Parenting … love & reassurance

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I remember it snowed in Suzhou, China, in 2008 … the worst in the last fifty years it was said. Roads were closed. Schools were closed. People were advised to work from home. And my elder son, a full twelve years old, was disappointed that exams had been cancelled! I was amazed a child could be sad that exams were cancelled! The only other kid who I knew of that did was fictitious, Hermione Granger from Harry Potter!

What made me really happy was that he enjoyed his childhood with exams or without… both my kids had fun in the snow that year! It was their first exposure to the snow, making snowmen, igloos and forts and having snow fights with friends. The snowbound days were filled with friends and fun.

Childhood should be a time for adventure, happiness, fun and frolic punctured with small doses of minor disappointments and hurdles to strengthen the youngsters — make them sturdier to face the world as adults later. Children need love and reassurance to get over their hurdles and find their own strengths.

These hurdles could be exams or grades, social interactions, minor failures in competitive sports, music, art, dance or drama. In my elder son’s case exams were not a hurdle but competitive sports were as were dance and to an extent social interactions! I am always told by mothers I am lucky that my children are motivated to study themselves… not fully true… they are motivated to study subjects they enjoy and not what they don’t. If I were to hand them Omar Khayyam or T. S. Eliot, two of my favorite poets, they would both fall asleep. My younger son told his art teacher in front of me at the age of fourteen that he thought cubist art could be created by computers while I gasped. That term the art teacher praised his piano performance and he had failing grades in her subject!

Grades come and go but our children remain an integral part of us and we love them without hesitation, without any ulterior motivation. We always want what we consider the best for them. However, some of us forget to convey the love we have and feel for our children. Our children see us only as critical parents who harangue at them every time they fall short of an A or B or whatever grade or sport or art defines the parents’ expectations. As parents, we hurt every time we reprimand our child but the cycle goes on. Perhaps, if were not so anxious about our children’s success in terms of grades and external achievements and instead we taught them good values that would help them achieve their dreams or targets, they would themselves turn their interest to studying and striving to do well in life. The first thing of course would be to distance ourselves from our own dreams and acknowledge that our children have their own paths and respect those. A hard task for any parent!

The next thing would be to tell the children how much we love them, not only for their achievements or the lack of them, but for themselves. It is always easy to confuse love for a person with love for an achievement, as much for an adult as for a child. We often hear talk from teenagers about how their parents are unable to understand them and only look at their grades. They feel themselves distanced by the difference in expectations. Both sides hurt and feel misunderstood.

We are experiencing a generation gap. What is that? A difference in values and perspectives borne of the experiences we have had in our lives. Should generation gap really create barriers between parents and children? Should we be intolerant and not communicate about our futures? Are parents’ futures not linked to their children’s … then should the dreams not sync? Perhaps, if we could find some time to spend talking of these issues with our children, we might find the gap closing. If they could only understand why we say what we do to them…

The other thing that disturbs parenting is the social media. How often I see parents flashing their children’s grades, report cards and university admissions in Facebook! I find it very strange. Have they forgotten they have friends or family whose kids may not have achieved excellent results or admissions? Is it not rather gross to show off thus? Do they want the world to judge their children only for their achievements and not for who they are?

Sometimes, parenting becomes an unpleasant task for a feeling mothers have. They feel motherhood has deprived them of their academic or professional dreams and they have compromised their own career for kids and home. They look at academic or professional acclaim as the only measure of success. But is it? Is not helping mould the future of mankind a more important task and our children are really the future … they will inherit the planet and their outlook will define the future of mankind. What kind of future will they look forward to if the only focus is largely on personal acclaim? Is it only the academically strong who dominate and run the world? Think of names that spring to ones mind… Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates… of course most dropouts don’t make it big! But then, do all toppers in school exam make it big?

One has to see what is it that drives people to succeed? Big dreams, the conviction that they can succeed under all circumstances… so, is it not more important that we help our children move towards these ideals rather than only academic prowess, college admissions and social acceptance? Big dreams mean passion for what they do. Should we then be so focused on their grades and admissions so as to flash them as an achievement above their personality development and their ability to contribute to humankind?

Why do we study? To prepare for our future and develop the right attitudes; to discover our strengths and learn to deal with our weaknesses and to survive in a highly competitive world. Some stick with academics… mostly to teach or to benefit mankind with research. Why then should we be flashing good grades and university admissions, which are merely a means to achieve an end?

As parents, we need to help our children become strong and develop the right attitudes and survival instincts in a world that is dissolving into a rat race. We should not be encouraging them to become a participant rat in the mad race but to rise above it and create a better, more humane world for themselves and the future generations, a world where they can feel happy and fulfilled.

For all children, love, social and emotional acceptance is an integral part of growing up and achieving their dreams… it is time perhaps for parents to reassure the children that they are loved, not for grades, achievements or any other prowess but for themselves. To elucidate what I mean, I would like to quote the last part from a poem of mine that was published two years ago in an anthology of verses:

 

Perhaps,

Mothers need to say…

‘Child of my womb

For me, you are perfection.

You are adoration.

I want to give you

All that I have and more.

I want the world to praise galore

The person I most adore.

My expectations are born of love.

There is nothing below or above

That can match you

Because you are born of me.

A miracle of God.

Matchless you remain,

Loved adored, accepted,

My child…’

 

 

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Parenting…dreams

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During my younger son’s eighth grade graduation, the principal gave a fabulous speech. He asked the youngsters to dream big dreams, to reach for the moon and in case they missed landing on the moon, they would fall on the stars. He asked them to ignore laughter and taunts that might come in the way of realizing their dreams. I loved the speech… thought it was one of the most inspiring I had ever heard. It reminded me of something one of the biggest and most imaginative dreamers in the history of mankind, Albert Einstein, said,

“Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.”

I have always been a person who believes that having big dreams is the first step to realizing them. And to me the biggest tragedy is when a child or youngster says he or she has no dream. To dream, to believe in a dream is the first thing that I tried to inculcate in my children.

For us, it all started with stories. One of my sons wanted to fly like Peter Pan and have dustbin dump truck birthday cakes. Another wanted a sunshine cake on his birthday and to do so many things together… he is still trying to concretize his dream. My five-year-old niece believes I have fairies and a balloon tree in my house and I can make magic dust to fly to Never-Never Land… she even wants to know how many people I know in Never-Never Land. The little realist in her also longs to read because reading brings her closer to things of which she dreams… fairies, magic dust and happiness. She saw many books in her fourteen-year-old cousin’s room and said, “I cannot read all those now.” Her cousin, brought up to think that all dreams are achievable, told her, “But you can eventually…” And  eventually she will realize her dream and pursue her passions. But the first step the little girl is taking towards growing up is to learn nothing is impossible. No dreams are too big. To dream or to find ones dream is the biggest adventure for a child. Their dreams will not just be a reality but something that will shape their lives, their existence. Of course, my niece will like my sons realise as she grows up, that Peter Pan is a myth but by then other dreams would have replaced the need to fly to Never-Never Land.

The thing we as parents need to do is to handle the transitioning of dreams with a light touch, with a sense of humor, and not get lost in the intensity and forced materialization of a dream. If a child wants to be an Olympic champion in swimming, but later wants to move on to being a businessman, we need to humor him till he has steadied his own mind and intent and is older. My elder son at a point wanted to be a neuro-surgeon, a space scientist and a bunch of other things… we humored him till he felt he found his dream… and now he pursues it with a passion… though there is still more of it to realize. The concretization started only when he was completing his teens! But he was allowed to dream and dream on the impossible…

As parents, many of us like to push our children towards pragmatic goals, the easily identified and achievable ends which will put bread and butter on the table and bring home enough cash. We urge them to give up their own dreams to come to terms with reality. Our parents might have told us the same when we were trying to find our dream. How many of us gave up our dreams, our romances to settle for the practical and we consider ourselves blessed and happy because we have the mundane; money, career, houses, cars…. or whatever it is that is important to you in your circle… could be clubs, travel, yatchs… However, these are what I would call ‘things’ as opposed to ‘ideas’. To me pursuing ‘ideas’ is more important because that is what makes mankind move forward towards civilization and progress. I would rather have an impractical dreamer who, as he grows up trying to materialize his dreams, moves towards a more pragmatic reality and blends his vision with the needs of mankind, to contribute to a more positive future.

If parents say their children have no dreams, no ambition except for playing online games or partying or watching YouTube videos, maybe they need to know their children better. Perhaps their children’s dreams lie wrapped in the things they are doing and the parents are too wary to acknowledge the unconventionality of their child’s dream. Some children also may take longer to materialize their dreams… but they all get there at some point if you let them be themselves and don’t impose your own fears and insecurities on them, including social acceptance… Of course, everyone will not be a star but at least let them try to be themselves, give them the tools to flourish but the blooming has to be theirs, not the parents…

Often parents talk of bringing up children with good values, make them focus on practicalities and destroy their dreams altogether and the children become part of the faceless workforce that live to earn and earn to live and accept anything that comes their way as long as they have their material comforts. Is this what we look forward to as a bright future? To me a bright future is not a life of ease and plenty but a future where a child feels fulfilled and happy, where a child will feel he has a purposeful life. To this end, it is important that the child pursue his own dreams and not that of his parents. Perhaps it is time to change our mindset, to start believing in the reality of dreaming and letting dreams exist. Perhaps we need to believe in what Einstein said,

“We cannot get to where we dream of being tomorrow unless we change our thinking today.”

Parenting…freedom

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How much freedom does a child need?

This one is always a tough one to answer. Perhaps, Matt Munro says it all in the lyrics of the song, Born Free

Born free, as free as the wind blows

As free as the grass grows

Born free to follow your heart

While I love to see my children free of all shackles to grow and bloom as their dreams dictate, to fly free as the wind blows, we still need to understand the breeze is created by the laws of physics, by rules laid out by a greater power than us.

My sons always talk of freedom in the sense of space to do what they like, make robots, create animations, play the piano, read a Harry Potter for the one thousandth time without being reprimanded! They like to stay at home and do things. They say they need freedom of mind and thought. So, when I told them, turn by turn, they were too young to read an Asimov at thirteen, they both rebelled. They read the books by borrowing from the library. I have learnt to let them read and explore what they like as long as it is within the bounds of decency. Luckily, for me, my sons are like grand dads when it comes to rules and decency. They lay the laws for themselves and the rest of the world. They do not like to wander into the darker zones of internet or play gory games or go out late at night to party, drink and drug. Perhaps, I am plain lucky! Or, did they become my great grand dads because they grew up within certain frameworks of rules and ideals?

Most children, like grown ups, have different concepts of freedom. My elder son’s best friend in the eighth grade needed the freedom to drink as much coke as possible and eat as many chocolates as he could lay his hands on behind his mother’s back. Some need freedom of movement, some of thought and some for things that parents frown on or fear. So, how do parents define how much freedom and what kind of freedom?

I remember, when my son’s school started using internet extensively, caregivers were called in to be educated about parental controls, rules were suggested for internet surfing and how to monitor the child while he explored the internet. While we agreed on the need for filters, a friend of mine and I felt the school was creating an atmosphere of mistrust between the child and his parents. Whereas the school felt they were creating awareness among parents. The bottom-line was all of us wanted the best for the children.

Trust develops with the ability of the child to work within a framework. Children need structures and rules. It gives them a sense of security and helps them develop their capacity to think. The school was trying to create a framework. We as mothers felt the framework was taking on the dimensions of a jail where the parents were warders and the children the prisoners. On the other hand, there are children who wander into the negative side of freedom. They will not study, keep going out and wander into areas of Internet and social media that can get them into trouble. They might even try alcohol, drugs and violate their own or others’ bodies out of curiosity and boredom. So, how do we make sure our kids do not wander into these dark forbidden areas that can wreck their lives?

I had a neighbor whose son got involved with people who were into drug trafficking, though he himself was innocent. This happened in China. The parents had to leave the country with their son who was thrown out of school. Some other expat kids were deported along with parents for abusing the social media to spread false stories about a teacher in another country. They were doing it in fun but it was distressing for the staff. The children were not educated to be within limits. Again the families were deported after the school expelled the children. Why does this happen to only some kids and not to others?

Is it that the children were born evil or is it that the parents missed out on something? Perhaps, the children needed a little less freedom than what the parents gave them. Perhaps, they needed parents who prioritized their children’s needs over their desires. Perhaps the youngsters could have done with a little more guidance. Perhaps, they needed rules. Sometimes we think giving financial support is the most important thing for  kids. While money does pay the bills, keeps the child in school, well clothed, well fed, it does not teach the youngster manners or values. However, a clear set of dos and don’ts practiced by parents themselves can do the trick along with plenty of love.

A child has to learn to distinguish right from wrong.

Sometimes, one needs to be firm and stick to the rules. I often see parents buy their children toys or gifts to avoid conflict. One mother told me that every time she bought a birthday present for another child, she had to buy one for hers! It reminded me of an incident where my four year son howled for a toy in a mall and refused to move. People turned and looked. It was embarrassing but I was meaner than my friend. I ignored his demand and waited till he calmed down and walked home with me. I had been embarrassed but I won a battle. My child learnt that everything could not be had for asking.

An early access to excess wealth and over indulgence can be as bad for the development of a child as the inability of the parent to foot bills to meet basic needs of a child. However, there is an age for everything. If you force rules on a baby who does not understand, the disciplining will be pointless and abusive. Recently, I was visiting some relatives in India. They had a young toddler — all of two and a half or three years old. He had just started play school. Everyday when his mother dropped him to school, he cried. The staff asked her to wait for him whereas her friends told her to leave and let him be. She asked me what would be the right thing to do.

I told her two stories. The first one was about my younger one. When he started his playgroup in China, he would start crying minutes after I left him in class. I was told to hide in the school office for a month. To me the answer was obvious. The child’s sense of security was tied to my presence and he needed the reassurance that he would be safe in the school. Eventually, he adjusted and I could just drop him off. And he survived his days with happiness and friendships.

The second story was about my elder son. The first day I took him to the Tumble Tots play school when he was two years and four months, he reiterated, “Mama outside, I inside.” I was allowed to sit in for a week but my son did not need me to be with him. I had been waiting outside for a couple of hours, when an exhausted looking assistant opened the door to let the kids out. She called me aside to tell me my son had been to the toilet seven times… We were both concerned!

On the way back home, I asked my son why he went so frequently to the toilet.

He perked up, “Mamma, they have blue water coming out of the flush. At home why don’t we have blue water?” So, I bought toilet blues and we had blue water in the flush. I showed and explained the process to him and he stopped visiting the bathroom seven times in two and a half hours. I was happy that my son was confident and independent enough to be in school on his own. But he had known the trainers from eighteen months of age as he had been attending their playgroup from that age and really enjoyed it. So, play school became just an extension of the playgroup.

For my younger son, it was a brand new environment in China and a new school. Each child faced different circumstances and each child reacted differently. It does not do to compare their reactions and ignore their needs.

A child needs emotional grounding to be given freedom. And this emotional grounding is created by responsible parenting. If a child feels reassured that his parents care for him and will be there, he will himself start giving a framework to his sense of freedom. He will not react in rebellion by doing or exploring the negatives of social interactions, media, drugs or alcohol. If you can spare the time to be there for your child and listen to him, chances are he will listen to you and grow up to be a man devoid of chains and yet living within a framework.

After all the wind flows and the grass grows because of rules laid by the laws of nature… and even animals need frameworks laid by their kind to survive…

 

Parenting…individuality

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When my elder son was a baby, we could not make him eat. When my younger son was a toddler, we could not stop him from eating. He would not only finish his food but also check out his bowl by turning it upside down, and occasionally, especially when he had fish porridge for lunch, he would express his delight by wearing his bowl like a hat. Of course, that would call for a bath and his curls needed to be shampooed as we did not want him to stink of fish the rest of the day! My elder son could not be made to eat any rice through his babyhood. But, my younger one loved rice. We tried to give them the same things to make our lives simpler but it did not work. It never works. Babies are born distinct. They are already individuals when they take their first sip of milk. And to treat them as a homogenized unit because they cannot communicate efficiently with you is unfair. To be a parent, means to revel in each child individually.

Comparing the two is natural but can hurt the children as the one critiqued could loose his self-esteem and start being envious of the role model, who in his turn would have fair chances of becoming a conceited prig.

Life for me rolls out spontaneously. You can only do so much for

“‘Tis all a Chequered-board of nights and days

Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:

Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,

And one by one back in the closet lays.”

When old Khayyam wrote this in the eleventh century, he hardly would have seen this being put to use in a blog on parenting, but I picked these lines because they explain how I view life as a parent. Children come with their own destinies and all we can do is to try our best by them. Each one has an individual baggage that he lugs through life. Environment, parenting and schooling can only play a part in bringing them up.

If you spend a lifetime training your child to be a prodigy in any subject, don’t you feel it would be unfair to him? Think of Mozart. He was a child prodigy, much toasted and feasted about in royal courts of Europe. Did he have a happy life? Did he have a full life? Then why would we want our children to excel before they are ready? Why not let them enjoy childhood as a time when they can experiment and have fun? Why would we want them to be the child who scores one hundred per cent every time? Does that put him at any advantage? Why the panic?

Are all adults geniuses? There is no one who will send an adult to a coaching school to train him to be a genius at work. That is why perhaps developing the skill to be a lifelong learner is necessary to survive in the real world.

Earning your bread is important. But do you think that marks or results are directly proportional to how successful a child will be in his adult life? Robert Kiyosaki’s book, Why do A students work for C students, springs to mind as one muses on this issue as does the Bollywood blockbuster, The three Idiots. Guiding your child towards developing the right attitude will help him make choices for himself that will be smart and best for him, prepare him most to deal with the baggage he was born with. The question is “how” would you do this? Perhaps by being supportive and by teaching him to be a good human being…to learn to accept a fall, get up and march along cheerfully despite the cut. The important lesson he needs to learn is how not to injure himself or others when he falls and how not to be scared of the fall. Learning to lose and build again is important. We keep reiterating the story of Thomas Alva Edison who failed but saw his failures differently and finally lighted up our lives with his bulb. He is known to have said,

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

And

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Such an attitude is difficult to imbibe, but takes you a long way in your journey through life. And that is what we try to prepare our children for… a journey through life as a good human being.

Again the definition of a good human being has altered over time. Now, it is all about power and money, isn’t it? But, does that make you happy? Do you feel better living as an unhappy individual? Think about it carefully when you make a choice for your child.

Bad behavior had historically given way to good behavior and civilization. If we choose bad behavior as the norm along with a caveman diet, we are perhaps moving in a reverse gear towards the collapse of civilization. Is that what you want your child to inherit? Or, a gracious forward moving society, which is optimistic, filled with love, honesty and tolerance? Keep the options in mind every time you allow a swear word to pass through your lips. My kids keep reminding me not to lose my dignity by getting angry and losing control. Anger disarms us and makes us the slave of bad behavior. And unless, we make our children and ourselves conscious of this, we could very well fall into a trap of bad behavior and a hostile world. Do you want others to swear at your child when he swears at them in a world full of animosity, hatred, mistrust and anger? The first step, as my Italian friend said to parenting, is leading by example and then supporting the choices the children make. Educate them to make good choices and not bad ones. Let them rise above failure, anger, repentance, hatred, greed and all negative emotions and watch them soar. Let them choose their own path, their own courses, their own lives as they will equipped with a sound system of values and the ability to accept failure and move on to a new success.

And feel rejuvenated as you watch them explore a wonderful new world at their own pace and in their own terms…

 

 

 

Parenting…choices

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Long ago, I dreamt of writing a book about living in China and walking on the Great Wall. And it happened.

I chose not to chase my dream instead I spent majority of my time chasing my sons.

My children came to me in my thirties. By then, they were more than welcome. My longing to be a mother overrode my other dreams. I reveled in my sons and brought them up to what I considered the best of my ability. I read Dr Spock when they were babies and talked to my friends about their babies’ developmental processes. I remember, I was worried about my son’s teething. Our friends’ daughter had many teeth by the time she was one and she loved eating watermelons. My son had few teeth and objected to fruit. He only drank mamma’s milk and half boiled eggs! He hated orange juice and clenched his gums/ few teeth when we tried to feed him solid food. He even spat out the food we tricked him into ‘eating’. My friend argued that all humans had teeth. Hence, so would my son, even if the process happened a little later. And she was right! Every child is unique and develops at an individual pace.

As parents, we can only watch, wait and pray. We do our best but the ultimate call is made by the child and the force that drives all life. As a parent, I discovered that I really enjoyed my children’s childhood and I miss it now that they have become older and have learnt to fend for themselves largely.

The funny thing that happened to me as a parent was that I forgot that I had my own dreams and goals from long before… from my teens and earlier. Perhaps, my dreams underwent a change. The feeling I am left with is these years of my life have been well spent. What could be more important than helping mold the future of mankind? Children are our future and to prioritise them over and above our own needs seemed the most natural thing to do.

I always remember the lines by William Wordsworth about the rainbow, poetic wonder and the child…

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.

The wonder that a child feels in discovering not just rainbows but even his father’s oversized shirt or shoes often becomes a source of infinite delight and wonder to the parent too because as an adult we get in touch again with the novelty of things when we watch our child fascinated with what we had started to consider mundane. That is a joy that keeps every parent young at heart. And, thus the child forever continues the ‘ father’ of man. And perhaps that is what happened to me. I lost myself in the wonder of rediscovering life with my children. And on a daily basis, I want to thank God for giving me these bundles of joy and my husband for letting me revel in their childhood, while he slogged to bring home the bacon and help realize our dreams.

Encouraging children to have dreams, goals and ideals from a young age goes a long way. No age is too early and no dream too small or big! It can be a dream of being a princess, dressing up, flying to outer space in a rocket, driving a lorry or a dustbin dump truck, inventing something new, cooking a dream dish, writing a book or drawing a picture.

I know of a mother who helped materialize her son’s dreams by helping him publish a book in elementary school. The child at the age of three told her that he wanted to write a book and have it on a bookshelf in a bookshop. By the time he was eight he had the book. It started with doodles and ended with stories. His mother helped him materialize his dream of being an author. And she used his dreams to help him learn to read, write and develop a love for books!

For my children, the dreams were different but no less important. My elder son was so fascinated by trucks that his first poem in his kindergarten was a list of names of these juggernauts. That gave way to dreams of making robots. I was happy to hear out his dream because he said it was better to have robots clean high rise windows rather than humans as people could fall and get hurt. From then on, his journey started in the quest of making robots to lighten mankind’s burdens and it continues more than a decade and a half down the line. My younger son dreams of animations with music, math and science… I wait eagerly to see how it will concretize to make a rainbow.

Sometimes, we need to work to make our children’s dreams come true. For example, when my younger son wanted a sunshine cake for his fifth birthday, I made it! And the biggest reward I had was when my little one when he said, “Mamma that is exactly what I imagined!”

Children need to sense that dreams can come true without compromises. Let them fly… and you can fly with them. They can help you fly and materialize your own dreams while you watch them grow and soar.

Actually, that is how my book happened too. One day my younger son came back from his school in China and said, “Mamma, you have never been to university.” I contradicted him and said that I had been to two. And then he said, “But my Chinese teacher said that mammas who stayed at home had not been to university!”

I was alarmed. I spoke to the school, which was a well-known international one. Many of the expat wives in China had chosen to be full time mothers, which is something that the world did not comprehend. I had chosen to be a full time mother even when my elder son was in my womb because the doctor had recommended bed rest and I stayed home from then on.

I thought calmly, did it really matter to me? It was not my job to educate a confused ‘educator’ who looked down on child rearing as the task of an uneducated person but it was my need to be respected and seen as a role model by my son. I wanted to show my child that one can dream big and materialize them under any circumstances, even while indulging in the most daunting and time consuming adventure of bringing up children. So, I wrote a book, one and a half books actually within a couple of years. The half was a compilation of recipes from thirty countries by well-respected professionals, including chefs, writers, school teachers, principals done in collaboration with a German friend, who is an engineer and dreamt of writing a cookbook while in China as a homemaker; and the other, was my own book, a humorous retelling of living, travelling and bringing up non-Chinese children in China in a society where borders no longer were a truth. That was my individual solution.

But, it made me think… why would a mother with university degrees not want to bring up her child? Is bringing up children really a job to be relegated to a substitute with values and education at variance with your own? Do you want your child to feel closest to you or to the person who has substituted for you as a full time caregiver?

These are choices you need to make when you think of child rearing. You have to decide who to prioritise, yourself or your child?

 

 

Parenting

 

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Mother and Child… Kruger, South Africa

 

When I was in my early twenties, my grandmother threw a gauntlet at me. She said, “You have grown so used to studying, working and being out that you will never be able to live as a fulltime homemaker or mom!” I was twenty-three then. A little over two and a half decades down the line that is who I am… a full time homemaker and mom.

As I review my life after completing more than half a century, I have no regrets over the choices I made.

Parenting has been the most daunting and challenging experience in my life and continues to be so. I grew up in a home where all the mothers had careers. My grandmother was my chief caregiver. She was the most unusual woman I have ever known. In the early twentieth century, she was a gold medalist in math and art, an unusual thing in our country then. She completed her schooling and then she married a man to who she remained devoted for life. My grandfather also loved her to distraction till he died. She said she could not die because I held her back by my needs. My sense of security and wellbeing was linked to her. And I think she died proud of me more than a decade ago, telling me, “You proved me wrong and I am happy to see you as a wife and mother.”

I had my children when I was touching the third decade and through my third decade. After more than two decades of parenting, I will say that this has been a more challenging and satisfying experience than interviewing miners in mafia areas in Bihar or winning awards or publishing books.

While I see young women around me revel in their careers and grow beyond the confines of their homes, I have a fleeting sense of regret for what they are missing out with the choices they make. Two decades ago when my friends and I were entering motherhood, we were jubilant about the babies we had. I have friends who were very successful professionals, like economists, teachers, journalists, engineers and management personnel, and opted to be full time mothers. For most of us, mothering meant a better future for our children. We were lucky to be married to men who supported our decision. Maybe, we would have been monetarily better off if we worked and had careers full time. But does money make love grow?

Does money make children grow?

To an extent money is necessary to put your children through a good education and a good life. But ‘how much’ is what parents get to define. How much money does fulfil your child’s needs and how much is used to fulfil your own needs? Do you need the kind of money and fame Bill Gates has to bring up a child well? As a parent, one has to put a hold on ones needs and discipline oneself before one starts to discipline a child.

My learning as a parent has been immense. My children have been my true educators. I found that I learnt to control my temper because my children were upset every time I got angry and shouted. They felt they did not want to see me demean myself. I have learnt to restrain my temper to some extent. They also taught me to be above biases. If I exhibited biases and made any statements that reeked of race, religion or nationality, they would be at my throat. Two huge learnings as an adult and for which, I am truly grateful to my two young men.

I had discovered parents need to work as a team through first hand experiences as a child. Otherwise, the child gets torn between the two. And it has served me well in my years as a parent. Though, I had a funny experience based on this learning. We had told my four-year-old son that his father’s word was the law in our home. One day he asked me,  “When can I be a father?” I asked him why he wanted to be a father that early in life, and he replied, “Because fathers are most powerful.” Of course, there will be those who will refer to biases created about male domination but, to me, it was an effective tool for enforcing rules. As parents, one really needs to transcend the male- female battle. You could have mom laying the rules. In our home, daddy laid the laws after discussions with mamma; mamma and son followed the law. But the ultimate decision was basically based on our child’s welfare needs. It was easier this way because daddy was working and not around to discuss the rules with the child. Persuasions by the young gentlemen were pointless. Whereas mummy was always around and, therefore, more open to persuasion.

We also discovered as parents we had to do what we wanted our children to do or emulate. I learnt that my children loved to ape my husband or me. After all we are from the extended ape family! One day, my sons pointed out to me that as my husband and I had a sedentary life style, it was unfair to expect the two them to be into sports and have an active lifestyle. We tried to be more active after that but it was already too late, I felt. I have an Italian friend who wanted her sons to avoid fizzy drinks, sugared juices and alcohol! So, she and her spouse took to drinking only water at mealtimes. If you want teetotaler children, perhaps you need to lead by example…My friend firmly believed children learn by example, not by advice.

In my years as a mother bringing up her children in varied cultures and countries, every now and then a parent in my children’s schools would ask me, “ How is it your child loves to read and study on his own?” I would respond by shrugging and smiling to be polite and to avoid sounding didactic. But the reality was we tried to create an atmosphere conducive for studying and dreaming. And believe me the dreaming and playing part is very important. It develops the child’s ability to think for himself or herself, to learn by themselves. If you have tutored play, it develops a child’s ability to follow instructions but not his ability to think. Some amount of both is necessary.

To create an atmosphere conducive to studying, we read ourselves at home. We stayed home on weekends. Luckily, we all love reading and dreaming. We held ourselves responsible for what our children did, critiqued our own parenting and made sure that the environment at home was relaxed and happy. Working and studying were not relegated as chores to be completed but as a way of life to be enjoyed, a part of relaxation. This was something my helper could not be asked to do. We also stayed more at home to do things we liked. When we did travel once or twice a year, it was with children and most of the time, we tried to include activities of their interest.

Our children today do refer to us as supportive parents… to me that is a big praise. Of course in their more fun filled moments, they remind me that my personality type matches that of Hitler! But, I take it that they can make the comparison only because   they feel free with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To tweet or not to tweet…

Earlier, when one spoke of tweets, one thought of colorful little birds frolicking on trees, gardens, flowers and nature. One visualized flowing rivers and meadows and picnics and walks…

Now when one talks of tweets, one thinks of Donald Trump, blue eye shadow and “ A Merry Christmas but a Happy New Year”. Social media has reduced the twittering of birds to twittering of words across electronic devices to connect or disconnect minds, great or small across the oceans and into the jungle of cities, wherever Internet has cast its intricate web.

I have never taken to tweeting because, one, I am not a bird and with my enormous weight cannot be mistaken for one. Also, I have a passion for words… many words not a few. I believe tweet was earlier limited to 140 characters. Last year, it was doubled to 280! Such succinct conversations leave the wordy speechless!

Talking of speechlessness, Instagram has altogether done away with words… unless it is the speech in videos. It was started to share photographs by what I have understood less than a decade ago. Last year, it stretched its limits to a ten-minute video. Again despite appreciating good photography, I have not had the pleasure of experimenting with this mode of social media. Many, I believe, cannot live without these… I still breath, eat and live happily.

And then there is of course the grandparent of all social media, Mark Zuckerburg’s baby, Facebook, which started in 2004 as a way to connect Harvard students. Fourteen years down the line, as of January 2018, it had 2.2 billion active users! The world population is 7.5 billion, of these some may not be able to read and some may have eluded the web woven by social media altogether as they might be living in areas beyond the reaches of internet transmission and hence have become non users of social media. Of course, there are certain adamant non-users who refuse to use social media despite having access to the internet. Some of my closest friends belong to this category, I discovered.

However, I joined the cadres of Facebook users to keep in touch with old schoolmates. That happened and more. Facebook keeps updating itself! There are some updates, which came as unwelcome surprises. One day, as one scrolled through the Facebook on ones mobiles, videos sprung to life. Imagine, how embarrassing it would have been if in the middle of a speech to keep oneself awake, one scrolled on the Facebook and it voiced out a puppy barking or a person singing or an advertisement for slimming pills or green coffee! People would turn around and stare. Of course one could have the alternative of turning your phone to silent and reducing the voice level to zero… but these are things that one thinks of in afterthought. Now, I know you can change settings so that the video does not start singing in the middle of a speech.

Then, there are those who regard the Facebook as a substitute for newspapers of the juicier kind… sometimes a new thing called ‘ fake news’ (a triumphing Trumpian term popularized by the current media) finds it’s way to the heart of Zuckerberg’s baby. Sometimes, people post content that one would rather not see… political rallies, violence, pictures of diseases, partisan information, hate videos… one can report them but why would you want to see them in the first place? A disconnect from negativity does help one’s peace of mind. Why would people share pictures of a diseased body or a malnourished child or a dog crushed by a car or a prejudiced, partisan banner or poster or video?

To maintain my peace of mind, I prefer taking a walk, reading, talking, playing a game of Sudoku or Scrabble now to surfing the Facebook. I have become vary of posts that create a sense of disharmony.

Then there are posts by women whose posed pictures on Facebook could put Elizabeth Taylor or Meena Kumari, two most beautiful actresses, to shame. That makes me wonder… how beautiful are we on the outside and inside? Is it enough to look beautiful in a picture? Some Facebook users have taken to sharing their children’s outstanding results in exams… perhaps for blessings from their friends but what about those whose kids or who themselves have not aced in exams? Perhaps, the FB posts by now would have desensitized them and helped them reconcile to a more philosophical approach.

Of late, Facebook seems to be evolving a life of it’s own! Not only has it opted to choose to turn on videos if you do not change your settings or suggest posts and FB friendship birthday videos (a concept that did not exist back in the good old Facebookless days), it also has taken to deciding firmly what photographs it will publish with your post. A blog with pictures linked to FB does not have the option of choosing which visual can go with the post. Facebook with it’s own mind decides on the picture. Even if the blogger wants to highlight another visual, Facebook in it’s unique style, decides what is good for the blog! This does sometimes cause distress among bloggers… but they are fewer in number than the majority and therefore not important.

While social media has taken over socializing across a coffee table, people in a metro, a party or a bus no longer chat. They sit with eyes glued to their devices, chatting only on social media or scrolling the Facebook and distributing their emotions online with emojis( which some fear will affect the use of language), likes, loves and hates!

Are we moving towards an impending reality of isolated existence? Will Asimov’s Solaris become a reality where there is no human interaction but only interaction through screens under robotic supervision and tweeting in dictionaries will first highlight social media and somewhere down the line, an archaic usage for bird calls…?