Archive | December, 2011

What I Would Tell My Child if I Could Only Say One Thing

In an earlier post, I had posed the question: “What would you tell your child if you could only say one thing?” Only one reader posted a response: “Let your inner voice be your guide. I love you.”

My last message to my child would be (and you never know when this might happen!): Do everything you want to do – and nothing you don’t.”

I’m digressing to share an anecdote. Eleanor was a loving daughter. When her mother died, she decided to read aloud at the funeral her mother’s last words to her. And so she took out a manuscript titled: “Mother’s Last Words, in 206 verses”. 🙂 🙂

In the spirit (but only the spirit!) of the above anecdote, I would like to elaborate on my own ‘last words’. I would tell my daughter:

  1. Don’t worry about whether the thing you want to do is the ‘right’ thing to do or not. If you want to do it, go ahead and do it. Don’t worry about what people will say. This is your life, not other people’s. Do what you want.
  2. Love yourself best – nobody else but yourself. Everyone else comes second – or third – or tenth – or isn’t on the list… 🙂
  3. Life is an adventure. Things not working out the way you’d like them to is part of the adventure. If everything in life were how we’d like it to be, human beings would be suicidal – there would be no impetus to do anything. It would be b-o-r-i-n-g.
  4. You will feel hurt – by people and circumstances. It’s part of the adventure. People don’t always mean to hurt you. Move on.
  5. Bless you! Have a great life! 🙂

I’m still waiting to hear what you would tell your child…

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How to Get Along with Your Child – Like, not Love

LIKE – such a lukewarm word, so tame; not strong, like LOVE.

You love your child; more precisely, you LOVE your child. Love comes naturally to a parent. Nature ensures it – your helpless infant needs you! He depends on you for everything – he can’t make it without you. And you (we all) love to be needed (there’s that ‘love’ word again!) – it makes you feel special.

Besides, after a short while, the helpless infant begins to respond, to engage with you, to smile and laugh and play with you, to connect with you. Love for your child comes easily to you as a parent, and once it comes, it stays right through your life.

But do you LIKE your child?

“Umm – what kind of question is that? I mean, I love my child – that is the main thing, right? What do you mean ‘like’ my child? Like is unimportant, it’s a small word. People like all kinds of things and people, but they love (LOVE) only a few things and people, and I’m telling you, I LOVE my child,” you say.

I agree – Love is the big one. But I believe LIKE is far more important, especially if you want to live happily with your child.

Think of your friends – people you want to spend time with. Chances are, you don’t love them; but you most certainly like them. Being with them, around them makes you feel good. Maybe because they are amusing, or agreeable, or ‘nice’, or warm, or friendly, or sympathetic – whatever the reason(s), being with them is something you look forward to.

It is very likely that the people you like like you right back. (Not on facebook – in real life. 🙂 ) For at least a couple of reasons. First, who doesn’t like to be liked? If you know that someone likes you, you tend to like them. Second, you are more agreeable, more amenable, more open to people you like than you are with those you may not like as much. This makes you more likeable.  

Essentially, you get along well with people you like. Of course there are differences of opinion – but the very fact of your liking each other gives each of you the space to air those differences without shaking the foundations of your friendship.

Back to your child. You LOVE your child, but most of the time, your love gets in the way of your getting along with your child. You have your own agenda “for the ‘good’ of your child”. 🙂 ! And your child has her own agenda (who knows what that is?), and love is buried deep, if not thrown by the wayside, as both your wills clash from morning to night.

Ah, but if you LIKE your child – what a difference that makes! Here’s a person you enjoy being with – never mind that she is your child. You like her for who she is, for the way she looks at the world, the way she speaks thinks feels. You appreciate many qualities about her – you forget that she is your child – you meet her and spend time with her as you would with anyone else that you like.

Of course your child loves you! He has no choice – children know no other way to be than to love their parents. It is we – the parents – who teach our children non-loving ways of relating to us. But does your child like you? (Does this sound like blasphemy? I bet this question hasn’t struck you before! 🙂 )

If you find things to LIKE about your child, your child will be able to like you right back! He will accept you as you are – he will appreciate many things about you – things he may or may not have in common with you.

He will talk to you and you will listen, because you enjoy spending time with him. You will speak and he will pay attention, because he enjoys being with you. You will find things to do that you both enjoy. And you will also agree to disagree on many issues without your making heavy weather of them (in the sense of pulling rank: “I’m your Mom/Dad and I say so, therefore you have to…”). You will look forward to spending time together.

You will get along with each other – and be able to live in relative happiness from one day to the next.

Figure out what you like about your child. Identify the qualities you appreciate and enjoy no matter who you find them in. You like honest people? People who make you laugh? People who are enthusiastic? People who are creative? People who are active? Well, your child has some of these qualities too! Forget that he is your child. Focus on the qualities that you like in him.

If you don’t LIKE your child already, teach yourself to do so. And as you begin to like your child, you will find that life goes much more smoothly for you. Here’s to carefree parenting – by you! 🙂

 

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I Have Become an I-Don’t-Know Parent

“Dad! I can ride a bicycle on my own! Look! Look!” Your daughter is screaming, and you’re grinning, bursting with pride.

“Wonderful!” you say as you scoop her into a bear hug.

“Mom! I made soup and sandwiches for dinner,” your son says, and your heart swells with pride at his thoughtfulness.

‘Good’ things have happened: your daughter can now ride a bike, and your son can put together a meal, however basic.

“I didn’t get selected for the dance!” he wails.

A pang goes through you. Your child is hurting. “That’s terrible…” You want to help your child live through this ‘bad’ incident.

Your child learns to label things events people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ early in life – and keeps applying these labels to every event person situation throughout his and her life. I want to add a third option. Things might also be ‘I-don’t-know’.

So here is the choice of labels: the good, the bad and the I-don’t-know. For years, I would label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (Where do you think kids learn to label? From their parents. 🙂 ) And then, to my daughter’s frustration, I became an ‘I-don’t-know’ parent.

“It’s awful, isn’t it?” she’d ask about something.

Maybe, I don’t know.” I’d say.

The turning point was a Sufi story I read many years ago. Here it is:

An old man lived in a cave in the mountains. There was a village close to the foothills, whose villagers visited the silent old man from time to time. As far as anyone knew, he had never come down the mountain. Nobody knew how he lived, where he found his food or what he did all day, but he seemed content in his cave. Over time, the old man acquired a holy patina, and people began to visit him to ‘get their desires fulfilled’. The old man never said anything, but the villagers left his cave satisfied.

So a man might visit the old man with a loaf of bread, asking for a good job. He would sit with the old man in silence for a while and descend the mountain, feeling his wish had been granted. In some time, he would perhaps find some work, and feel that the old man had been instrumental in his gaining employment.

In this manner, the old man began to gain a reputation.

One day, an old woman who had a young able-bodied son went to visit the old man. She was bemoaning the fact that her son had broken his leg and would not be able to till their field. This had happened at a very inopportune time, because they would miss the planting season and would not have a harvest, meaning near-starvation for them in the future. “Find some way out,” she said to the old man.

He kept silent as usual. For some reason, the woman wanted a verbal assurance from him, which he wouldn’t give. “What a terrible thing he broke his leg, isn’t it?” she repeated again and again. The old man realized that she wouldn’t go away unless he said something. The next time she repeated, “What a terrible thing he broke his leg, isn’t it?” he spoke.

“Maybe, maybe not,” he said.

The woman was so taken aback and horrified at this unsympathetic reaction that she left immediately. She told all the villagers that the old man had lost his head. People stopped visiting him.

Ten days later, the kingdom was attacked by a neighboring ruler. The king sent his men to round up every able-bodied man to join the army. The old woman’s son had a broken leg, so he was left behind.

Full of joy (and contrition), the old woman took a jug of milk to the old man at the top of the mountain. “Now I see what you meant. We will manage somehow for one season with less food. But if my son had been sent to fight, he would surely have died, because he knows nothing of fighting –he is a farmer. It is good that he broke his leg. At least his life has been spared.”

Again she insisted the old man agree that it was good that her son had broken his leg.

Eventually, the old man responded, “Maybe, maybe not.”

The woman was enraged again. She swept down the mountain in a fury.

When a sudden storm swept through the village, the old woman’s son couldn’t seek shelter in time because of his broken leg. As a result, he suffered further injuries from the house falling down around him.

The woman went back up the mountain: “My son could not even seek shelter in time, and now he has even more injuries all over his body. Isn’t it so bad that he broke his leg?”

The old man said, “Maybe, maybe not.”

The woman couldn’t believe her ears, and left, promising herself that she would never again visit the crazy old man.

Then a miracle medicine man passed through the village. He said he had only one dose of his miracle cure, and out of common humanity, he would give it to the person who was suffering the most. That person was the old woman’s son. He took the miracle dose and was instantaneously restored to full health.

The woman ran up the mountain, her heart full of gratitude. “Thank you,” she said to the old man in the cave. “Had my son not broken his leg and then been injured in the storm, he would not have been a candidate for the miracle drug. Now he’s fine! Isn’t that a good thing?”

The old man’s response was characteristic: “Maybe, maybe not.”

***

And so I became an ‘I-don’t-know’ parent. I believe it is one of the most valuable and enduring gifts I can give my child – the recognition that there is a third option to ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

As an I-don’t-know parent, I am more balanced emotionally, more accepting, more at peace, more content.

You might want to try it – just once – as an experiment, and see how it goes. Will it work? I don’t know! Maybe, maybe not! 🙂

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When You Break Your Glass Comb and Your Child Loses His Candy

I must have been 5 or 6 years old. It was the summer holidays, and my maternal grandparents were visiting us. Their visit meant being regaled by fantastic stories, and spoiled with fancy meals, treats and unexpected gifts.

One day, my grandmother called me to their room and gifted me a comb made of glass. It was a real comb, not a toy. I was enchanted – still am, truth be told (though the adult in me wonders who would be foolish enough to manufacture a comb made of glass, how they sold it, and why my grandmother gave it to me when I was so little and could easily have injured myself or someone else with it). It had belonged to my mother when she was little. That set the seal on it. I didn’t have an altar, but had I had one, the glass comb would have been on it! 🙂

My grandmother told me that she had preserved it over so many years so she could give it to her eldest grandchild (me). She handed it over almost ceremonially, and I promised solemnly to take care of it, to preserve it so it could be handed to my child.

Granny smiled her approval.

My sister woke up from her nap to find me brandishing the glass comb. I told her all about it. She doesn’t have a jealous bone in her body (didn’t even then), and was delighted with my acquisition. I decided I would do my hair and hers with it – just to mark the day as a special one, after which we’d put it away carefully and ensure it stayed safe.

You know what happened next. One of the teeth broke off. We were lucky neither of us was hurt; we weren’t physically injured, but I was inconsolable. Firstly, I’d damaged something that my mother had had in her childhood. Secondly, it was irreplaceable. Thirdly, I’d damaged it despite my best intentions to keep it in pristine condition to be handed down to my progeny. Fourthly, I’d broken it the very day I’d got it, not even two hours after it had been gifted to me! A worse fate could not be imagined. ( 🙂 )

My grandmother took me aside and into her arms. “Why are you so upset?” I told her all the above, and perhaps more.

And then she said something which has stayed with me forever. “When even human beings don’t last forever, why cry over a comb?”

My tears stopped instantly – as if they’d dried up at the source. This was a new idea. I’d heard about death before. I knew about death and what it meant. But this was the first time death had assumed immediacy, a direct application to lifemy life; me, who had never till then experienced death even at second hand!  

Of course, in the decades since that day, I have ‘lost it’ and ‘cried over’ innumerable things people circumstances feelings movies books incidents, but increasingly, this idea has become more present to me, and I am calmer and less inclined to fly off the handle than before.

Recently, a video on Youtube went viral. A TV host asked some parents to tell their children that they’d eaten all the kids’ Halloween candy and record the kids’ reaction. I imagine everyone who watched the video was ‘rolling on the floor laughing’ (ROFL in Facebook, IM, PM and text lingo), but mainly because (i) they knew it was made up (the candy wasn’t all finished), and (ii) it wasn’t their kid howling for the lost candy.

If you were actually confronted by your child screaming for candy he had lost, I think you’d be shuddering with horror rather than laughing. “It’s only candy,” you plead, “we’ll get some more. We’ll get some the next time we go to the store. I know it was special candy. I’ll find out where it’s sold and we’ll buy it from there. Okay, we’ll go get some tomorrow, when the stores open, but stop crying. It’s okay, it’s only candy.”

But he keeps repeating how he wants ‘those’ candies – the ones his friend/sibling took or that fell by the wayside or the dog ate up or got washed in the laundry or… “It’s only candy,” you repeat, your energy ebbing, your will bludgeoned into submission. Sorry, he’s not buying it.

“It’s CANDY!” he tells you, since you haven’t yet got it. 🙂

Over the next few years, he learns ‘it’s only candy’. But other things replace ‘candy’. As more years go by, he learns for those things as well, that ‘it’s only candy’.

The point is: we all have our candy. What’s yours?

That she should fill the ice-cube tray up to a particular point? That his cupboard should be arranged a certain way? That she should / should not wear hotpants? That he should wake up at 5am and study for an hour because research reveals morning hours are the best to concentrate and retain what you’re learning? That her waist should measure 23”? That he must get at least 95% in every test, project, exam?  

Your child will be gone – to study, to work, to live his/her own life. Whether or not you realize it, the time you have together is short (though it seems like eons, sometimes! 🙂 ). And you’re screaming about candy, and she’s telling you “it’s only candy”, and you’re not getting it. 🙂

But sometimes, a glass comb breaks. Your child meets a special thing, the opportunity of a lifetime, a fork in the road, and you’re afraid he’s making (or has made) the wrong choice.

You’re convinced he should be an artist, when he wants set up and run a business.

You know this girl is wrong for him (is any girl/boy ever good enough for your precious son/daughter? NO! 🙂  At least, not for long. Now that you know this, bite the bullet and be gracious.) – she’s a terrible influence on him, she’s taking him away from his family, friends and hobbies – but he’s serious enough to talk to you about getting engaged to her.

She wants to go camping with a bunch of friends, one of whom is on drugs while another is known for her promiscuity, and nothing you say, nothing you promise her makes any difference. She’s determined to go with them.

You’re getting divorced, and your daughter, out of a (you feel) misplaced sense of loyalty, decides to go with your partner, because her sibling chooses to stay with you. You’re convinced that without you to act as a buffer, she will suffer terrible physical and emotional neglect at your partner’s hands, but she won’t change her mind.

These are the big ones – the glass combs. They can change the course of your child’s life, and you get palpitations if you let yourself think too deeply about such decisions.

Alright, take a break from thinking about your child. Think about yourself, instead, about your life. You’ve had such ‘glass combs’, haven’t you? Some of the choices you made turned out alright. Others didn’t. But on the whole, you’re muddling along alright, aren’t you?

If you think you’re not alright, well, step up and change things! You’re an adult, after all, with more sense, experience, knowledge, maturity (all the stuff you keep throwing at your child! 🙂 ) than your child. Get out there and change things for yourself!

Sure you’ve broken some glass combs! Pick a glass comb you broke a long time back. It seemed awful at the time I’m sure, like the end of the world. But out of that ‘end’ came a beginning, out of which came other endings and other beginnings.

This is a serpent whose tail you can’t reach – as time goes by and your life circumstances change and you change, what seemed awful can turn out to be one of the best things that could have happened to you (I should know – I’m divorced! 😉 ). In similar fashion, something that was awesome at the time is a nuisance now (you know this one – when you get something you wish for only to discover you don’t want it 🙂 ).

If you look closely, candy or glass comb, ‘it’s only candy’. And there’s always more candy! 🙂

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