By Jamuna Rangachari March 2006 Wise parenting involves nurturing, providing loving support and also, the ability to let go. Aditya Chari, a bright young boy, had joined computer engineering at a reputed college in Mumbai in the wake of his father’s footsteps. However, he wasn’t happy. He fell sick often, was irregular in college and slipped heavily in performance. He even missed some exams. His parents were extremely concerned but instead of ‘reacting’ angrily, they supported his decision to switch tracks. After much discussion and deliberation, where both parents, Aditya and his sister Avantika were involved, Aditya decided to opt for management studies. A merit holder in the management entrance test, he is now doing extremely well as a BMS student in a reputed college. His parents are very happy with the decision, saying, ‘He did lose some years but now he is enjoying himself and his qualities of management and leadership are being brought to the fore.’ Don’t look now, but parenthood is changing. Gone is the peremptory pater familias whose every word was law. Not entirely gone, but on her way out, is the overzealous mother who spoils her children silly. There is an increasing trend towards conscious parenting, where the effort is to rise above ego needs and focus on the child’s welfare. Conscious parenting begins with definitions: What is parenting? Louise Anita Williams, founder and managing trustee of the charitable trust, Love Humanity International (LHI), Mumbai, which offers a certified Train the Trainer/Teacher Course in Responsible Childcare, is the parent of a daughter with whom she shares a very close relationship. She explains how important it is that we understand the role of a parent in its true sense. Using a much-quoted, but misunderstood sentence from the Bible: ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child,’ she says, ‘Many believe this means to spank, beat or punish a child. However, it actually means constant support. If one looks at a young tree freshly planted in the ground, it usually has from two to four rods along the sides of its trunk to provide support so it will not grow crooked. Therefore, the scripture means to provide loving, kind, gentle support to the child.’ This is confirmed by the research of Dr James Prescott, a neuropsychologist who, in his extensive research on human violence, has found the deprivation of physical sensory pleasure to be the principal root cause of violence in later life. Emotional BondingToday’s parents are beginning to realize the importance of developing a strong bonding – both physical and emotional – with the child. Mrs Purkayastha, headmistress of Naval Children’s School, Delhi, has observed a lot more parents sensitive to the fact that a happy child is a healthy child. But, she also points out, ‘It is important not to go overboard and become overprotective in this process, as a few parents sometimes do.’ Archana Savnal, a writer and mother of two daughters in Mumbai, says, ‘Today’s parents don’t dismiss childhood troubles and therefore their children confide in them in more serious areas. Earlier, children confided in friends of their own age group and so the advice that they would have received may not have been objective and could not have been based on experience.’ Dr Chugh, a leading psychiatrist in Delhi, agrees that today parents are more aware of their children’s emotional needs. ‘Understanding the psychological needs of children is a predominant change in parenting today. Parents spend more time with their children, have better levels of communication, are more involved in the child’s activities and routine and develop a better reward and punishment protocol,’ he says. Role ModelingVandana Shiva, in one of her interviews with Life Positive, shared this about her mother, ‘My mother always wore khadi. When we wanted nylon, she said, ‘I’ll buy you nylon. But you know, if you buy nylon, some industrialist will get another Mercedes, and if you buy khadi, some woman’s chulha will get lit. You decide.’ That was a profound lesson in simple living.’ Rahul Bajaj too has stated that it was his father’s steadfast belief in simple living and high thinking that shaped his own value system. More than anyone else, parents today know the truth of Emerson’s saying, ‘What you are shouts so loudly in my ears that I cannot hear what you say.’ No admonishment or ‘advice’ will ever be effective unless the parent practices it himself. As Rita Gangwani, an instructor in Neuro linguistic programming, in Delhi, says, ‘How you deal with frustration, how you model healthy relationships, is extremely important.’ As Archana Savnal says, ‘It is my job to sow the seeds of faith, trust, sincerity, discipline, discrimination, self-control and other spiritual disciplines in my child’s life.’ She adds, ‘To teach them the ability to do their best and leave the rest, I model treating everything that comes my way as prasad from the Divine. When disappointments appear, I show them that I am sad, but that I can handle it and I won’t let it drag me under. Instead, it will make me work harder at giving my best shot. They learn to do the same. When results are great, I show them that I am happy but move on immediately to something else that needs my attention…they learn to not rest on past laurels.’ Freedom to ChooseLike Mr and Mrs Chari, more and more parents are realizing the importance of allowing children to lead their own lives, make their own choices and even, their own mistakes. When Shruti, the daughter of Mr and Mrs Sridharan, both bank employees in Mumbai, no longer wanted to continue in the field of IT which she had graduated in, but wished to pursue theater, they readily agreed and supported her in pursuing a Masters degree in Theater Arts. As one of them said, ‘She will bloom only if she does what she truly loves doing.’ It is not just in career choices but even in routine matters like planning menus and family holidays that parents are increasingly involving their children, thus conveying an unspoken message that they have a role to play in family decisions. Problem of PlentyGood parenting is particularly vital today, given the pressures and stresses of coping with the material age. ‘The sudden prosperity brought about by globalization has been too rapid and created with it many emotional problems,’ says Dr Jitendra Nagpal, Consultant Psychiatrist, Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences. In my own experience, I have found that talking to children about all issues, and making them understand the reality that there are children less privileged than them, conveys a subtle but powerful message. This is, of course, not to be done when a specific demand is being discussed but as a part of one’s life. For instance, every week, my daughter and I spend a couple of hours helping the servants’ children in our colony with their studies. And now, whenever we go shopping, she picks up books for them too and compares their cost with the things that she herself wants, many a time rejecting her own ‘superficial’ wants. Towards Enlightened ParentingEnlightened behavior is often considered to be the ability to go beyond one’s own needs and think of another’s needs. Parenting, by its very nature, is a natural fit. Shruti, a practitioner of healing through music, and the mother of two daughters, says, ‘One must always remember the priorities while parenting – love, guidance, and friendship. It is most important to pay attention to all these areas, in precisely that order. Love is paramount and one must never neglect to constantly act in love, out of love.’ Shakun Narain, an author and grandmother who conducts classes on spiritual values for children, says, ‘When we give our children an education, we have to educate ourselves first.’ While it is true that it is more of a challenge today as there are many more factors to be taken into account, it is also true that challenges often bring out the best in us. Rina Mehta, who runs the popular website, Must for moms, says, ‘Once we are able to be entirely objective and veer away from our own expectations and our personal goals for the child, the whole experience can a more fruitful one.’ Partho, an educator and freelance consultant, who conducts workshops on parenting based on the principles of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s pioneering work on integral education, agrees that while ‘good’ parenting today is more challenging as there is rapid change, parents are realizing that a holistic approach can steer them in the right direction. ‘None of us can be sure of what we are living for – the old values are in flux, everyone seems to be questioning, exploring and this is why it is essential that we first grow spiritually so that we can play our roles well,’ he says. Back to InstinctsLife is difficult, said Scott Peck in his book, The Road less Traveled. This is never truer than in the case of parenting, for the nurturing of a life requires enormous patience and strength. More so, when the wards have a disability. ‘If we remember that we are there for the children, they are not there for us, we are much more likely to be better parents,’ says Promila Gurtu, who, for many years, took care of the special needs of her disabled son. He is now no more, but Promila realizes that she herself has become much more holistic due to this role that life called on her to play. Chitra and Ravi Iyer are experiencing the same gritty joy in bringing up Shravan, their autistic child. Chitra has given up wo
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