By Vidya Kamat January 1997 Tips on spiritual parenting 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; reprimand the bad behavior, not your children. • Teach them self-esteem and self-confidence (something they’ll carry for the rest of their lives). • Restrict television watching and recreation time. Keep a watch on your children’s company. • Try to keep alcohol and drugs away from the house, or keep them in moderation. • Maintain a happy and loving home environment. • Give a lot of your time to your children, both quality and quantity. • Make humor and laughter a part of your relationship with children. • Allow the children to grow and learn through the mistakes they make. • Hug and show feelings of love whenever possible. • Communicate gently but clearly and firmly—get your point across. ‘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 chil
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