads us into the essence of parenthood. A must-read for any parent, new or seasoned.
Profile Image for Randolf Stephens.
13 reviews1 follower
July 9, 2017
Excellent book to reflect on as a parent of two young boys. Worth remembering that despite our modern day obsession with parenting for success, that raising young people to be independent of us, who care, love and want to contribute to society is as much a measure of success as any level of monetary wealth or fame they may achieve.
Profile Image for Christina.
385 reviews1 follower
August 30, 2019
This was a thoughtful gift from my maternity leave substitute. I read it on my commutes over the first few days back at school and it was so lovely. Some great wisdom in here that I bookmarked. I anticipate returning to this from time to time. Good, gentle reminders about the values we want to instill in our children, much of which is contrary to the mainstream.
13 reviews
August 12, 2021
I love the way of the Tao after reading the Tao Te Ching in college. This really provides great insight on how to apply those principles to raising kids in a crazy world. It inspires me to analyze how I react, how I approach and how I interpret situations around me and the impact they have on my children. I’m sure I’ll be revisiting these lessons on a regular basis.
Profile Image for Heather Miller.
285 reviews
January 25, 2022
I enjoyed this short read. It gave me some insights into parenting that I have never thought about and some that I've thought about way too much! It made me examine the way I parent and gave very practical wisdom in a very philosophical way.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 121 reviews

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