A bunch of parents are standing around at the school social, discussing their tots. Listening to them, you’d think there was a competition on to identify the most troublesome child. One dad complains of how long his daughter takes to eat a sandwich. As he finishes, a mother pipes up saying he should count his blessings, because she can’t even get her son to sit at the table! As each parent contributes his / her story, they seem to be vying for the gold medal called “Parent of the Most Demanding Child”.
Into this conversation steps another parent, who says, “I’m very lucky. My son is so caring – the other day I had a headache, and he let me have a quiet lie-in. He even remembered not to play his new drums so that I could rest”.
Immediately, the tide turns. Each parent starts narrating how their child is so kind, helpful, loving, generous, talented, wonderful… Now the parents are competing for the title ‘Parent of the Best Child’!
It makes me wonder: are these the same parents with the same children? How come their assessment of their child changes like quicksilver? How does the child switch from being the devil incarnate to a being of sweetness and light in the space of a millisecond?
You too probably have this kind of schizophrenic reaction to your child. I think this happens because we are so used to thinking of the small-sized (at least earlier, if not any longer! 🙂 ) people that live in our homes as ‘our’ children. Of course, in one sense, they are our children; not other people’s. But when we think of them as ours, we treat them as if they were our arms, beds, clothes, ideas etc. In other words, we treat them as if they were our belongings, things that belong to us the way our possessions do.
But they don’t belong to us: they are individuals in their own right.
When you look at your child and think “This is my child”, you are missing the individual that he is: the traits, quirks, attitudes, thoughts and reactions that make him unique. Instead, you look at some kind of clone-like creature, who resembles you in some ways, your partner in others, and people from the family in yet other ways. When you notice a facial feature, expression, behavior pattern, attitude that you can’t immediately trace to someone in the family, you think “I wonder who / where he got that from!”
Never do you think: “He is who he is – himself.”
How many times has someone made a comment on your child’s behavior or paid her a compliment, and you’ve been taken aback?
“I didn’t know she was so imaginative,” you think, when you read the short story she wrote in English class.
“I didn’t know he could be so thoughtful and hospitable,” you think, when your mother praises how well your son looked after her in your absence.
Sure she has her faults and foibles, but she has some phenomenal attributes too, which you tend to miss because you think she is ‘yours’, and you look upon her as an ‘improvement project’.
I’ve heard so many parents say:
“Sure, he’s a great guy, but so careless! If only I could teach him to be slightly more careful…”
“She’s wonderful, but if only she studied on her own. I have to sit with her everyday…”
You see what I mean by ‘improvement project’?
How many times, when someone has complimented you or your child, have you accepted the comment gracefully? Hardly ever, I’m guessing. Usually, you feel compelled to qualify it by pointing out some ‘negative’ quality / feature of your child that you are focused upon at that time.
Why not just say:
“Yes, he’s really a great guy!”
“She’s wonderful – I’m blessed to have her!”
Or simply, “Thanks.” 🙂
My daughter’s 7th birthday was round the corner. I was calling parents to invite their kids to the party. I dialed one number: “Hi! This is …’s mom. I’d like to speak with your mom, please.”
“Good evening, Aunty,” said my daughter’s friend (in India, ‘Aunty’ is the accepted way to address a friend’s mother), “Mummy is traveling, and she’ll be back next week. May I take a message?”
“I’d like to invite you to … Would it be possible to speak to your dad?”
“He’s not home yet, Aunty, but he’ll be back in an hour or so. If you’d like to speak with him right away, I could give you his cell phone number. Or, can he call you back when he’s home?”
By this time, I wanted to run across and give this child the biggest bear hug possible. Here’s someone not yet 7, who is having an amazingly intelligent and polite conversation on the phone with an adult she hasn’t exchanged ten sentences with in her whole life!
I asked for her dad’s number and called the gentleman. After extending my invitation, I told him how tremendously impressed I was with his daughter, how she conducted herself and the entire conversation over the phone.
At the party, I complimented him again when he came to pick her up. He was amazed: “I didn’t know she had it in her!”
That day, he was introduced to a rather amazing person – the girl who happened to be his daughter.
How wonderful it would be if you could step back from ‘your’ child and look at her as a person! The way you would look at anyone else you met…
You’d really look at her – into her eyes. You’d listen to her; give her your attention and a fair hearing. You’d be interested, and make an effort to understand her point of view, especially when it was radically different from your own. You’d wait till she finished speaking, instead of interrupting her.
You’d request him to do things instead of being peremptory and issuing orders (“I’m the parent, so you do as I say – because I say so!”). You’d give him a break – maybe he’s going through stuff you don’t know about. You’d be polite, and respect the choices he makes, even if you disagreed with him.
You’d treat him the way you’d treat anyone else who is not ‘your’ child. And that is what he needs – a chance to show you that he is a rather amazing person! 🙂