Parenting - YOUR CHILDREN ARE NOT YOUR CHILDREN
by Vidya Kamat
BRINGING UP CHILDREN
• Teach values such as honesty, integrity, patience and self-control gradually and steadily, that too by your own example.
• Praise them openly and often, reprove secretly and seldom;
"I do not know how to bring up children," says Bharat Kapur, publisher of Indian magazine Parenting and a father of twins.
A brief pause, and then: "I suppose it is pure guesswork. Nobody has the answers, so you just be yourself, and let your children be what they are. The secret is being true to yourself, and doing what comes naturally."
Nonetheless, it is an onerous responsibility: to be a midwife in the transition from babies to adulthood; to be in a position to influence the future generation in their formative years; to prepare them to face life; to impart the right values to them. To see that they grow up right.
And, yes, there are no shortcuts to good parenthood. Some parents instinctively play their role right, others learn through their mistakes, still others, never. Much earlier, in the days of the joint family, children grew up surrounded by loving grandparents, doting aunts, plenty of cousins. But, could that alone guarantee a positive growth?
Today, the scenario has changed in many other ways as well. Unlike his occasional 'guest appearance' in earlier times, today's father is an active parent. Actually, he has little choice. Mothers are moving on to careers and, at the very least, part-time jobs with flexible hours. Then there is the added threat of television and-this gets all the more difficult-advertisements that are now being created by marketing geniuses who have worked it out that children are the decision-makers in the family.
So what is the parent to do?
Parenting is best and most effectively performed when treated as a spiritual exercise; write Hugh and Gayle Prather (known for Notes to Each Other) in their book, Spiritual Parenting. The authors have three sons and have written this book from their experience in the form of principles that parents can use to understand and protect their children. The theme running through the book is that parents always need to remember that it is God's light that shines through children. They must love their children as gifts from God and try to remember this fact even in the worst to times, especially when the children are passing through their troublesome teens.
It follows then that your role as a parent is that of a guardian only. You do not own your progeny and have no right to mould them in your image. Kahlil Gibran beautifully expresses the same thought in this much-quoted passage from The Prophet:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward not tarries with yesterday.
I read The Prophet when I was 15 and these words have stayed with me ever since. I am 30 now and the father to two sons whom I consciously strive to love as much as possible and get attached to as little as possible.
Similarly, no matter how eager or ambitious you are in shaping your children's lives, there is a limit to what you can accomplish. Swami Vivekananda, founder of Ramakrishna Mission, uses the analogy of growing a plant to drive home the point:
You cannot make a plant grow in soil unsuited to it. A child teaches itself. But you can help it to go forward in its own way. What you can do is not of the positive nature, but of the negative. You can take away the obstacles, but knowledge comes out of its own nature. Loosen the soil a little, so that it may come out easily. Put a hedge round it; see that it is not killed by anything, and there your work stops. You cannot do anything else. The rest is a manifestation from within its own nature.
To extend this analogy still further, early childhood can be compared to soil that is just prepared for sowing the seed. It is a great opportunity in the life of the child, and an even greater opportunity for the guardian, to sow the seed of knowledge and of righteousness in the heart of the child.
But just how and with what values we choose to influence our children have to be carefully considered.
Most parents I spoke to were conscious of their nurturing role and were unanimous on the need to inculcate the right values in children. But their lists of desirable values differed. Aparna Jha, Delhi-based meditation instructor and a mother of two, believes that a parent is foremost a parent, not just a friend to one's children. "Proper values should be instilled early in life and children must have a basic respect for their parents. They must be taught that along with the freedoms and choices, they also have duties towards the family and society," she asserts.
K.S. Chawla, an Indian engineer who runs a construction company and is married to an American, feels that his children have benefited from the multicultural background of their parents, and as a result are much better equipped to deal with the world: "They have picked up values such as self-reliance and commitment towards the family from me and those of adaptability and emotional independence from my wife."
Sherina Joshi, who teaches English at Delhi University, feels that if spiritual aspects and correct values are incorporated into a child's upbringing, it makes him better able to withstand the pressures and influences of the external world. She says that children must be encouraged to recognize the essential humanity of each and every person: "They must be taught integrity, kindness and honesty towards themselves and in dealing with others."
Neelam Saigal, a teacher and mother of two boys, wants children to be good individuals and polite and kind to all around them, but strongly believes that one should not make them too goody-goody, for then they won't be able to stand up confidently on their own feet and face the world with its numerous positive and negative influences.
v What part, then, should spirituality and a belief in God play in our children's value system?
Aparna is clear that "faith in God comes from the parents. Children must be taught that the soul's evolution is as important as material things, which need to be acquired in this life." Chawla says that since he and his wife come from different religions but are spiritually inclined, they have tried to teach their children that spirituality must form the basis of their actions. Joshi puts in this way: "Since all of us live in the inner and external worlds simultaneously, it is essential that parents teach the children about both and how to live in each one successfully and comfortably."
This need to encourage the right values and behaviors bring us to the question of discipline. Swami Rama wrote in his book Love and Family Life:
Children should never be treated cruelly or harshly in the process of being educated. The whole essence of discipline is wrapped inside a small truth called love. If you really love your children and tell them not to something, they will rarely misbehave.
Saigal agrees that when disciplining is needed, it should be done gently. "The parents must show that they are upset, that they are not happy with the child's action. But fear should never become part of the disciplining as this robs the child of self-confidence." This works because the child always wants to see his mother and father happy with him, she adds.
A gentle show of disapproval is all right for small mistakes, but Kapur advises strict discipline as far as eating and sleeping times are concerned. In any case, it is the bad behavior that should be reprimanded, not the child. And no matter what, the lid must be kept on anger and rage: "Children are pure emotion when they are young and slowly grow to reason. If parents openly display strong negative emotions, the child cannot understand that for them it is only a passing phase. This affects the child much deeper than we can imagine," Kapur elaborates.
Aparna criticizes parents who indulge their children's every small desire and are hesitant in discipline them. Some better-off parents in particular make this mistake, often buying material things for their sons and daughters to make up for the lack of time and attention for them: the guilty factor at play.
Now, how are values to be imparted? By living them, of course. As an old saying goes: "The best way to teach character is to have it around the house."
Indeed, no matter how much you resist being a role model to your children, you cannot escape it. So why not be one consciously and effectively? Children learn from what you do, not what you say. They are also perceptive enough to gauge how you feel about things, not just from how you act.
The first thing to do in order to be able to educate a child, wrote Sri Aurobindo, is to educate oneself, to be master of oneself so that one never sets a bad example. He elaborates: It is above all through example that education becomes effective. To speak good words and to give wise advice to a child has very little effect if one does not oneself give him an example of what one teaches. Sincerity, honesty, straightforwardness, courage, disinterestedness, unselfishness, patience, endurance, perseverance, peace, calm, self-control are all things that are taught infinitely better by example than by beautiful speeches.
Explaining this fundamental truth, Sigrun Srivastav, India-based sculptor and author of children's books, says that the child lives through imitation, at least in the early years, and the image the parents show to the child is something that he will use as a base for his own growth. "The child is a mirror image of the parents and the patterns and roles they set are what will be seen in the child," she emphasizes.
Kapur has a similar reasoning: The foundation of the child is the example set by his parents because emotional bonding is his first and most basic way of learning-initially all learning is an emotional experience." He compares parents to the roots of the tree that the child will become: "If the parents see everything with the eyes of a child, it will help them to better understand and identify with what a child feels. It is necessary for parents to have an attitude of thankfulness if they are to teach their children to respect other lives and be comfortable with their own."
Further, the quality of relationship between husband and wife has a far-reaching influence on the child's psyche. Kamni Taneja, a mother of three, says: "The family environment is important and should be based on love. The child should perceive and feel the love between his parents and should see them leading a balanced life."
Chawla agrees that what the children see in the house is what they'll either emulate or revolt against in their own relationships as adults. But he is not for feigning harmony. Conflicts, he argues, are natural and a part of any relationship, but a part of any relationship, but in any conflict or argument between the parents, it must be made absolutely clear that the children are not responsible. "The children must understand that their parents are also humans and, therefore, not infallible. If they are exposed to conflict as a natural part of relationships, only then will they be able to handle it in their own lives."
Although formally educating the child is considered the prerogative of schools, real learning takes place at home. Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan emphasizes the importance of education:
To consider the education of children is to prepare for future generations. The heart of the child is like a photographic plate without any impressions on it, ready to reflect all that it is exposed to. All the good qualities which help to fulfill the purpose of life are the natural inheritance that every soul brings to the earth; and almost all the bad traits that mankind shows in its nature are as a rule acquired after birth.
Education is not merely a qualification to get a job or succeed in life, nor for safeguarding one's interests; it should provide the wherewithal for the child to grow into and live a full and wholesome life. Education is that which gradually expands in its length and breadth, horizontally and vertically.
Helping the child in his all-round development is an equally important part of parenting. Srivastav advocates that for the child to grow up to be a complete and comfortable individual, he must be allowed to engage in creative activities which ease his inner self and guide him towards his heart's contentment: "In such activity will he find completion and fulfillment, not in academics." She insists that we should not only educate our children's minds, but their hearts too.
And the best way do so is to love them and express that love. Those children who have not been touched, held, kissed, hugged and caressed become mute when they face the task of expressing their love later in life.
As for my wife and me, we have over the years formulated our own set of commandments that we have tried to follow in bringing up our children. These commandments include:
• Teach your children to live from the heart, not just from the mind.
• Believe in them and teach them to believe in themselves.
• Be flexible, not rigid-set rules but not too many.
• Listen to your children; you'll be surprised how much they can teach you.
• Make God your partner in bringing them up (after all, he had a role, too, in giving them to you).
• Teach them to be self-confident.
• Teach them to have the courage to follow their dreams.
• Allow them to grow and become what they are meant to be, not what you picture them to be.
• To bring them up right, spend more time on them and less money.
Lack of time is a parenting issue that has come up in recent years with the accelerating pace of life, and particularly when both the parents are working. Highlighting the problem, the Prathers write: "Possibly the most pervasive, long-lived, and destructive tension between parents and children is the child's desire to have more of the parent's time and the parents' desire not to be bothered."
For parents genuinely hard pressed for time, The One Minute Father by Spencer Johnson, MD, may be handy. It shows parents quick and time-tested ways to create and maintain a vibrant relationship with their children. "You certainly know from your experience that being a good father takes more than a minute. However, there are ways you can communicate with your children-in only a minute," writes Johnson. He has short listed two goals as a parent: helping his children gains self-esteem; and self-discipline. He tries to accomplish the task by setting clear goals for his children and then praising or reprimanding their behavior with respect to the goals set, speaking the simple truth and expressing his feelings clearly to them, hugging his children often and laughing with them whenever possible.
Clearly, parenting is an activity, which must be enthusiastically and consciously enjoyed, for who would want to go through 15 or more years in a job one doesn't look forward to? Parenting has its own rewards, though. For Chawla "it has been constantly changing. And even today when I feel that most of my parenting years are behind me, I am still growing in it along with my kids."
Once we have done our job, to the best of our ability, we must slowly relinquish our influence and control over our children but keep it available whenever needed. Just as we know plants will need water and sunshine to grow, we must make sure our children too have plenty of nourishing ingredients-love, understanding, time-necessary for their growth. It is important that children realize and feel that they are loved for what they are and not only if they fit into the roles their parents have visualized for them.
The different roles and duties parents have to perform keep changing as the children grow up. Awareness of their responsibility is essential to ensure that parents remain mindful of their duties on a day-to-day basis. They need to be self-controlled, tolerant, selfless, patient, generous, kind, flexible, and above all, givers of unconditional love. It is difficult, no doubt, but it has been done for centuries and shall continue for many more. So, let us take strength from Kahlil Gibran's words:
Let your bending in the Archer's hand be for gladness.
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves the bow that is stable.
Subject: The sacred art of joyous parenting - 24 February 2012
I was searching for some contents to add to my ppt on the above topic and came across your article which is succintly apt, just what I was looking for! Synchronicity?! Thanks.
by: neelam joshee
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