By Suma Varughese
If you want to influence someone, you need to love them first, says Suma Varughese
There were guests for dinner that night. Sheela, an old friend of Mom’s, was visiting from Ajmer with her husband, Suresh. Mom, being Mom, had worked herself into a frenzy of hospitality and had served up a delicious meal. As Sheela savoured the kofta curry and pulao, the aloo tikki, rajma and raita, she looked around her at the happy, hungry household.
Avijit was helping Aji to some more raita. Solicitously, he poured some water into her glass and looked to see if she needed anything else. Nisha had laid the table, brought all the food to the table, and both she and Alka had helped in the preparation. Both girls kept glancing at Mom periodically to see if there was anything she wanted them to do. Dad too had helped in the kitchen, had repaired a malfunctioning mixer, and answered all landline calls. There was an air of harmony in the household that struck her palpably.
“All of you seem so happy, and fond of each other,” she said in wonderment. “How did you ever make it happen? It’s a big household, and you have three teenagers!”
The adults glanced at each other and smiled. “Thank you,” said Dad. “That is so nice to hear. It’s not been easy. All of it has taken hard work and commitment but I am glad the result shows today. And I think a lot of the credit goes to my parents,” indicating Ajoba and Ajji, “because they inculcated great values in all of us, including the children.”
Suresh sighed, “We are having trouble with Kavita,” he admitted. Kavita, their daughter, was 16. “Kavita is just so headstrong. There is simply no arguing with her. She openly flouts our orders, comes and goes as she pleases, will not tell us where she is going, and does not seem to have any respect for us. We are at our wit’s end with her.”
Sheela turned teary-eyed, “She never used to be like this. She was such a loving, open child. She has changed so drastically.”
Mom reached out and took her hand. “It’s probably just a stage,” she said comfortingly. “We had our fair share of trouble with Avijit. But he came out of it.”
“She just seems so angry with us all the time,” said Suresh. “She almost seems to hate us, at any rate me.”
“Did anything happen to make a difference to your relationship?” asked Dad.
Suresh hesitated. “About six months back, Sheela and I went to a coffee shop at about 7 pm, and who did we find but Kavita there with some boy. She was kissing him in a public place. And she had told us that she was going to do her homework with her friend, Asha. The shock was so intense I admit I overreacted. I just marched up to her, slapped her across her face, took her hand and dragged her out of the restaurant.” His face twisted with pain. “She has not spoken to me since.”
“Have you tried apologising?” asked Dad.
Suresh shook his head, “She won’t give me a chance. The minute I come into a room, she walks out of it. She locks herself into her room and won’t open it. She has just set her face against me. You don’t know how many times I have gone over the scenario in my mind and wished I had acted differently, not been so impulsive. The thing is that our relationship is rapidly declining. She is getting so provocative these days that I find myself reacting, especially when she comes home at 10 pm at night, and won’t tell us where she has been.”
“You need to win back her love and trust,” said Dad. “Both of these are broken, and that is why you do not have any influence over her. Stephen Covey once said something so profound that I have it tattooed into my brain. ‘I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.’ In other words, until I know you love me, I cannot imbibe anything you tell me nor will you be able to influence me. We will only open up when our hearts have been won over. You need to prove to her how much you love her.”
“So what should I do?” asked Suresh humbly, “I am willing to do anything.”
“In the first place, forgive yourself completely. As long as you don’t do that, it will be guilt that will drive the agenda, and she will find it easy to provoke you. After that get in touch with the love you bear her. Get to a point where you love her so much that no matter what she does, you would only want her welfare.”
Dad added, “This will take time, but we parents are programmed to love our children unconditionally. At least it is easier to love them that way than almost anyone else. When you feel that overwhelming love for her that will enable you to take just anything she says or does, in your stride, just do small things for her without saying much. Get her a drink if she is studying, or a sweater if she is cold, that sort of thing.
“When you sense that she has softened, then slowly begin to speak to her. Tell her how bad you feel about the whole thing. How differently you would do it now. Ask her to say whatever she wants to you. No matter what she says, take it. She needs to get it off her chest, and you need to be able to take it. Remember she may test you. So hang in there. If you snap, go back and apologize. Do it as often as you need to until finally she feels able to forgive you, and take back the threads of your relationship. Remember that this is the life you are meant to nurture and support. No matter what, you have to mend this relationship.”
Suresh was silent for a long while. His hand slowly went up to his eyes and he rubbed them furtively. “I am going to make it come right,” he said gruffly. Thanks Ashwin.”
There was silence around the table as everyone dwelt on the joys and sorrows of the parent-child bond. Then Alka got up from her seat and running around to her Dad, she gave him a hug. “Dad, you can be awesome sometimes,” she said fervently.
Dad raised his eyebrows. “Sometimes?!” he commented, rolling his eyes.
“Only sometimes,” Alka said firmly, and everyone laughed.
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