Archive | November, 2011

I Don’t Want to be My Child’s Role Model

When your baby is little, you are so careful around her! You watch what you say, how you sit and stand and talk, how you behave with others. You do it mainly so she can learn the ‘right’ things. Like it or not, you’ve become her role model. 🙂

It’s easy when she’s little, but as she grows, she enters more and more areas of your life. Now that she can walk from room to room, she follows you around. She’s listening when you’re on the phone: being impatient with your parents, trying to be patient with someone from work, flirting with someone, turning the air blue with your comments on how your favorite baseball team performed at the last game, having an argument with your partner, laughing crudely at crude jokes (yes, women do this as much as men do), making snide remarks about people.

You can’t watch yourself all the time – not for months and years on end. Eventually, the ‘role model’ image develops cracks and the cracks starts showing.

But you haven’t given up on your baby! She is your wonderful, special girl, the love of your life, and you’re determined she will be PERFECT!

Look at it from your child’s point of view:

You have shown him how to do be sit stand speak sleep dress eat brush bathe play – everything he knows, he knows from you. He tries first to copy you, and then to make that imitation faultless. Now, all of a sudden, you want to sheer off and do stuff that he is not supposed to imitate! Worse, you seem displeased or discomfited or both if he even notices you doing certain things (like banging a fist against the wall when you’re frustrated, for instance).

Obviously your son is confused. When are you in ‘role model’ mode? And when is he supposed to pretend you’ve faded into the woodwork?

To make matters worse, you don’t explain it to him. You can’t! If he’s supposed to ignore certain behaviors of yours, your calling attention to them is not exactly going to help him do that, is it?!

As he grows, you begin to feel the burden of this ‘role model’ business. “Finish your homework before dinner. You can watch TV after dinner” you tell him. But you want to watch a program while he’s doing his homework; you don’t have homework. Besides, you’re not a child; you’re an adult, and it’s perfectly alright for you to watch TV all evening if you want to, so long as you don’t neglect your chores (you might think). Why should you give up watching TV because he isn’t supposed to watch it at that time?

“Eat your vegetables” you tell him at dinner. But you don’t want to eat yours because you eat a large vegetable salad for lunch every single day, while he carries a sandwich to school. At dinner, you want some bread and meat. And dinner is the only time your child will eat vegetables (if at all he does). Why should you forego your nutrients to ensure he gets his?

You can be sarcastic with your friend. It is totally inappropriate for your child to be sarcastic with your friend.

You’re getting the drift, aren’t you? If you are a role model, you have to do be say what you want your child (or whoever else) to do be say. I’d say this is a foolproof way to introduce an incredible amount of stress into your life. How can you possibly live your life as an example of how you want your child to live his life?

And there’s something else you’ve forgotten. Your child is her own person; she is not you. Her nature and personality may be similar to yours, but they will never be identical. How, then, can you expect that you will be a role model for her?

Real life doesn’t allow for role models; at least, not on an ongoing basis. You can be a role model for someone who sees you for a short while, who shares a small slice of your life or your experience. But when someone is as much a part of your life as your child is, it is almost impossible for you to be a role model for them.

This is why I say: I don’t want to be a role model for my child.

Most people can’t believe it. “Don’t you want your child to learn anything from you?” they ask me.

Sure I do! I want her to learn from me.

I live my life according to my beliefs. I am true to myself. More accurately, I try to be as true to myself as it is possible to be. (If I’m in a group that’s praising someone for something they did, and I think what the person did is reprehensible, I won’t criticize that person, but I won’t say a single word of praise either. I’d be non-committal, poker-faced.)  

I want my daughter to learn from me: to be true to her own beliefs (which might be –and are, in some instances! 🙂 – different from mine). I want my daughter to be true to herself.

Would you call that being a role model?

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Why Your Child is Jealous and What You Can Do About It

Most parents understand jealousy. Either their child is jealous, or else they have experienced jealousy themselves as children. And no, you don’t need to have a sibling to feel jealous. I know many only children who are jealous; they can’t handle their parents paying attention to any other child.

I believe a child feels jealous only if his parents don’t pay sufficient attention to him. Even if he is a single child, with no other ‘competitors’ for his parents’ attention, he will feel the emotion of jealousy – though he might not express it. But the moment his parents focus their attention on another child, sibling or not, this jealousy is expressed.

The jealousy does not arise because the parents are paying more attention to someone else; but because they have not paid enough attention to the child. Read this sentence over and over again. If you have, or know, (or were yourself) a jealous child, you will see the truth of this.

As an early teen, I was babysitting 5 kids who were all very fond of me; the oldest was 7, and the youngest 3. Their parents got together as a group every few months, and each time, I would babysit the kids. As I was organizing them into a game, one of the girls came up to tell me something her grandmother had told her.  As she whispered into my ear (it was a secret meant only for me 🙂 ), the most aggressive of the lot, a 4 year old, pulled the scarf around my neck tight, almost strangling me. I took what preventive action I could and yanked the scarf out of her hands.

After catching my breath, I told her that she had pulled the scarf so tight that I had had difficulty breathing. Her response: “I’ll do it again if you share secrets with anyone but me. I will strangle you. You are NOT to be anyone else’s special friend – only mine.”

I ignored her, and turned to the child who had been whispering in my ear. The aggressive girl pulled my scarf tight once more, but I slipped it off my neck. She then started yanking at my clothes and hitting my legs, shouting that she wouldn’t let me listen to the other girl. I turned and asked her, “Do you want me to listen to you?”

She shouted, “Yes.”

“You have to stop hitting me and stop shouting and then I will listen to you.”

She kept hitting me and shouting, “You must listen to me – only me. You must be only my friend. I won’t let you play with anyone else.”

I left the room, shutting the door behind me and holding it shut. She kept banging and shouting from the inside. After a few moments, I opened the door, and came back in. She was in a full-blown tantrum, eyes streaming, nose running, throat screaming and arms flailing.

I held her to me in a tight hug, imprisoning her arms between our bodies. As I held her, I patted her back, and made soothing noises. When she had quieted down to the occasional sob, I pulled away, and asked if she was feeling better. She nodded.

“I like you very much, you know,” I told her. She put her arms around me and said she liked me very much too.

“You hurt me when you pulled my scarf, and when you were hitting me and shouting,” I told her.

“But you were listening to her!” she said.

I explained that I didn’t belong to any one person; I had to look after all of them, and they knew each other so well…!

She insisted that she wanted to be the closest to me: “You are my favorite, and I have to be your favorite too.”

I told her things didn’t work that way. “How can I be your favorite?” she asked.

“Hitting and strangling me is definitely not the way to go,” I told her.

We settled for peace, and the rest of the evening passed off uneventfully.

Her parents were very indulgent. Her every wish was granted. “She’s such a terror, we dare not thwart her” her parents said. But despite that, the child was jealous, because she didn’t get enough attention from the parents. It was almost as if she were a nuisance, who had to be controlled before she got out of hand. Never did I see her parents enjoy being with her for the joy of her company. Never did I hear them appreciate her for who she was; though she earned plenty of praise for her many academic and co-curricular achievements.

But your child wants more than that from you. He wants to be valued first and foremost for the person he is, and only then for things he has ‘done’.

As I grew up and observed this child grow up, I found that she retained the jealous streak even after she’d graduated from school! (Her parents are family friends, so we stayed in touch, though the babysitting had stopped a long time back.) In conversation, she came across as a mature, well-read, impressive adult, but the veneer cracked the moment her parents (or anyone she was attached to) paid the least attention to anyone but herself.

So your child might be feeling jealous because he is not getting enough attention from you (enough according to him, because this is about his feelings). You might be disbelieving: “What! ME not paying enough attention to my child? Nonsense!”

Sorry, but what you think doesn’t matter. How your child feels is the ‘truth’ for him, and that is what determines his behavior.

To make matters worse, you hold your child’s sibling(s) up as a shining example of what he/she is not.

To your little one, you say:

“Look at X: he is so responsible. He puts things back, packs his school bag, does his chores, studies, helps you with things… And you! You don’t even put the cap back on the tube of toothpaste! You should learn from….”

To the elder sibling who has been upheld as the example of a model child (the one you’re raving about in the previous paragraph), you say:

“Look at Y: she is so little, yet she has such charming manners. She says please and thank you and doesn’t interrupt people… And you! You don’t speak, you growl. You’re frowning all the time. You barely mumble. You interrupt people. And now you’ve started walking away while people are still speaking to you. Hey! Where are you going? Come back, I haven’t finished…” 🙂

And then you wring your hands and complain to anyone who will listen and lose sleep at night that your children are jealous of each other!

Here are 3 steps to restore your peace of mind:

1. Pay each child enough attention – they may want different types of attention. At different times in their lives, they will want your attention in different ways. Do your best to understand what kind of attention they want, and give it to them. Spend time one-on-one with each child. This is YOUR special “Dad-and-Kid” or “Mom-and-Kid” time, and each kid gets equal amounts of time each week.

2. Praise each child to his and her face – Let him know what you like about him. Tell her what you like about her. Approving of something is a great way of reinforcing it, so let them know every day what they did ‘right’. Corollary: Don’t compare them. It’s alright if he’s a neatnik at 3 and she’s a slob at 8. Each child has many praise-worthy qualities – focus on those.

3. Never tell ANYONE which child you love more, even though one child is probably dearer to you than the other(s) – I’ve committed sacrilege by bringing into the open this deeply buried, barely acknowledged, never admitted secret of parents; but you know it’s true. The notion that each parent loves all his/her children equally is just that – a notion. (Your guilt about this fact drives you to say and do all kinds of things to make life more difficult for yourself and your children.)

Write and tell me how it goes. 🙂

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Why Your Child Stops Apologizing to You

“I’m sorry.” There are so many ways you use this phrase (or something like it):

̶            You say it when you haven’t heard or understood what the other person was saying.

̶            You say it to express disbelief – “What did you just say?”

̶            You say it when you bump into someone accidentally, or interrupt someone.

̶            You say it to apologize when you’ve made a mistake.

As a parent, you use it quite often with your child, at least when he is little. You do this so you can teach him that there are words and behaviors which are inappropriate, and when he does inappropriate things, he needs to catch himself, apologize for doing them, and try to make sure he doesn’t do them again.

He’s playing ball, and since his hand-eye coordination is not yet perfect, he accidentally knocks over and breaks a small flowerpot in the yard. “Sorry, Mom,” he says.

How do you react?  

You might say, “Be careful, son, you don’t want to keep knocking flowerpots and other things over. You need to aim better…” and then proceed to teach him how to improve his aim and his coordination. But he’s still little, so you can’t lay the blame fully at his doorstep.

Your daughter might accidentally knock over a vase as she’s putting on her jacket while running out the door to catch the school bus. “Sorry!” she yells as she disappears.

When you see her in the evening, you’re ready to ‘talk about’ the broken vase.

“You knocked over the vase this morning, and it shattered to bits.”

“Sorry, Dad,” she says, “I didn’t mean to, but I was pulling my jacket on as I rushed through the house, and I must’ve knocked it off by mistake. I’m sorry.”

How do you react?

Many, many parents I know would come back with something like this:

“Why were you trying to put on your jacket while racing through the house? You should get dressed quicker, or wake up quicker. You’re always rushing to make it to school on time. Today, you broke the vase. The other day, you forgot your lunch. Last week, you left the tap running. Why don’t you organize yourself better? (Or) Why don’t you sleep earlier? Why must you keep reading rubbish? Why must you watch so much TV? Why must you talk to your friends on the phone / chat or surf on the Internet till so late? Can’t you listen to music at a better time? Why don’t you play less in the evenings and finish your homework on time? Why don’t you stop mooching around and finish your work so you can sleep on time? Then you won’t be scrambling every morning… When you broke the vase, I had to pick up all the pieces. You were such a whirlwind that some shards of glass went right across the room. Your little brother/sister/ the dog/cat/… could have got hurt. I had to clean up and you know how little time there is in the morning… I got late for work… Can’t you just be more…?”

W-H-A-T in the world are you up to?

Your kid broke a vase and apologized. Say one sentence – if you must – and stop!

But it doesn’t stop here! Later that evening, you repeat your lecture. “Get to bed on time now, or you’ll wake up late tomorrow as well, and then rush and break or spill or forget something else…”

And the next morning, you say, “Get up now… Hurry up and get dressed, you’re getting late…”

I’m exhausted just writing this. Your kid is numb with frustration, annoyance, and the verbal barrage you’ve been subjecting her to.

But you haven’t run out of steam. 🙂 Mainly because you’re laboring under the mistaken notion that she’s listening to what you’re saying; because you feel that saying the same thing over and over again in twenty different ways (you’re creative!) will make sure she gets the message, and she won’t break or spill anything in the future.

But that’s not true, is it?

You keep on at your child, but he’s not listening. After some time, it reaches a point where even when you have something important to say to him (not as a reaction to something he may have said or done), he won’t listen. Your voice has become background music.

And of course, he’s not apologizing. What’s the point? You don’t seem to hear the apology. Instead, it acts like a spur, making you launch into an endless monologue. So he looks sullen and goes away; shuts the door in your face; doesn’t respond to your questions; doesn’t talk to you.

And you add a couple more worries to your ever-increasing list of worries:

1. Your parenting is not good enough – you’ve worked hard to teach her ‘good’ manners, and she seems to have forgotten them all.

2. Your child is turning into an uncivilized creature – she doesn’t apologize when she does the ‘wrong’ thing, she’s not acting like she’s sorry, she’s doesn’t change her upsetting behavior / attitude; instead, she acts as if she were the injured party!

3. Your child doesn’t respond to you – you seem to be losing your connection with him, and you’re frantic that he’s going to find other people to take your place in his life, if not in his heart as well.

None of these fears is even remotely true. On the contrary, your child is doing all he can to keep the connection alive.

He knows that if he listens to what you’re saying all the time, he will be enraged with you – he may even begin to dislike or ‘hate’ you. So he ignores you instead, tuning you out. This is the best thing that could happen, given the circumstances.

But it’s still your call, you know. You can turn the tide any moment you want. When she next apologizes, “I’m sorry, I forgot to give you the keys so you had to wait outside the house for two hours”, you can always say, “Okay, try and remember the next time around, and I’ll try and remember to take them from you too.”

Then stop.

You’ll find your child is still listening to you, and still talking to you – and that includes apologizing! 🙂

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Show Your Child You Care

You know your child has officially entered the tweens when you hear, “You just don’t care!” 🙂 The first time you hear it, you probably hasten to reassure your child.

“Of course I care,” you tell him. “It’s because I care that…”

Er – sorry to burst your bubble, but he’s already tuned you out. You’re going on, but he’s not even hearing the words. He’s just busy with the idea in his head that you don’t care.

As the ‘you-don’t-care’s’ multiply, you give up – first trying to explain, then defend, then even to present your point of view. At best, you counter with, “I do care”, and you stop. You and your child go your separate ways, each convinced that your point of view is correct, and the other just doesn’t get it!

I found an unexpected way out of this recently.

It started with my daughter saying, “… happened, and you just don’t care!” She’d been telling me about some incident at school that had upset her. I truly didn’t think it was such a big deal (in fact it was so trivial that I’d forgotten it by the next day, else I’d have shared it with you here. Something like one girl said something mean to another girl or bad-mouthed her or humiliated her or something, and my daughter was an onlooker and burning with the injustice of it all…), but I sympathized with her feeling bad.

(By the way, even if my daughter had been the person someone was being mean to – and which child hasn’t been in this position? – I wouldn’t have cared about the incident, because she has to learn to deal with people being mean. What I would care about is how she took it, how she dealt with it – with the other girl and onlookers –, and what it taught her about herself, people, and her relationship with the world.)

Before I knew it, I said, “You’re right, I don’t care.”

That was so unexpected it took the wind right out of her sails. “I don’t care at all that this happened. It’s irrelevant – like if you bumped your elbow against the table, you wouldn’t even notice it, right? Well, that’s how unimportant the incident itself is to me.”

She couldn’t believe I’d finally conceded. “See? You DON’T care. You’ve admitted it!”

“Yes, I don’t care about what happened. But I do care about how you feel. I care that you’re upset by it. But being upset won’t help the matter. And you’re too upset just now to listen to reason, so there’s no point my telling you that there’s no need to get so worked up about what is essentially a non-issue.”

Another weapon handed to her! 🙂 “Everything is a non-issue for you! You only care about your own stuff…”

It was so funny, I started laughing. She was fuming. I did the only prudent thing I could and made myself scarce.

A while later we met in the kitchen.

“Really, Mom, how could you laugh? You’re so weird – just crazy. I’m upset – and you’re laughing! Obviously I’d think you don’t care. Any sane person would think that.”

“Fine, but I really found the whole thing so funny, I couldn’t help it. I shouldn’t have laughed, but I couldn’t stop myself. Want to talk about it?”

She nodded, and we sat down together.

“Listen, this kind of incident will never be important to me. That’s the way I’m made. Even when I was a child at school, if this had happened, it wouldn’t have meant anything to me; forget about it upsetting me as much as it has upset you. That’s how I think. So yes, I don’t care that the incident happened. But I do feel bad that you feel so bad. Mind you, I still don’t see any reason for you to feel this way, but I understand and sympathize with the fact that you feel bad.”

“How can you not feel bad? They were awful to her and she took it from them. I was boiling mad. I told her, let’s go and tell the teacher. And you know she was afraid to? She said they’d be even more mean to her if she complained about their behavior! I asked her if she liked being treated that way, and she said no, but she didn’t see any way out of it. And it has been going on for months, she says. How can she take it?” her voice trembled with rage and pain, my brave heart rushing to the rescue with flaming sword.

“She has to decide for herself. No one else can do that for her. If and when she gets sick enough of being treated this way, she’ll do something about it, and it will stop. But until she makes that decision, no one can do anything about it. If you think you can step in and help her, you’re wrong. You could do it once, or twice, or maybe even a hundred times. But what will she do when you aren’t there? Also, it is her battle, and as her friend, you should let her deal with it. The best thing you can do as a friend is to support her. There’s nothing else you can DO for her.”

“Also, no matter what you think, the truth is that you don’t know everything that has gone on between her and the other girls. You may end up harming the girl’s interest or making the situation worse.” I gave her other instances when things were not as they appeared to be, when she (or I) had intervened, and made things worse than they otherwise would have been.

She saw the point. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” she demanded. (?! 🙂 )

I learnt that day that it’s fine if I don’t care about things that are important to my child. And she’s fine with it too! Just as there are things I care about that she doesn’t! (Things like putting things back, sleeping on time, drinking enough water – ring a bell? 😉 )

What she wants is the reassurance that I care about how she feels, which I can always give her – because I DO care.

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