Parenting - At the heart of parenting
by Megha Bajaj
Watering the shootsOne mother shares her experience with giving her children a spiritual and value-based upbringing” and “by Najoo Sohonie”
Most of us bring up our children the way we have been brought up
Dear mom and dad,
What a moment it was. Just a few hours ago, I held the little one in my arms for the first time. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. So I did both! Everything about him seemed magical – from his tiny pink hands and feet, to his beautiful face – all scrunched up as if in deep thought. Every now and then he opened his eyes and looked around, as if waking from a deep slumber. I guess nine months is a long time. And yet, every bit of the pain, every nauseous feeling, was worth it. How I wish you were here with me. I want to see you again. Experience your love. The warmth. You will never read this letter, and yet, I must write. Your parenting has created me – the profound learnings from everyday instances, some special gifts that have lasted me until now, and I think will last a lifetime, and of course, attitudes that are so much a part of me that I can’t imagine myself without them. So many memories come flooding into my mind as I write…
One of the most beautiful gifts that you have given me is happiness. I remember how deeply involved you would get in all the activities that would give me joy. I remember the attention you would give me in my blissful moments, teaching my subconscious that I need to be happy to get your time and approval. Today, I recognise that so many parents, unknowingly, do just the opposite. A child could be sitting amidst a room of adults, happy in his own world, and no one would look at him. But the moment he would cry, everyone would surround him, pamper him, unconsciously feeding his subconscious with the belief, “When I am happy I get no attention, but when I am unhappy I get a lot of it. So I should be unhappy more often.” Such a small shift – but what a dramatic difference it has made in my life. Happiness has become a way of life.
And yet, tears have their place too. I used to see as a child, that whenever a friend would cry, the first thing her parents would say was, “Come, come, don’t cry. What is there to cry in such a small thing. Let’s not become cry babies.” And if my friend happened to be a boy, his parents would immediately mock, “Don’t cry like a girl”. But you both allowed me to be. Whenever I would cry, all you would do is hold my hand and sit with me. No words, no explanations, just a silence that allowed me to cry my heart out and yet, the touch told me that you were there, ready to talk when I was. I too will allow my child to laugh, and also cry. I want him to recognise that crying is okay. When we suppress, we don’t express. And suppression leads to all kinds of ‘emotional baggages and bodily damages’! Today, I realise the value of the silent support that you gave me, and don’t feel scared to express myself through tears when I need to.
I don’t know if you remember this incident, but it has been etched in my memory. I think I was about eight years old. Mom, you had stuck a piece of paper on the refrigerator which was divided into two – one side had a smiley face and the other, a sad face. Whenever I did something positive, you would make me write it down on the smiley side. I was so proud of myself – I had 10 things written under the smiley face and none under the sad one.
I came home one day from school with a beautiful pencil which had a colourful feather stuck on its back. You asked me where I got it from, and I mumbled, “The teacher gave it to me.” I remember feeling so scared – because in reality, I had stolen the pencil from my partner because I liked it and I wanted it for myself. You must have known. After all, mothers have this uncanny way of ‘knowing’. Gently but firmly you asked again, “How did you get this pencil. I want the truth”. And with tears in my eyes I confessed it all. I expected to be scolded. But all you did was hug me. You said to me, “I love you. And my love for you has only grown after this incident because you admitted your mistake and clearly, from your face I can see that you are already regretting it. But you must realise that taking that which is not yours and telling lies are both not okay.” And then, gently, you led me to the paper which held the smiley and the sad face and made me write against the sad face the two lines, “Today, I took something that was not mine”, and also “Today, I told a lie.”
I was so disappointed with these remarks that the entire day I just could not enjoy anything. I promised myself I would return the pencil to its rightful owner tomorrow itself. I had already learnt that lies don’t work and also that telling the truth makes mom love me more. However, I was just not able to accept the remarks. Seeing my remorseful face at night, you gave me an eraser and asked me to go rub out the two lines. My joy knew no bounds. In seconds I erased the two lines – however, no matter how hard I tried, I was unable to remove its traces fully. Seeing me struggle, you gently told me, “You may erase your doing – but the consequence of it will always show up in some way or the other. This part of the paper is a reminder for you of the lessons you have learnt.” Mom, you are right. I have still not forgotten.
Both of you taught me not by advice, but by example. From a young age itself I saw you both wake up and do yoga. You never slept without meditating for a few minutes. Fruits and salads were always a part of your diet. Somehow, all these things are today a part of me without even trying. It is effortless. What I saw, I imitated. And what I imitated then, has become an integral part of my life today. I now understand the confusion created in the minds of children who are taught not to lie by their parents. And then, those very parents tell the child to say, “My parents are not at home,” (when they very much are!) to the unwanted salesman who comes by on a Sunday afternoon. A seemingly small lie. Insignificant. But oh, it can create havoc in a child’s mind. Even with health issues – imagine obese parents telling their children to become healthy! Or parents who are couch potatoes, trying to impose limitations on watching hours for kids! It just isn’t possible – I know with personal experience that I learnt much more from what you did than what you said.
Dad, one of the most priceless things you gifted me was touch. I remember the way you would hold me against your chest and let me hear your strong, rhythmic heartbeats. The way you would play with my hair and read out to me. Or take me swimming on your back. I am so glad you didn’t shy away from touching me just because I was a girl. Touch communicates in ways that words never can. It just made me feel so protected and cared for. I remember, through adolescence, as my peers ‘experimented’ with the opposite sex, often to feel ‘secure’ or ‘find themselves’, I never needed to do so. Somehow, I didn’t need to find love or touch outside. I had so much of it within the home itself.
Do you recall the time, mom, that I bounded up to you and asked you the meaning of ‘atrocious?’ I looked up, waiting for the answer. You smiled and said, “I don’t know, darling, but I will look it up.” Dad, I remember the time you used abusive language on the phone in front of me, and then came and said, “Sorry” to me. You explained, “I used a word which was disrespectful to the other person. I made a mistake and I will try my best not to repeat it. I hope you can learn from my mistake.” The reason these small instances were significant was because at no point did you make me believe that you both knew it all or were perfect. You ensured that I knew right from the start that you were as human as anyone else and your views, your ideas, were yours alone. I could agree with them. I could disagree with them. There were no rules. This space allowed me to become my own person – instead of merely a ‘part II’ of you both.
Where is God?
I remember the day, when, over a meal, I asked you both, “Does God live in church or does He come when we do namaaz?” Since I had never been spoken to about a God, or taken to a temple, mosque or a church, I actually did not understand, or know, things like religion. At home we celebrated every festival – from Diwali to Parsi New Year, from Christmas to Gudi Padwa, so I was truly confused. My other little friends seemed to know so much more. Isaac, for example, told me that God lived in his house in a tiny church. And the same day Tasneem had told me that she meets God at her house when she does namaaz. This had confused me. How could God be at both places on the same day? Dad, your reply was, “Darling, my God lives everywhere. I see Him in everything. From the mightiest beast to the tiniest of insect. In temples and in mosques, in namaaz and in psalms. Wherever I look with love, I see Him. However, this need not be your own definition of God. The reason we never spoke to you about God is because we want you to find your own God.” I have, dad. In some ways He is similar to yours, and in other ways very different. Thank you so much for allowing me to create my own God and not making me blindly accept yours.
When Bozo, our dog, died I was heartbroken. I remember sitting besides his dead form, unwilling to let you take him away, feeling the most intense pain I had ever experienced. Just a day ago he was jumping around, playing with me, and the next day he lay still. No amount of coaxing would wake him up. I remember the way you took me in your arms, mom. I remember what you said to me even today, “Sweetheart, Bozo is dead. All of us are given some years to live our life. Some live long, some don’t. However, at the end we must all go. You will not see Bozo again, except in your mind. But the beautiful times that Bozo stayed with you will always be yours. Whenever you want you can think of those times and be with Bozo again. Death will not scare you if you love life and enjoy the time you have been given with each person.” Yes, mom, dad. I was able to accept your death too as a part of life. I do miss you. But in those moments, I close my eyes and think of the times when I walked between you both along a beach, listening to the sounds of a fading evening. And when I open my eyes, I know that every evening will end in a beautiful morning.
Thank you for everything that you have done, and not done, for me,
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