By Suma Varughese December 2000 Families were once taken for granted. Not any more. Family bonding is important and now calls for a conscious effort to make it harmonious PARENTING TIPS FROM A SONParenting from a child’s perspective can be a real eye-opener, discovers Vikas Malkani The other night, as I slept, the thought that all first-time parents are at best experimenting with the fine art of parenting—without any guaranteed results—stayed with me. In my dreams, my first-born son, Vinay played with me. Behind my apparent joy and a genuine smile he sensed a deep uncertainty. ‘What are you thinking, Papa?’ he asked and stopped playing. ‘Just the fact that I’ll never really know if the way I’m bringing you up is the right way or not,’ I smiled, amazed at how he had read my thoughts. ‘Don’t worry, Papa. You’ll do fine. I promise.’ ‘How can you promise that I’ll do fine?’ ‘Because we all do, in the end. Don’t we?’ His eyes had a mischievous, knowing look. ‘But what do I do now?’ I asked. ‘Just follow your instincts. Oh, and do the best you can do, with whatever you have,’ he smiled. Words of wisdom from the mouths of kids have always amazed me. And I was completely awed now. ‘It’s that simple, is it?’‘Yes, just as simple as we want it to be.But to help you along the way in handling me well and proper, let me give you a few pointers. Okay?’‘I’m listening,’ I said, enthralled.And so began my first lesson in parenting—imparted by my own kid!‘Dad,’ he began… • First of all, don’t spoil me. I know quite well that I ought not to have all I ask you for. Most of the times, I’m only testing you. • Don’t let me form bad habits in my childhood, no matter how much I rebel. I have to rely on you to detect them in the early stages. • Don’t be afraid to be firm with me. I actually prefer it because it makes me feel secure about you. • Don’t correct me in front of others if you can help it. I’ll take it much easier and give it a lot more attention if you talk with me quietly, and in private. • Please don’t make me feel smaller than I am. It only makes me behave and act stupidly ‘big’. • Don’t take too much notice of my minor ailments. Sometimes they help to get me the attention I so much need. • Don’t put me off when I ask questions. If you do, you will find that I stop asking and seek my information elsewhere. • Don’t make me feel that my mistakes are sins. It upsets my balance, and my sense of values. • Don’t be inconsistent. That completely confuses me and makes me lose faith in you. • Don’t tell me that my fears are silly. For me, they are terribly real, and you can do much to reassure me if you try to understand. • Don’t nag. If you do, I’ll have to protect myself by seeming deaf. • Don’t be too upset when I say ‘I hate you’. Sometimes, in fact most times, it isn’t you I hate but your power to thwart me. • Don’t protect me too much from the consequences. I need to learn the painful way sometimes. • Don’t ever think that it is beneath your dignity to apologize to me. An honest apology makes me feel amazingly close to you. • Don’t ever suggest that you are perfect or infallible. It will give me too great a shock when I discover, as I will, that you are neither. • Don’t forget that I can’t thrive without lots of love and understanding. This is one thing you must never forget, even if you forget all else.’ Looking into my eyes with a mischievous smile, Vinay said, ‘How’s that for starters, Papa?’ ‘Unbelievable!’ I replied. ‘But you mean there’s more?’ ‘There’s always more. But you will figure it out as you go along. So don’t worry about it too much. Okay, Dad?’ When words of wisdom with so much depth come your way from such an unexpected and innocent source, what does one do? Or say? ‘Yeah, sure,’ I nodded in agreement, as I reached out to hug him. Family stories. They break you up. ‘We are four sisters and one brother,’ says Kalpana Iyer, a 50-something Indian housewife from Mumbai. ‘After my first husband died, I had financial problems. One day, the housing society sent me a bill of Rs 15,000. I was in despair when that afternoon’s courier brought a cheque for Rs 15,000 from my brother. Apparently, he had dreamt the night before that I was in financial need.’ Mithu Basu, a public relations consultant, comes from a close-knit family of ten siblings. ‘When my brother went on his first trip abroad, he spent all the money he had making calls to our mother. When his friends asked why he didn’t spend the money shopping, he told them that calling home was more important.’ Dr P.P. Gandhi, a retired Mumbai-based doctor, is the eldest of a family of seven brothers and two sisters. Says he: ‘Some of us are better off than the others but that has made no difference to family unity. Recently, one of my brothers retired and another brother, an affluent businessman, gifted him a Maruti.’ Moments of sharing, caring, loving and giving. Signs of a family that works. Where does the magic lie? Why do some families, no matter how large and unwieldy in numbers, flow together like a song, while others are gridlocked in conflicts and hatred or simply drift apart like a cloud of autumn leaves? Why do some seem to grow in strength and purpose while others taper off like an unfinished sentence? Is a happy family a conscious creation or just an act of grace? Is there anything we can do to make our family life more fulfilling, more harmonious, more loving? Families are where our histories are made. They have the strongest part in determining who we are. Whether it is the primary family we are born into or the secondary one that we make on marriage, it is the scene of our greatest joys, deepest sorrows, most significant milestones, most heartfelt hopes and disappointments. The birth of a child, the death of a parent, one’s marriage or that of a sibling, housewarmings, operations, festivals, birthday celebrations: these are the incidents that punctuate a life. No matter how successful or fulfilled we are on the outside, these private moments nourish us and form the center of our emotional and spiritual lives. ‘We have evolved from a tribal society,’ says psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani, ‘and human connections are supremely important.’ A happy family life is one of life’s greatest blessings, and conversely, its absence is a singular misfortune. But why, you ask, preach to the converted? After all, India is the original champion of the family concept. Vasudaiva Kutumbakkam (the world is one family) is the proud slogan of our Vedic culture. We are the land of the joint family. The average Indian woman nestles into the expansive bosom of her primary family until marriage propels her out into creating another. We still pull together, still put the interests of our children ahead of ours, still give the family first priority, still treat our parents with respect and our children with love; and we point a collectively smug finger at the permissive West and its disintegrating family system. And yet… Our families may be holding up better than ones in the West, but the strain is palpable. Modern life, says motivational writer and trainer Stephen R. Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, is family unfriendly. ‘We now live in a world that values personal freedom and independence more than responsibility and interdependence… Social life is fractured. Families and individuals are becoming increasingly isolated. Escape from responsibility and accountability is available everywhere.’ Every ‘ism’ and revolution in the recent past has driven a wedge into the institution of the family. Women, traditionally the custodians of the family, are venturing into the workplace today. Latchkey kids are a sad reality of urban life. Tremendous tensions as families vie with each other for better and more. Says Maya Kirpalani, psychologist and family therapist at India’s Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai: ‘In this competitive atmosphere, families are achieving more but after a lot of struggle. Ultimately, they are unable to enjoy their achievements.’ One-child families are the norm and guilty parents attempt to compensate for their lack of time and attention by plying their children with goodies. As traditional values are replaced by a greater demand for freedom and individuality, relationships are cracking. Popular Indian author and columnist Shobha De, a proud mother of six children, says: ‘The Indian family culture is under threat today. It is in such a fragile state, I wonder whether it will survive the next decade.’ >Divorce, in urban India, is hardly scarce. Technology, particularly television, is fast substituting human company. According to Stephen Covey, an average American child spends seven hours a day watching TV and five minutes with Dad. Here in India, the statistics are fast catching up, and we haven’t even mentioned the Internet as yet! But there are other reasons why our family values merit attention. Even in families that stay together, how many actually maximize the relationships? Most of us may spend evenings at home, but what do we do with them? Do we use them to bond with our folks or do we retire into our private cocoons or watch television like zombies? Are we there when the family n
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