By Roohi Saluja
Only wise and loving parenting will enable a child to realise his/her true potential, to be a loving and gentle human being and to develop robust self-esteem. here, three successful parents share their secrets
Ever watched a bird building its nest? Day by day, from the time the sun rises to the time the sun sets, the proud parents diligently collect twigs and leaves, preparing to welcome the young one on its way. And then, when the baby bird opens its teeny eyes to the world, screeching and squealing for food, watch how the mother bird gently fixes her beak in the tiny mouth, dropping the morsel, grain-by-grain—an extraordinary experience, beyond words and human telling, even impossible to capture in the lens!
Such is the experience of parenting. A child is born to a couple and a family begins. If man is a social being, families are intrinsic to his survival. And yet, with multiple pressures weighing on us, while joint families is a distant phenomenon, even nuclear familial bonds are fraying at the seams. Delhi-based Dr Monica Kumar, consulting child psychiatrist at Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (VIMHANS), says, “Cases of divorce and single parenting are numerous nowadays. Another common phenomenon is internal divorce. Although under a single roof, the couple stop communicating with each other and the child becomes the go-between forcing him to assume a mature role that he cannot handle.”
Stephen R. Covey, motivational writer and trainer, writes in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, “Social life is fractured. We now live in a world that values personal freedom and independence more than responsibility and interdependence…escape from responsibility and accountability is available everywhere.”
“It’s not that parents are unaware of their responsibility,” says Geeta Chandran, Bharatanatyam dancer and a mother of one. “Rather, they try to fill in the gaps by showering material comforts like expensive clothes, posh cars and luxurious holidays. For lack of time, parents often leave their children at the mercy of the servants—converting them into ‘urban orphans.’”
To be fair, parenthood is a hard task. As an article, Parenting as a Spiritual Path by Gloria Deckro, in www.spiritofchange.org, beautifully puts it, “The step into parenthood is an initiation in the truest sense of the word—a huge leap into the unknown. We suddenly find ourselves with 24-hour-a-day responsibility for another human being who is totally dependent on us. Our children test us, they call on us to face unhealed baggage from our own childhood, and they inspire us to dig deep for resources that we never knew we had. Ultimately our mission is to support and guide them to the point where they can leave us and move on.”
Parenting then involves a tremendous amount of insight, awareness, positive thinking and skill. Yet despite the odds, some parents strive to bring up their children with love and understanding and to create a harmonious family culture.
Invest in your family
No family intends to blame, shame, accuse or ridicule each other. And yet, war breaks out. A happy family is not God-gifted. It requires a conscious investment of time, love, understanding and above all, prioritisation. “I remember spending my summer vacations every year at my grandmother’s place with all my cousins from every nook and corner of the world. The bonding that we developed then is the secret of our unity today,” recalls Geeta Chandran.
Allocate a specific day as a family day. Uma Kumar, pushing 60, a teacher in a Delhi-based school and a grandmother of four, says, “An unofficial Sunday was officially declared by my husband and me as the ‘family day’. We would begin with sharing bed tea with our children, followed by brunch at a restaurant, and then perhaps a movie. The basic idea was to do things together. And we parents made sure that the time spent together was truly enjoyable!”
Says Geeta Chandran, “My daughter is blessed to have been born in a joint family, harbouring four generations under a single roof. All of us make it a point to be together at dinnertime, so much so that we usually decline dinner invitations, unless it’s very important.”
The late Dr Haim G. Ginnot, clinical psychologist and parent educator, wrote in his book, Between Parent and Child that the tragedy of wrong communication often lies “not in the lack of caring but in a lack of understanding; not in a lack of intelligence, but in a lack of knowledge…” To improve communication with our children, he suggests we use “a language that is protective of feelings, not critical of behaviour—a language that we use with guests and strangers.” Replace sermons, criticism and advice with the healing balm of understanding. Acknowledge your child’s strong feelings as a purely natural part of the human experience. Ginnot described this as, “Fish swim, birds fly and people feel.”
Dr Monica Kumar concedes, “The child must have the assurance that his parents will accept his thoughts, and that he will not face any ridicule or rejection.”
Says Anjali Nayyar, daughter of Uma Kumar and mother of two, “I’ve always treated my kids as individuals whose say in the family matters. At times, I might not like what they say, even feel the urge to correct them, but it’s important to control your reactions.” “Make an offer to your child—May I say what I think about this? If the answer is a ‘yes’, proceed, but if it’s a ‘no’, do not pursue,” says Uma Kumar.
In a recent article in Reader’s Digest, Ran Morrish, a behaviour specialist, points out, “We used to use the strap, to intimidate. Then we had permissiveness, and now it’s about giving children choices and allowing them to learn from their own experiences.” No child likes to be owned or possessed. So it’s best to teach your child as a friend—to talk with him, not talk to him.
However, there is a thin line between freedom and discipline. How does one draw it? When Anjali’s 12-year-old son snapped, “You’re my remote control,” she thought it was imperative for her to make him understand that being more experienced, it was her duty to correct him. Says Dr Monica Kumar, “Freedom means freedom in decision-making, independence in making a choice, not freedom of doing anything and everything.” Freedom thus must go hand-in-hand with responsibility. Be consistent, avoid negotiations, and let your child know gently that you are the final seat of authority.
Express your love
In a recent lecture, Swami Parthasarathy said, “Make your home the centre of your love, not the boundary.” Taking the argument further, Dr Monica maintains, “The self-syndrome has become so strong that sharing has now become secondary. Give up the ‘I’, and you’ll feel love.” But the seeds need to be sown from the beginning. Parents naturally love their kids. But good parenting develops love and respect for the parents in a child. Your child understands love and respects expression in love. Uma Kumar points out, “Children often hear their parents fighting, but never see them loving and caring for each other. Whenever my husband felt like hugging me, he would do so in front of the kids. At times, they too would join in. Fighting and loving are a part of life. And one should show them so.” Echoes daughter Anjali Nayyar, “Teach your child how to care and share, and he’ll feel love. I often lie by my kids’ side, give them a tight hug and exchange the magical phrase ‘I love you’. It fill us with a newer feeling each time, making the bond stronger and the shared moments more meaningful.”
Encourage sibling bonding
“Anjali recently told me that of all the childhood memories, it’s the time that she spent with her brother in their little room that means the most to her. So much has it been a part of her psyche that now her own kids share a single room!” chirps Uma Kumar. So what if brothers part and sisters get married? Family get-togethers, birthday bashes, festivals and family pujas are the best ways to stay in touch. Technology has spanned great distances—you can now sweep continents with a simple click of the mouse!
Bringing up daddy
More and more fathers are actively participating in the joys and anguish of parenthood. Says Geeta Chandran, “My daughter shares a special bond with her father. They argue, fight and even indulge in physical fights. It’s wonderful to see them together, so oblivious of anything beyond themselves!” Recalls Uma Kumar, “I’ve always marvelled at my husband’s capacity to laugh at his own shortcomings. It’s a wonderful quality that delivers an important lesson to your child—that imperfection is only human.”
“I think rituals are the means to instil values in your child,” opines Anjali Nayyar. Values cannot be taught directly. A child, through emulation of the people he loves and respects, can only absorb them. Confesses Uma Kumar, “My son recently told me that the values I spoke of when he was a kid, seemed useless then, but today they assist him in making important decisions.” She credits the Chinmaya Mission’s Bal Vihar classes for his receptivity. Through simple rituals, scriptures and fables, values like honesty, justice, truthfulness, etc. are instilled in a child.
According to Geeta Chandran, “Being secular is the fashion of the day. But one needs to understand that secularism means respecting all religions, not withholding religious practices. A child must be conscious of his Indian identity. He should be grounded in Indian mythology and scriptures. Once this is done, the final decision should be the child’s—to accept or reject it at his will.”
Rituals and traditions enrich our lives, generating a sense of continuity. Recalls Geeta Chandran, “In my childhood days, my cousins and I would chant shlokas, and gradually a calm, soothing feeling would overcome me. Today this has become a part of my regular routine.” Uma Kumar rejoices, “ My children have continued the Bal Vihar tradition with their own children. So now we all can collectively recite the Gayatri Mantra. The feeling that we share, down three generations, is too wonderful for words.”
Says Mimi Doe, author of 10 Principles of Spiritual Parenting, “You aren’t parenting alone; you are co-parenting with God. Children come to us with a natural connection to spirit. Thank them for picking you to be their earthly parent. Realise that these souls don’t belong to you, but exist in a much broader, eternal reality. What a blessing it is to help them blossom into their own unique selves.” Understanding this is the essence of parenting. We are merely spiritual guides with a sacred responsibility of helping the child to see himself as a human being in its true essence, reflecting back to a child his strengths and qualities like sunlight falling on a plant. This mirroring gives direction to a child and helps her to realise her potential.
Understanding this cuts short our expectations automatically. Says Gloria Deckro, “As a parent, we are so emotionally involved that our own hopes, needs and aspirations tend to cloud our vision. The shift towards seeing and valuing our children for who they are, as much as for what they do, is very important.
Try to meditate on your child. Take a few moments alone and turn your awareness within. Then let go of all preconceptions, and looking through the eyes of love, allow your child’s strengths and positive qualities to come into view. This quiet contemplation helps one to later be aware of the child’s positive qualities as they emerge in everyday life. Whether you see humour, compassion, truth, creativity, reflect it back and celebrate it with your child.”
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