Archive | August, 2011

You Mean You Don’t Want to Save Lives?

I was at my daughter’s school for an event. The school was plastered with posters encouraging parents to participate in a blood donation camp being held at the same time.

As I was leaving the school, a student hailed me. “Ma’am, there’s a blood donation camp going on. Would you like to volunteer to give blood?”

I declined.

“It won’t take time, Ma’am, it’s very quick, and the organization doing it is one of national repute so you don’t need to worry about hygiene and safety.”

I refused.

“Do you have any disease, Ma’am? Anemia? Diabetes?”

I denied suffering from any disease.

“Then why don’t you want to give blood?”

I repeated that I didn’t.

“Ma’am, do you know, by giving blood today, you could be saving the lives of three people?”

I agreed that that might be so.

“So you’ll donate blood, Ma’am?”

I refused.

Disbelief. Incredulity. Shock. “You mean you don’t want to save lives?”

I said I didn’t want to give blood.

Her voice rose by many decibels. “Ma’am, you mean you really don’t care whether these people die?”

I smiled and told the student, “Those are your words. What I am saying is that I don’t want to give blood.”

And I walked away.

She didn’t draw blood. (Pun intended. :-))

But I was slightly uncomfortable. And that made me think.

If I, as a thinking adult, could be made uncomfortable by a child asking me questions from a script she’d been made to memorize, about an issue she had no clue about (except what had been taught to her), how would a child handle such manipulative tactics?

And why was I uncomfortable?

It was (and is!) my blood. I’m supposed to volunteer it, if at all I decide to do so. If I don’t, that’s my choice. So why the pressure? Why was I being forced to ‘volunteer’?

We all like to think of ourselves as ‘good’ people. And we are good. But we’re not ALL good. We know that. And that’s okay.

But when it comes to others, we want the world to think that we’re GOOD – we’re ALL good. There’s not a mean bone in our bodies. We’re sweetness and light and selflessness and …

Have you ever met a person who seemed to be all good? At least initially? If you have, then you’ll know that there can be just 2 opinions about such people.

They are annoying. And they are boring. That’s it.

If you haven’t met a person who is all good, thank your lucky stars you’ve been spared one of the more irritating experiences of life.

Knowing this, we persist in trying to make the world believe that we are ‘good’. Incredible! On top of that, we pride ourselves on being intelligent! How delusional can we be?

And our children? Manipulated every which way by everyone they meet till they don’t know whether they are on their head or on their heels.

The fact is that nobody’s thinking about you.

That student wasn’t thinking about me. Rather, she thought about me only because I didn’t do what she wanted of me. If I had agreed to ‘volunteer’, she’d have thanked me prettily, and dismissed me from her head immediately. Her sole concern was to get as many ‘volunteers’ to donate blood as she could. She used every means at her disposal to get me to do so – short of saying I killed three people (or would, in the future) because I refused to donate blood!

Every day, you come across different types of manipulation. People simulate admiration, awkwardness, anger, shame – the entire range of emotions to get specific reactions from you. Left to yourself, would you have acted the same way? Would you have responded the same way? Would you have made the same choice?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The more you get in touch with yourself, the more time you spend finding out what you believe, what is important to you, the easier it is to live happily.

Just imagine it! Here’s the world, trying to get you to do all kinds of things and you go your merry way. After a bit, they’ll drop the shocked reactions. They’ll realize you’re not playing their game.

Freedom! Unutterable joy! And as you wallow in this joy, you can share it and pass it on to your children. You can give them the ultimate gift – an unfettered life. Sure he’ll ask you lots of questions. “Why didn’t you give that beggar money? You say we should think of people less fortunate than us. Why didn’t you give her something? You ask me to share. Why didn’t you?”

Take the time to answer his questions. You might answer them over the course of many conversations over weeks. But the very fact that you are willing to engage in a discussion with him will reassure him. Your confidence will comfort him. The ease and poise in your eyes and voice and body will hearten him.

You see, he doesn’t care what others think. He cares what YOU think. And if you can show him that there is a method behind your ‘madness’, a reasoning behind your attitude, he will be at peace. Equally important, if you have taken the time to sort out how you feel about an issue, you will be clear. And you will be consistent in your response. Each time, your behavior will stem from the same logic. If you make an exception, you will consider it well before you do so. And you will make it a point to explain to your child why you have made an exception.

You believe in something. You live by it. Your child learns too, to believe in something (though you have to be prepared that it might be something different from what you believe in! 🙂 After all, he is his own person). He too, lives by it.

A sane, happy life. A carefree life. A fulfilling life.

The student asked me, “You mean you don’t want to save lives?”

I didn’t answer her, but I’ll share my thoughts with you. I believe I can make a difference. Everyone can. But saving a life?

My ego isn’t big enough to let me believe I’m so important I can save a life. Nobody is so important. Not even the super-specialist doctor. She can make a difference, but thinking that she’s saving a life is the beginning of a disease I pray I don’t fall prey to.

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Introducing the Best Parent in the World: Part 2

You are the world’s best parent – for your child.

At the beginning of your parenthood, you’ve got your attitudes and your thoughts sorted out. You’re supportive and encouraging, and as your son keeps asking questions, you experience delight in many ways: his wide-ranging curiosity, your ability to answer all his questions, your willingness to repeat each answer many, many times, his pleasure in your answer, the questions your answer gives rise to – all of it gives you joy. Actively so.

As he keeps growing up, the questions change. It’s not quite so easy to answer them. You conduct research. You find out – either on your own, or both of you together, and you’re still happy.

Some more growing up, and your child’s questions change yet again.

By this time, she’s begun to get the point that you are not an extension of her. You are a separate being. You love the fact that she’s understood this. You can finally tell her, “You’re fresh after your nap, but I’m tired from doing chores, so I can’t play ball with you outside right now. Let’s play something less strenuous till I feel rested.” And she will understand and give you the down time. Because she’s finally begun to get it that you are your own person, separate from her.

But the questions! They become uncomfortable, prickly. Instead of asking you information-type questions, she begins asking attitude- and behavior-type questions.

“Why do you and Dad argue every time you both have to go to an office party?”

“Why are you so rude to Grandpa and so gentle with Grandma?”

“Why did you say/do that mean thing?”

She’s asking out of the same curiosity that you once celebrated.

But now that the questions are coming closer to the core of who you are, you become defensive.

The questions she asks you now cannot be answered immediately – if at all they can be answered. (If you are in an abusive relationship, how will you explain that to your 6- or 7-year old? And men can be in abusive relationships as often as women can, so this is not gender-specific.) Nor are they easy to answer.

You might not have observed these things about yourself. Or you might have noticed them, but not considered them. You may have dismissed them as stemming from stress, exhaustion, having an ‘off’ day – whatever.

And now, here’s your child putting you on the spot. Typically, you will hit back – by shutting her out, asking her to back off, giving her some half-baked, untrue explanation.

“We don’t argue every time” or “We’re both tired after a full day at work and now we have to go out again instead of being able to relax”. (But that’s not true. She said you argued only if you had to go to an office party – not otherwise.)

“I’m not rude to Grandpa! Grandma has a heart condition so we have to be careful with her…”

“I shouldn’t have said /done it, but I was really stressed because Mom was unwell / there was so much work / I’d had a bad day / …”

Initially, she’ll accept all your answers. After all, she’s been doing it all her life, and she’s come to no harm. But after a while, she’ll realize you have no clue what you’re talking about.

Your child will find out that you are a sham. You’re giving her answers which don’t ring true; which change, depending upon the situations and people involved.

Suddenly, you stop being the best parent in the world – not from your child’s point of view, but your own. You know things are spiraling out of control, but you don’t know how to get back on top of them.

Consider continuing your term as the best parent in the world.

When he asks you a question that makes you all hot and bothered, consider it. “Do you think we argue every time we go to an office party? I hadn’t noticed that. Let’s see…” Think about it. Maybe the next sentence in this conversation could be, “I’ll have to think about it before I give you an answer. Why don’t we talk about this another time?”

He will accept this as an answer – for the moment. He will learn that there are questions that need time before they can be adequately answered.

Then work on your answer. Yourself, and with your partner, if need be. (There’s a transformation here, waiting in the wings! :-)) And get back to your son, talk to him one-on-one. See where that explanation goes.

Your child is growing up. Well, you need to grow up with him! Even though you’re an adult already. Growing up means learning that black and white are concepts for children. Your child needs to learn that there is no black and white – life is a spectrum of grays. There are no absolutes (well, this is one! :-)).

And who better to teach this than you – the best parent in the world? Which better example to use than your own? Share with your child the choices you are faced with, how you evaluate them, how you need to keep working on yourself as new situations arise, how you are sometimes (or often! :-)) unsure of the choice you make, but you go through with it anyway. Share your vulnerability with him.

You will no longer be his hero. You will no longer be the most powerful being in your child’s world. But you couldn’t have continued in that role in any case! Because as he grows, he will see the contradictions between what he knows to be true (from you) and the way you are living your life. Also, since he’s separated his identity from yours, you are the person most under scrutiny, because you are still the center of his universe.

So share yourself – yes, the right way to read that is your SELF – with him. Magic moments result from such sharing.

He will see that you don’t need to be perfect to be worthwhile. He will learn that wonderful people can have flaws, and it doesn’t make them any less wonderful. He will know that life is about constantly adjusting to change.

You will build and share a relationship you will both treasure forever. After all, you ARE the best parent in the world! 🙂

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Introducing the Best Parent in the World: Part 1

Since I’m introducing the best parent in the world, it will take a bit of time, so this is Part 1 of the Introduction. Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to the best parent in the world. In fact, I’d like you to take a moment and meet this person.

YOU are the best parent in the world. For your children. Your children might not think so (! :-)), but it’s true. The best person to parent your children is you.

Your children may or may not believe this, but the real question is: do you believe it? Do you really believe you are the best parent in the world? In all probability, you don’t.  And you’re right not to believe it.

No, I’m not contradicting myself. Stay with me while I clarify what I mean.

Like I said at the beginning, I’d like you to take a moment and meet the best parent in the world. Take a moment to meet yourself.

When you tell your child “You shouldn’t lie”, where are you coming from? Do you truly believe that telling lies is undesirable? If you do, you probably don’t tell lies yourself. (I’d like to meet you and shake your hand!) But if you spout these homilies to your child because that is what a ‘good’ parent should do (teach “values” – a highly misused word), then you are coming from a false space.

Think for a bit. Why do you tell your child to tell the truth?

Is it so that you should look good to yourself? So that you should look good to others? When someone says “tell the truth”, your little one immediately pipes up and says, “That’s what my Dad and Mom always tell me.” And the listener will think, “Wow! What wonderful parents!” Come on – pull the other one!

Do you say it because you think you are being a ‘good’ parent by teaching ‘good’ values (there’s that word again!) to your child? Do you think it will help him to become a ‘good’ or ‘better’ person? Do you think it will help him be happier? More successful?

Just for a split second, let’s make believe that you really do believe that your child should tell the truth, and you drum it into his head all the time. Great! Your child is now telling the truth:

“Grandpa, I don’t like eating with you because your false teeth click as you eat and the sound makes me feel sick.”

“Aunty, Mom disliked your present so much that she threw it in the bin.”

“Mr. Policeman, Dad only drank a little bit today because he didn’t want you to catch him while we were driving home.”

How do you react to your child telling the truth?

Little children are literal. They see the entire world in black and white. They won’t understand the fine nuances of truth-telling that you mean to teach them.

What you probably want them to learn is that they should always tell YOU the truth, tell the truth to the world-at-large most of the time, agree verbally or tacitly when you lie (bowing to your superior knowledge of the situation), and keep shut  the rest of the time.

Ha! Fat chance! You know it doesn’t play out that way. At least, not when your child is little. With time and experience, and by watching you “tell the truth”, he will learn. But that comes later.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not for a moment suggesting that “telling the truth” is a bad idea. Nor am I endorsing lying.

The point is: What do you mean by the truth? Have you worked out for yourself what “telling the truth” means to you personally?

So meet yourself. What does the truth truly mean to you? Have you bought into some societal concept without believing in it? Are you spending your life trying to live up to beliefs that aren’t really yours? Beliefs that have been thrust on you by society? By your family? By your religion?

When we push ideas and beliefs that are not really ours onto our children – that is when we stop being the best parents in the world to them.

No matter what your belief, no matter how weird, no matter how contrary to popular ‘wisdom’, no matter how much it is against the ‘good values’ accepted by society, when you go against your own beliefs, you stop being the best parent in the world. Yes, I mean your OWN beliefs – the beliefs that you own.

We are all so anxious to look good to others, that we keep jumping through hoops without ever stopping to think if the criteria by which others are judging us mean anything at all to us.

Besides, people are capricious. They are as liable to praise you for an action as they are to criticize you for it. It’s not your action they’re responding to – it’s their mood, their day, how they think and feel at the time of the response that governs their response.

So you’re telling your child she should “tell the truth”. And then she sees you “not telling the truth”.

Are you really surprised when she starts giving you ‘trouble’? When she stops ‘listening’ (obeying is what you mean) to you? How could you be? Be reasonable. You’re an intelligent adult. If you don’t believe in what you say, if you’re not following through, why should she?

If your daughter asks you this question, you fob her off. “You won’t understand.” “It’s different for grown-ups.” “Don’t ask questions.” “Children should tell the truth.” “Good children tell the truth.” “You should tell the truth because I’m your parent and I say so.” “You must learn to tell the truth.” (Why? So she can un-learn it later?)

Of course your relationship with her is going down the tube! She’s lost and confused, and instead of helping her make sense of things, you’re pulling rank.

She’s your kid, and yours is the final word, but know that if there is enough discrepancy often enough between what you say and what you do, she will stop trusting you. And that is a road you’d rather not walk down.

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Are You Killing Your Child with Carrots?

Many children in the world are brought up without praise. This is sad, to say the least, and has terrible consequences for their self-esteem, behavior, and the quality of their lives as children. And as adults. Obviously, it also affects how they will raise their children.

But you are probably not such a parent. You know that praising your child is a very important part of showing how much you love her. You have read all the literature about propping up her self-esteem, about affirming good behavior with praise and discouraging bad behavior by ignoring it. Carrot, carrot, carrot. No stick. And it works.

When she’s little and tries to stand on her own, she falls with a thump. You encourage her to try again. She tries again. You praise her. Carrot. She falls back down. She tries yet again to stand up. You praise her. Carrot. She falls back down. She tries once more. Carrot. There’s no need for the stick! Everything’s perfect.

This is what happens all the time – when she says her first syllable, first word, learns to stand without support, then walk, then run. More milestones are celebrated with praise. First sentence, first scribble, saying “Please” and “Thank you”, asking for permission, listening to what Mom and Dad say (let’s be honest – this one’s called obedience 🙂), putting her toys away, feeding herself, feeding herself without making a mess, finishing all the food on her plate, dressing herself, wearing her own sandals and shoes, identifying numbers and alphabets, learning to read and then write…

Of course, potentially dangerous behaviors need to be actively discouraged, and you do so. This is the ‘Beware! List’. She has to be taught initially to stay away from – and then to be careful around – electrical sockets, hot dishes and liquids, sharp edges, glass, and so on. Whether you explain, scold, warn, demonstrate, play-act or spank, you find ways to teach her that she has to watch herself around all this and more.

Every time she successfully negotiates the ‘Beware! List’ you praise her. Of course! That’s what any loving parent would do.

So far, everything is going swimmingly.

As your child engages more with the outside world, you begin to caution him. As he grows, there are ever greater threats to his safety and security. You want to protect him from hurt – both physical and mental.

You teach him how to cross a road – not that you ever let him cross it alone at this stage, but for years you keep teaching him. “Don’t accept things from people you don’t know.” “Don’t go anywhere with a stranger.” And each time he behaves appropriately, you praise him. Carrot.

He does ‘good’ things, and you reinforce his behavior by praising him. Carrot. He avoids things from the Beware! List and you reinforce yet again with praise. Carrot.

The point is this: Too many ‘carrots’ will lead to trouble.

This doesn’t mean that you must use the ‘stick’. That is a decision that you alone can (and should) make for yourself. If your parenting style doesn’t involve the ‘stick’, know that when you withhold the carrot, you’re wielding the ‘stick’.

If your child gets praised for everything he does (and doesn’t do), he becomes a praise ‘junkie’. This phase will occur at some time or other in each child’s life, but it is important that he move beyond it relatively quickly.

It is totally understandable to heap appreciation on a 5-year old who brushes his teeth well. But if he’s expecting to be praised for the same skill at age 10, you have a problem on your hands.

Essentially, you need to wean him off the old carrots, and get him on to ‘bigger’ carrots. Like doing chores around the house, learning new skills – whatever is appropriate to his age and ability, learning new attitudes…more grown-up stuff.

What happens if you don’t?

Firstly, nobody – not even you – will be able to praise him for a particular achievement for the rest of his life. “Lovely! You tied your shoelaces so well!” sounds wonderful and genuine when your child is 7. It sounds ridiculous if he’s 12, and you probably wouldn’t dream of even mentioning it by the time he’s 15.

Secondly, after a point, the praise sounds false, even to the child, as in the ‘shoelace’ instance above. And he will wonder why you feel the need to praise him for an ordinary, everyday occurrence.

Thirdly, his thinking and behavior will be distorted by his addiction to praise. People will figure out his sensitivity to praise, and manipulate him till he’s miserable. And he won’t know why. “You share your allowance with me every week. You’re such a good friend!”

Fourthly, you may continue to find opportunities to praise him as he grows, but will anybody else? Out there in the world, who really cares? We all know the answer to that question: No one. Basically, when it comes right down to the wire, practically no one cares.

But as he begins to form relationships outside the family, and as these ties strengthen with time, he will be increasingly bewildered by these friends who are not appreciative enough of him. One of two things might then happen. Either he will redouble his efforts to win their praise, which might move him farther away from what he wants. Or he will wonder what is wrong with him. Or both things might happen.

Self-doubt, low self-esteem, discontentment, misery. Stick, stick, stick, stick. And not one of these sticks is actively wielded by anyone! Not one of them is ‘meant’! It is your child alone, who is beating himself up with these sticks.

Fifthly (is this ever going to end?!), even if he is lucky enough to find good friends, human beings are fickle. The thing that delights a person today may irritate him tomorrow, leave him unmoved the third day, and arouse his contempt on the fourth. But your child will want praise all the time! Which is simply not possible.

Your child will live without ever basking in the glow of achievement for its own sake. He will feel all his achievements diminished if they are not praised by someone (or everyone!). What a needless tragedy!

Here’s an item to add to your Beware! List: Do not kill with praise. You’ve added it? Carrot. 🙂

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Building Trust with Your Child

The good news is that our children are born trusting us. And trust is the basis on which we can enjoy a lifetime of togetherness with our children.

But sometimes, we teach them not to trust us. By not doing what we say. By not following through.

So how can we rebuild this trust?

If your child is very young, just make a decision to pay more attention to what you say to her, and to do it. Then reinforce that you did it. “I said we’d play on the swings this evening, and we did! Wasn’t it fun?” When you slip up, she’ll point it out. “You said you’d draw a picture with me, but you didn’t!” And you’ll have a chance to correct your error.

Over time, she will learn that you keep your word, and she will learn to keep hers too. She will learn to trust you.

For older children, because they’ve learnt not to trust over a longer time, it will take greater effort. If you have more than one child, do this individually with each one for maximum impact.

Step One: Confess. Yes, this is the only way out. Pick a time when you and your child have time – if you think it might take 15 minutes, budget for an hour. Not that you will necessarily need an hour, but she has to participate in the conversation too, so give her time to listen and understand. Give yourself time to explain and clarify. Give yourselves time to agree on a few things. Like I said, trust takes time. So make sure you have ample time on your hands.

Step Two: Pick a time when both of you are relatively calm. If you’d planned to talk to your child about it after dinner, and she’s distracted or excited or upset about something, pick another time, when she will be calmer and more able to engage with you.

Step Three: Tell your child what’s bothering you. “I feel sad (and bad, and ashamed, and…) that I say so many things, but don’t do them. When I say I’ll go biking with you, I mean to, but somehow, other things seem to take over, and we both end up feeling bad. I’d like to change that.” Correlate to something she would like to change. “You’d like to do better at math, but you need my help for it. Well, I’d like you to help me with this.”

Step Four: Talk about what goes wrong. “I get urgent work assignments.” “I’m so tired by the time I get home.” “I get distracted by other things so I don’t finish my work on time, and then I’m behind schedule, which cuts into my time with you.” “I worry about not having enough money, and this puts me in a bad mood. Then I don’t feel like doing fun things.” This is a very grave acknowledgement to make.

In essence, you are telling your child that thus far, you have put work, exhaustion, distractions and worries ahead of him. Not in so many words, but that is what you are saying. And it needs to be said (but not spelt out!). When you say this to your child, he will listen. He knows it, but hearing you admit it will make him sit up and listen. It will reassure him that this time around, you are serious about making a change, that there might just be a point to this talk the two of you are having.

Step Five: Now that you have got his attention, ask him what behavior of yours bothers him the most. Having asked him, wait for him to respond. This talk is not about your unburdening yourself. It is about both of you seeking a way to build trust. Let him come up with some answer. If there’s none, ask him what would be the top (one, two, three, five – whatever, but let’s not get too ambitious to start with :-)) thing he’d like to change about you.

He might say, “You don’t listen when I tell you something. Like when I told you I had debating practice, you nodded, but when it was time to go, you yelled at me saying I hadn’t told you before…” Make sure he gives you an instance (or two or three!) of whatever it is he’s ‘complaining’ about. This helps him clarify his thoughts, and decide which one thing he’d most like to change about your behavior with him.

Step Six: If you agree with his assessment, decide on the nature of the change you will make. If he says you embarrass him in front of his friends, ask specifically what embarrasses him. It might be the fact that you hug him, or yell at him, or are too chatty with his friends. Whatever it is, ask him precisely how he would like to see change.

“Don’t put your arm around me.” “When my friends come over, just say ‘Hello!’, then go away.”

Step Seven: Be practical. If the habit is too ingrained, you might want to negotiate. “It’ll be hard for me to change all of a sudden. Will it be okay if I don’t yell at you more than twice a day – at least to start with?” Then sit down to define ‘yelling’. Let him help you. “Will you just tell me the next time I start? Just say, ‘Mom, you’re yelling again’, and I’ll stop. Then that won’t count as a yelling. Okay?”

Step Eight: Decide when you’ll have another chat to assess your progress. At assessment time, you might decide to do away with the earlier exceptions because you’re getting better at your new behavior. 🙂 You may even decide to change other things!

Step Nine: Three little words: Go do it.

There will be times you slip up. You’ll slide back every now and then, but your child will be on your side, helping you keep track.

But more often than not, you’ll find that this ‘one’ change will change everything about your relationship with your child, and many issues will simply fizzle out.

Believe me, this works. With both boys and girls, however old or young they are. Because children love to be taken into confidence by adults. Being asked to help a parent, and that too with behavioral change, makes them feel both valuable and powerful. The very fact that you are asking your child to help you will bring you both closer than before.

All that remains is to celebrate the trust you are building with your child. I raise a toast to you!

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Why Making Promises to Your Child is a Bad Idea

There is one quality so powerful, that that quality alone will let you build a lasting and fulfilling relationship with your child. That quality is not love.

It is trust. If there is trust between you and your child, you will be able to enjoy a lifetime together. Even without love, though it seems almost impossible that love should not exist between a parent and a child…

The reverse is not true. Love, without trust, is glitter without gold.

To trust someone is to believe them. If your child trusts you, she believes you when you tell her that you’ll listen to her reciting her lines for the play after you finish the phone call you are on.

The good news is that our children are born trusting us.

You say to your 2-year old, “We’ll build that Lego model after lunch.” He practically bolts his lunch in his excitement. After lunch, he grabs the Lego box and rushes to you. You point to the table in the play area and say, “Keep it there.” And then you sit there with him and build the model. Your son, who already trusts you, learns yet again, that you do what you say you will do.

Trust makes parenting carefree, enjoyable.

You don’t need to play ‘good cop, bad cop’. You say, “If you don’t finish dinner, you won’t get to watch your favorite show.” Your daughter knows that you do what you say you will do. Of course, she will still try to have it her way (pick at dinner but watch TV), but her heart won’t be in it. Because she trusts you. Because she has learnt to trust you. Because you have taught her to trust you.

If there is trust between you and your child, he becomes trustworthy himself. Your son loves to play barefoot in the park, but there’s glass strewn all over the park today. Before he goes to play, you look him in the eye and say, “There’s glass strewn all over the park today, so I’d like you to keep your shoes on throughout.” If he looks at you and responds, “Okay, I will,” know that he will keep his shoes on. Because he has learnt from you to do what he says he will do. He has learnt that when a person says something, they do it (at least at home! :-)) As simple as that!

These scenarios play out when we keep teaching our children to trust us time after time after time. Trust needs time.

Trust doesn’t need you to be perfect. There will be times your best intentions are derailed. There might be an emergency. The weather is bad so you can’t go to the amusement park. Tell your child. Explain properly why you could not do what you said you would do.

“Dad has high fever, so he should rest rather than go out for a movie.” If possible, schedule the event for another time. “We’ll watch the movie next weekend.” If the movie won’t be playing in cinemas next weekend, would she like to watch another movie? Could you all watch the DVD together when it is released?

So why is this post titled “Why Making Promises to Your Child is a Bad Idea”?

Imagine yourself making a promise to your child. Here goes: “I promise. I’ll cook dinner tonight, and we’ll eat together. I promise. We’ll eat together.” What you are really telling your child is that this time, he should believe you. Because you are promising something. At other times, he has your permission not to believe you. Because you are not promising.

To promise means to keep your word. If you keep your word, i.e. if you do what you say you will do, you don’t need to promise anything to your child! Ever. She knows that if you have said it, you will do everything in your power to make it happen.

“I’ll bake a cake for you on your birthday.”

“We’ll set up a play date with your friend next week.”

“We’ll go to the mountains on vacation.”

“I’ll come and watch your match this afternoon.”

These “words” of seemingly little importance add up to big words.

When he asks you at age five why you and your partner divorced, you can tell him, “We had problems. I’ll tell you more about it when you are a bit more grown up and better able to understand – maybe when you are 8 or 10 years old…”

This way you have not lied to him (adding to trust in later years! :-)), you have not stressed him out by sharing information he cannot process or handle today, and you have addressed the issue that was bothering him. Also, you have not confused him by vilifying your ex-partner. You are a winner all the way!

Being told an answer at 8 or 10 is a lifetime of waiting to a child of five. But he will believe you, and be satisfied and at peace with your answer. Because you have taught him to trust you.

Of course, you’d better make a mental note and revisit this issue when he’s eight or ten. Raise it yourself, if you think he’s ready for some information. And if you raise it yourself, tell him that you’re making good on the word you gave him when he was five.

At this point, you might feel that there is less trust between you and your child than you would like. I’m sorry to disillusion you. There is no ‘less’ trust and ‘more’ trust.

Trust IS or IS NOT – just like Life. If you feel there isn’t trust between you and your child, know that you have taught your child not to trust you. I’m not blaming you! So often, life takes over and makes mincemeat of our best intentions and resolutions.

But it is not too late. It is never too late to build trust. More difficult, yes – but always doable and always worthwhile. Especially with children, because they are so accepting.

How do you start building trust with your child? Get some tips tomorrow.

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Are You Sure that’s Your Child You’re Parenting?

No, I’m not casting doubts on your child’s parentage!

If you were happy about bringing your child into the world (and many are not), one of the first decisions you made when you learnt you were expecting a child was to be the best parent you could be. ‘Decision’ is not the right word because it does not express your determination strongly enough – it was more in the nature of a vow. You promised yourself that you would be the best parent ever.

You will always ‘be there’ for your child – you will love her and support her and give her everything she needs all through her life. You will never hurt her… Stop right there!

Hurt your child? And this child not yet born? What are you thinking?

It’s simple! You are thinking of yourself. You’re thinking of yourself when you were a child. You are thinking of those times when you felt hurt because of something your parents said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do. You are thinking of the times you were looking to your parents for reassurance and failed to find it. You are replaying scenes from your past.

But now that you will be a parent, these scenes will have different endings. In the new endings, everything ends with the child feeling good. Obviously, the new ending features you as the parent and a featureless someone as the child.

Alright. Snap back to the present.

You have made your vows. You await the baby. The baby arrives. And you start living your vows.

You are exaggeratedly loving. You watch every word that comes out of your mouth. You don’t even let yourself frown around the baby because you are a wonderful, loving parent, and no such parent is ever tired, disgruntled, or irritated by the baby. (Or so you think, especially if this is your first child.:-))

After this phase wears off, you acknowledge your irritation, and make your peace with the thought that wanting a break from your child and her demands does not make you a ‘bad’ parent. And you go on being the loving parent.

Then one day, she hurts herself. The doctor advises that she stay in bed for a day.

Flashback! You were sick and in bed. Your dad was home that day, but came to check on you just twice, for a minute each time. And you lay in bed feeling sad and sorry and unloved and in pain and abandoned. You hated being alone and in bed! You wished Dad would spend some time with you, talk to you, sit with you to pass the time…

Today, your head tells you that Dad was working on something so important that he’d stayed home to avoid even the distraction of colleagues at work. But your heart still hurts.

And so you abandon your work and sit with your daughter and read her a story and talk to her, not noticing her drooping eyelids, not hearing her murmured, “I’m tired, Dad”. After all, you are a wonderful, loving parent, and you want her to know it.

So – who is it you’re parenting? You’re parenting yourself – the ‘you’ that you were in the past.

Which brings me to the title of this post: Are you sure it’s your child you’re parenting?

Sadly, a lot of the time, for most of us, the answer is NO.

We tend to get overwhelmed by the emotions of our past, and treat our children as we would have liked our parents to treat us. (Hey! Maybe our parents were doing that too! A thought that makes you feel better, doesn’t it?)

And what of the child that’s lying in bed? Tired and wishing Dad would just go away and let her rest? But too tired, or too polite, to tell him so. She suffers silently. And maybe creates a moment that she will remember when she is a parent. And she will leave her child alone. And so the cycle is continued…

But you ARE a wonderful, loving parent. All you need to do is to shake off the cobwebs of the past and look at your child as a person in his own right.

Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the The Five Love Languages, says each person tends to primarily express love in different ways. Yes, five different ways. The ways could be Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, or Quality Time.

And here you are – being a loving mom, hugging and kissing your two-year old. And she spends her time squirming out of your arms, asking you to play with her, to solve a jigsaw puzzle, to cook with her. Not your style. So you do the minimum of these that you can get away with to keep her happy, but keep grabbing her for a hug that she’s trying to avoid.

You’re left feeling like she doesn’t love you – she’s just two and if she doesn’t want hugs and kisses now, then when? – and you’re puzzled and hurt. To make matters worse, she prefers being with your partner, who doesn’t hug her in days! (But does ‘stuff’ with her.)

Look again at your child. This is a person in his own right. And he’s telling you all the time how to love him. Well, love him! HIS way!

You have a son who’s always gifting you things. Give him gifts of pebbles, his favorite foods, feathers – anything, so long as it can take the form of a gift (and children are not fussy!). He will feel loved.

Your daughter pays you compliments ten times an hour. Tell your daughter all the things you like about her. Give her the appreciation she craves. She will feel loved.

Over time, their love languages will change. The little boy who squeezed you hard now shrugs out of an embrace. The girl that said “I love you” every day at bed time barely mumbles “G’night” before she shuts the door to her room.

But they’re still telling you how to love them. You come home to find she’s done some of your chores. Your son says you might want to help him set up the Xbox 360. They’re telling you.

And if you’re listening, then you’re sure – sure that it IS your child you’re parenting.

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The No. 1 Disease from which All Parents Suffer

If you are a parent, you know what it is to be tortured by guilt. Guilt that you are not doing enough for your child – not giving enough, not bonding enough, not spending enough time and/or money, not teaching enough, not …

In short, you’re beating yourself up because a little voice inside your head pipes up every now and then that you are NOT good enough as a parent.

Guilt is part of the human condition, and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to escape it. What we must try for, if we are to live in relative peace and sanity, is to manage the guilt.

It is a sadly familiar scenario. Your teenager has been acting strange for the past few weeks – he disappears for unaccounted chunks of time and is acting very cagey around you. When you begin to broach the issue, he either ignores you, or reassures you so unnaturally that you are beginning to seriously worry.

Is he smoking on the sly (and what’s he smoking, anyway? Or inhaling? Or injecting?)? Drinking? Has he joined a gang or cult? Is it a girl? Or a guy? Is he cooking up an illegal scheme to make money? As a dad, you know the kinds of trouble he could be getting himself into. And things are much worse today than they were when you were a teen.

You wind yourself up tighter and tighter till you are ready to burst. If you are lucky, you might find out before you explode. If not, you’ll find out after you explode. And what you find out is this: He was putting together a surprise for your 50th birthday party.

Mainly because he wants you to let him have the party to beat all parties when he turns 16 two months from now! (Sigh of relief! Everything’s okay – he’s behaving like a normal guy. He wants something in return for all the work he’s doing. :-))

The point is: whether you explode or not, you will be guilty that you didn’t trust him enough. You will reproach yourself for not believing enough in him.

And this guilt will spur you to uncharacteristic behavior. You might allow him to break major household rules in an extravagant fit of remorse. Or you might try to restrict his freedom to ensure you don’t have to go through such agonies of uncertainty (and guilt) again. Whichever way the pendulum swings, it will swing wide.

And it will confuse your child.

In a much younger child too, guilt can lead parents to behave in a bizarre manner. Such as reading out the riot act to your daughter at first, and on realizing that you have misread the situation, apologizing profusely and bribing her with treats to make her (and yourself!) feel better.

Guilt makes us behave abnormally – contrary to our beliefs, our values, our thinking, our convictions. And such behavior confuses our children. They wonder what happened to the parent they ‘know’ so well. What’s going on?

You don’t want to tell your child why you are behaving as you are. Because you are ashamed of what you thought or said or did, and you want to suppress the guilt.

Enough episodes of guilt will increase the distance between you and your child, replacing trust with suspicion (what is my mom/dad thinking to make her/him behave this way?), anxiety, and perhaps even fear. (Children are very imaginative!)

I think we have a golden opportunity right here, to get closer to our children, to forge deeper ties with them, and to help them become worthwhile adults.

Children feel guilty too. She may never show it, but when she threw that glass in a fit of rage and it smashed against your hand, cutting your finger, she felt guilty as hell. She felt bad about what she’d done. She felt bad she’d done it. She felt bad she’d done it to you. Even by mistake, but she’d done it. She would give anything to take it back, but that isn’t possible. And she holds in her guilt, and lives with it, stewing in it.

She suffers, and sets herself up as a ‘bad’ person in her own estimation. Yup! You got that right – we’re talking self-esteem.

If you could talk to her, and tell her that sometimes, you feel like a ‘bad’ person too, when you doubt someone’s intentions, words, or actions, it would be enormously reassuring for her. “My mom! My dad! They feel this way too! I guess I’m not so ‘bad’ after all!”

Don’t kid yourself that only a young child would think this way. However she behaves around you, however she talks to / about you, you are still the bedrock of your teenage daughter’s existence. Your “I’m my own man” teenager is still deeply influenced by you – you’d be shocked if you knew how much.

Go back to your own childhood. Revisit some long-nursed guilt.

How freeing it would have been if someone had sat you down and said, “I know you didn’t mean to cut my finger. I know you didn’t mean to break the glass. It’s okay. I’m fine. I know you feel awful about the whole thing, but I don’t think any the less of you for it. In fact, let me tell you something. I, too, feel terrible about something I did. I feel awful about how I behaved the other day – when I started yelling at you the moment I entered the house, because you said you hadn’t done your homework. And then you told me that you were sick, but didn’t call me at work because you knew I had an important meeting and you didn’t want to disturb me.

How I wish I hadn’t yelled at you! Even though I didn’t know you were sick. You were sick and alone and still you were so thoughtful about me. And I’m your mom, and you were sick, and I was so mean to you! I know I didn’t know you were sick. But still, I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I still feel bad about it. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over feeling bad about it.

But I also know that you don’t blame me for it. I know I feel worse about it than you do. That’s guilt.  We all have it, so it’s okay. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you less lovable. It doesn’t make you less worthwhile. You are still a wonderful, worthwhile person, and always will be, no matter how many mistakes you make.

So don’t worry that you threw the glass, that my finger is cut. Stuff happens, you know.”

How freeing it would have been if someone had sat you down and said this!

And just like that – a horrible, makes-you-cringe, gut-wrenching, heart-aching experience becomes a memory to cherish!

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Love is a Six-Letter Verb

Love is a six-letter verb, and it is spelt A-C-C-E-P-T.

When your baby was born, it felt like you’d been handed a live doll to cherish and enjoy – with a few exceptions. Notably, the baby’s tendency to spew disgusting things from both ends. And its penchant for making continuous mewling noises which increased in decibels over time, and slowly shredded your nerves to confetti.

So – did you wrinkle your nose and drop it in the dustbin? Leave the baby someplace without a return address label? Of course not! You wrinkled your nose, cleaned it up, sighed, cleaned it up again, and when it finally stayed clean for a few minutes, you cuddled the baby and murmured words of love.

Or you rocked and soothed and patted him, sleep-walking a tread in the carpet, crooning for endless hours as your arms threatened to drop out of their sockets. But you never once considered just letting him cry through the night. How could you? You love him. Your love is a living, breathing entity, and you accept the baby just as he is.

Fast forward to the time this baby is a toddler. Suddenly, she discovers that she is a person different from you. She learns to say ‘No’ in many ways. She won’t eat when you feed her. She refuses to be dressed, or to be soothed. She wants to sleep when it isn’t yet nap time. She refuses to go to bed till all hours of the morning. You say she’s going through the Terrible Twos, and continue to hug her with fervor.

Fast-forward some more to when your little darling digs his feet in, puts his ears back, and in no uncertain terms, says NO to you. Suddenly, it is a contest of wills. Your will against his, and you feel compelled to impose your will onto him. “Listen to me,” you say, “I am your mom. I know that this is bad for you. Don’t do it.”

“Listen to me,” you say, “I am your dad. Don’t you want to be big and strong like me? If you don’t drink your milk and eat your vegetables, you will not grow big and strong. You will not have good muscles. You will be weak and puny. Listen to me. Drink your milk. Eat your vegetables. That is how I became so big and strong.” (Really? Wonder if your parents would agree with this! )

As you know, this approach rarely works over the long term. After the first couple of times, growing up at some unspecified time in the future is simply not enough incentive for your child to drink the milk and eat the veggies. So he says “No”. And refuses to budge from that NO.

As these NO’s keep piling up, you start finding fault with your child.

“Why don’t you colour properly – within the lines?”

“Can’t you eat your food faster?”

“Must you be so messy?”

Sure – you are saying this to ‘improve’ your child, to make him better than he was before, but somewhere, the message he is getting is that you are withholding approval and love.

After all, look at it from his point of view. He’s never said to you:

“Why don’t you lose some weight, Mom? You’re beginning to look lumpy around the hips.”

“Dad, you’re balding. Can’t you do something about it?”

“Why don’t you learn to cook some new dish? I’m tired of eating your five staple dishes.”

“Why don’t you learn how to reverse into a parking space?”

You have to admit it – in the years that she has been growing, you too, have been changing. When she was two, you were probably swinging her high up into the air and catching her in your arms as she came hurtling down. Now that she’s seven, she’d still like those ‘high ones’ but when you say it tires you, or that your arms hurt, she doesn’t ask you to do something about it.

She just A-C-C-E-P-T-S you the way you are – at this moment. If you are mad at her, she doesn’t tell you that you have no reason to be mad at her. She accepts that you are angry, and deals with it as best she can. When you’ve cooled down, she’ll probably begin cajoling you again so she can have her own way…

We are blessed to have children who accept us. Why can’t we love them back the same way? Why can’t we love them for who they are?

So he’s throwing a tantrum. It’s bad for him. He’s turning blue from lack of oxygen. And on top of that, you get mad at him!

What happened to your love for the baby that did impossible things? You just went on loving him right back. No matter what he threw at you (literally!), you just kept on loving him.

I feel it is when our children begin to be independent that we begin to default on this complete acceptance. So long as they are not actively opposing our will, we find it easy to love (read A-C-C-E-P-T) them. The moment they exert themselves as persons with independent points of view and different wishes from ours, we feel the need to overcome those “No’s”. And we try to do so in the worst way possible – we withhold ourselves. We become cold. We frown. We step back. We give them half-hearted hugs. We turn away. We give them the silent treatment.

And still they love us! And try to appease us! Bless our children!

It is humbling to be a parent.

We have a lot of love for our children. Now if only we can love them – because love is a six-letter verb…

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Coming Back from the Brink of Too Much Love

It is 8pm and you’re entering the house after a hard day at work. Your 11-year old daughter just remembered she needs a special tool from the store for a project tomorrow, and she will be penalized if she doesn’t have it. The store is a 15-minute drive away, and if you turn right around and leave, you might be able to buy what she needs before the store shuts. “But why didn’t you tell me or Mom earlier?” you ask in desperation. “You’ve done this so many times! You get back from school at 3pm. You’ve had 5 hours to let us know, and you tell us now!”

“Please, Dad,” she pleads. “Just this once. Please. I won’t make a good grade unless you buy me the tool. Please. I promise. This is the last time.”

You’ve always bailed her out, so be fair to her and do it one last time.

However, make it clear to her that this is the very last time you will do so. When you get back, and are surrounded by profuse expressions of her love, sit her down and tell her that from this moment onwards, she has to be responsible for certain things in her life. Tell her in so many words, and start small. Start with whatever is bothering you the most.

“The next time you don’t tell us by 4pm, we will not get it for you.”

“If you wake up late and miss the school bus, I won’t drop you to school. You’ll have to miss school.”

“If you don’t put your clothes in the laundry basket, they won’t be washed. You can wear dirty clothes or stay in bed.”

“If you don’t tell me about your orchestra practice (or ball game or debating competition…) at least three days before the event, I will not take you.”

The next time they slip up, it is time to show that you love them enough to let them face the problem they have created. She needs to learn that there are consequences to not doing things on time. And she needs to learn it more than she needs to make a good grade on tomorrow’s project.

Just say no.

Your child will rave and rant. He will throw at you every accusation he can muster. Stand firm. He will take your breath away with the unfair and hurtful things he says (the first of which is that you do not love him and do not care about him!).

Do not give way. He will ask you why you are being so insensitive, hard-hearted, selfish… Don’t even bother to answer his questions, because he is not ready to listen to your reply. He may end up not eating dinner, banging doors, talking back, screaming…

Let him be.

She might even play the last trick up her sleeve. “Alright, if you don’t care enough about me and my grades to get me what I need, I won’t go to school tomorrow.”

Stay your ground. If need be, tell her that if she’s sure she won’t go to school the next day, she can stay home and you’ll arrange for supervision (if this applies to you). Let her know it is her decision, and that you respect it.

If not that evening, she will definitely have calmed down sufficiently by the following evening for you to sit her down and explain why you acted as you did. Tell her that reaping the results of your actions is part of growing up. Tell her that real life rarely gives you the same opportunity twice. There will be other chances, other opportunities, but the one that is gone is gone forever.

If you missed the flight that began your dream 30-day vacation, the holiday is not spoiled. Delayed and more expensive than you’d planned – definitely. But not spoiled. However, that doesn’t change the fact that you missed the flight.

She will get it if you sit down and tell her.

But this is where things often go wrong.

Instead of simply talking to our children and telling them our point of view, we get defensive. We tell them, and want them to still think well of us. We want them to agree that our action was correct, that it was justified. And so, instead of just telling them, we start pleading with them for their understanding. And when they withhold this understanding, we feel our firm decision begin to waver. Maybe one more time…

Beware! This is the time to stand firm. Hold on to the love you have for your child. Hold fast to your decision to be a good parent, to help your child become a worthwhile adult.

Your son will understand, but not while you are explaining. The understanding may come a week, a month, a year from the moment that you explain. Your child has become so used to being coddled by you that this sudden removal of the buffer feels like he’s been thrown into the sea when he can’t swim. What’s worse, you’re not even handing him a life-belt!

Such behavior perplexes the child, frightens him. It shakes the solid foundations of his world, because he has never before known what it was like to not have things set right for him. The rages, the harsh words are just his way of venting, of telling you he’s feeling abandoned.

But best they go through this feeling early, while you are still around to hold their hands and help them make sense of things. Tell your daughter this. When you tell her, she may see the point, or she may not. What is important is that you are not apologetic or defensive about your actions.  And you are consistent about letting her bear the results of her action or inaction.

After he’s half-drowned, half-paddled his way out, help pump the sea water out of his stomach. Give him a hot bath and a back rub. Tuck him up in bed with a cup of hot soup and sit with him as you both relive his ‘drowning’ experience. He will know that you still love him, that you still care.

And then, follow through on what you have said. After all, you want to be a person of your word.

Sure there will be scenes. So what? There are scenes anyway. At least these will be scenes you are directing! And before you know it, you’ll have a runaway success on your hands.

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