No Matter What

One of the things I always tell D is that I will love her no matter what. It is true as far as I know. I know I will be there for her whether she triumphs or whether she fumbles. I was reading an article that reiterated the same thing – that parents ought to be there for their children no matter what.

No Matter What.

Three words that set me thinking. It reminded me of a conversation I had a long time ago with a friend. What if, I had asked, what if your child had murdered someone or committed some heinous crime? Would you still be there for your child? Where would you draw the line? How would you react? I don’t remember the context of the conversation, but I do remember concluding that it was very, very difficult to say what we would do in such circumstances.

So when I saw the words “No Matter What”, they kind of leaped out at me. Is it true that parents ought to be there No Matter What? What about facing the consequences of your actions? What about the greater good? How would you take a call on your child if you disagreed vehemently with him/her at a very basic level? Ought parents to be so selfless that they should be there no matter what?

I guess the answer is quite complicated. It depends so much on every little factor involved. I guess in almost all cases, parental support goes a long way in bolstering one’s confidence and sense of security.

At the same time, if the parent feels his/her own integrity is being compromised by supporting or being there for the child, then I think he/she is well within their rights to withdraw such support. Here, I mean compromise at a more fundamental, perhaps even moral/ethical level, not at a superficial level such as status in society, etc.

What do you think?

 

Teen Troubles

D turns thirteen soon. Yes, the dreaded teens are already here! Everywhere you look, you’re being advised to roll up your sleeves and brace for the storm. It’s going to be a rough ride, a long battle, and an absolutely terrible time. This letter I just read doesn’t make things any better!

However, the experience I’ve had so far makes me take all this with a huge pinch of salt. D has been a pleasure, a joy, and a delight in our lives. She has always been mature for her age, and I have always been able to talk her through things. I’ve been both parent and friend to her, making it clear when I am in what role. She’s comfortable and open with me, sharing almost everything. I say almost, because everyone has secrets, and I am OK with that. What’s important is that she’s comfortable opening up to me and sharing with me the major things happening in her life.

We’ve always tried to bring her up with certain basics, emphasizing the need to prioritize, to manage time, to put in a sincere effort, to celebrate the small things in life. We’ve also tried to stress that with freedom comes responsibility. And I’m glad to say that she’s pretty responsible. I can count on her to call me and let me know where she is, or come back home at the agreed time, or prioritize and complete all her tasks. Banning, forbidding, or taking away privileges has rarely worked; instead, a heart-to-heart talk, explaining with kindness the whys and wherefores and consequences has always worked.

I honestly don’t know whether hitting the technical age for becoming a teenager per se will change anything. I am hoping it doesn’t. I’m hoping we will continue to have the beautiful relationship we have right now. And I’m hoping the foundation we’ve laid is solid enough to maintain this.

Looking Outwards

Yesterday, we were all dressed up to go for a pooja. On our way down, a little girl and her father stepped into the elevator. The girl was wearing a really cute little pink skirt that flared so nicely that I couldn’t help complimenting her on it. She was thrilled, of course, and her father got her to pirouette for us too.

Dear D and me gushed. And that would have been the end of it.

But her father was thoughtful enough to point out something.

Look at Dear D, he said. She’s also looking so pretty all dressed up, isn’t she? For the first time, the little girl looked up, away from her little pink skirt. She gazed at D, smiled shyly and agreed with her dad.

What a a thoughtful and useful life-lesson! Not to get so caught up in yourself that you fail to notice the beauty around you. To take a moment to admire and compliment other events that are worthy of notice.  To keep the ‘me’ aside for some time and look at the world with fresh eyes.

Life’s lessons come at the most unexpected of times. Being open to them is enriching.

Love Wins, Every Time

DD is now practically a teenager, all grown up. She’s been a sweet child, curious and active and loving, and I think the only time I really despaired was when she was four, and had the tendency to bite people she found disagreeable. After that, my trepidations have always been swept away, and she’s turned out rather well, even though I say so myself.

One of the lovely things about her is her sense of responsibility. She’s pretty organized and meticulous about her stuff. For my niece’s wedding last year, she was the only one who had her clothes AND accessories packed in order of the ceremonies we would be part of, a full week in advance! I never have to remind her to do stuff, her room and closet are always far neater than mine will ever be, and she’s on her school work, whether it’s projects or homework, even before I know what it’s all about. She’s even become self-disciplined enough to turn off the TV at the regulated time on school days and go to bed at the right time, without any prompting whatsoever from us. Little wonder that I have very little to complain about when other parents are moaning about their children!

Even so, there are days when things flare up. If there’s one thing she really dislikes, it’s studying – no surprises there. Unfortunately, this is the one thing I insist on, since there’s a lot riding on it for her. I don’t really care about the marks, per se, but I would like to see her make a sincere effort, and that’s all I push her to do. If you know me, I like balance in everything, so work-while-you-work, play-while-you-play is what I try to enforce.

Most of the time, the pushing works, but sometimes, (like a couple of days ago), I lose my temper. I end up ranting and she sinks into a deep sulk, and things spiral downwards from there. It’s never pleasant, I hate myself, and nothing good comes out of it at the end.

But of late, I’ve been asking myself a single question that’s made all the difference, and has stopped me from becoming the kind of mom I hate.

The question I ask myself is simply this: Would I stop loving her just because she didn’t do [whatever she was supposed to do]?

The answer I get is, of course, a resounding NO! It immediately makes me change my perspective. I stop ranting and give myself a time-out. I interact with her once again only when I am certain that all the negative feelings have vanished, and I am the mom I would like to be.

It’s worked wonders so far. Every time I have stopped ranting and have become more loving, DD responds far more positively.

Your child is a constant source of joy. Just learn to look lovingly.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Honesty: that’s one of my ground rules for parenting. I think the more honest we are with children, the better. Especially about the major issues in life like sex and death.

I “honestly” don’t see the big deal about tip-toeing around the truth or beating around the bush. Cooking up stories leads to a lot of stress and distrust.

Of course, honesty doesn’t mean you are insensitive or brutally frank. It does mean that you are in tune with the child’s sensibilities, and you tell the kid the truth in a palatable manner. The way you tell a three-year old about death is infinitely different from the way you tell a ten-year old. You can make it simpler for the younger ones, rather than pushing it under the carpet. You can also get into the details at a later stage in life, rather than dumping everything at one shot and overwhelming the kid.

I dislike the attitude of “protecting” the child. I’ve seen some cases where this “protection” has crumbled in the face of actual death of an ailing one, and the utter shock and disbelief of the kid. Adequately preparing the child so that he/she can handle the inevitable is so important, yet parents avoid this task simply because it makes them uncomfortable.

I’ve had this honesty policy backfire a couple of times in my own experience. Lil D sometimes tells me she wishes I hadn’t told her some things. But then when we discuss it, she admits that it is better this way, and at least she knows the truth. I tell her that these are things she’d hear about anyway, and I’d rather she hears it from me than a third-party. The thing is being honest opens up a whole new level of communication, and we are able to discuss things that we would never have touched upon otherwise.

I guess it’s just the way we’ve been brought up, and the way we’ve brought up Lil D as well. But sometimes, I just want to shake parents and yell at them: Tell your kids the truth, they can handle it, dammit!

Dad’s The Word

A father stretches and bends. Seated before him on a ledge is his little daughter, who counts with him as he exercises.

A father and his daughter are walking in the morning. He’s telling her all about Sherlock Holmes, and answering all her questions.

Two men emerge from an apartment with a bawling baby. They walk around the apartment complex trying to soothe the baby down with some coochie-cooing and baby talk.

A father is patting his little girl to sleep as he presses the elevator button. The young one, snugly wrapped over his shoulder, yawns and closes her eyes.

Just this past week, I’ve suddenly noticed an increase in such public father-child interactions. I used to see fathers playing cricket or football with their sons, or trying to teach their kids how to bicycle. But this sort of intimate, non-gaming interaction was not very visible.

It just felt so good to see dads actively participating and out there in the open, bringing up their kids with an equal sense of involvement. I felt like one of those characters in books who suddenly stops and says, “Wait! I sense the wind is changing!” (On the other hand, I’m well aware that I’m extrapolating from just a handful of encounters, but hey, I’ll take what I get!)

Here’s to more and more such dads, and more happy families where everyone shares both their sorrows and their joys. While I agree that patriarchy is a curse, I always feel bad about the male-bashing that goes along with it. Why can’t everyone treat each other nicely as human beings, and just get along? World peace – I’m all for it! 🙂

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The horrible rape of a 6-year old child at school is haunting all of us parents right now. The fact that the child was special-needs makes it all the more terrible. This strikes closer home because we not only know children who go to that same school, but also makes us wonder about and fear for the safety of our own children.

When you come down to it finally, how much can you protect your child? For the record, I do not think our boys are any safer. In fact, it’s much worse given the way we condition them to thinking crying is girly and showing emotion is not macho. So it’s more likely that any abuse they suffer is suppressed more.

When I went to pick up Lil D from school after her after-school activities, the security was tighter, the guards looked more worried, and were trying to verify multiple times that the children were going back with the right people. Lil D was a little perturbed, and eager to tell me the news that the principal had addressed them and asked them not to go out of the school by themselves, or go with strangers.

Let’s face it, our children are not really safe anywhere. Bad things could happen at school or at home, with strangers or with known people, when alone or with friends. There’s no telling really.

So what I sat Lil D down and told her was this.

Bad things can happen anywhere and everywhere. Just because car accidents happen, we don’t stop driving. We just drive more carefully and are more alert. Similarly, bad people are everywhere, but more importantly, in all of her life, she has met so many good people who were not bad. And that is what she needs to focus on. That she doesn’t have to live in fear because something might happen. Yes, she needs to be alert and take certain precautions like not coming back alone in the school bus or being careful when she is out with her friends. But there’s only so much we can do. We can’t stop living because of all the perceived threats.

She seemed reassured and then went off to play. How much she absorbed is difficult to estimate, but I do hope she retains the essence of my message.

My heart goes out to the little girl, and hats off to the courageous parents who brought this to light. Every parent stands with them today.

Running a Little Behind?

While I’m in this ranting mood, let me get this off my chest as well.

I love this Bournvita ad. However, one line rankles. It begins:

Sirf Ek Maa…

When I heard this, I couldn’t help remarking aloud: Only moms? No dads?

Lil D shot me a quizzical look.

I persisted: Why couldn’t they show a dad pouring out Bournvita for his kid?

Lil D sighed.

I continued: Look at your dad. He’s always behind you to eat right, to eat nuts, to take your vitamins. If anyone ought to pour out Bournvita for you, it’s him! So why not on the ad?

Lil D shook her head in resignation.

It’s true, I pour out the Bournvita for her in our house. But the parent who’s really worried all the time about her health and fitness, who’s on her case to develop good nutritional habits, who goes that extra mile to ensure she’s doing well, is her dad.

So, it would be nice to see an ad that showed dads caring for their kids too (instead of kids worrying about their dad’s health, like Quaker Oats and Fortune Rice Bran oil!).

Eggs-clusive

Standing in a queue at the cash counter of a reputed book store, I did a double-take. Rows and rows of a popular chocolate lined the sides, but they looked different. They were different.

They were Kinder Joy For Boys, topped with blue, and Kinder Joy for Girls, topped with pink! (not my pic above; source here)

Oh God, NO! was my first reaction. Et tu, Kinder Joy? One of the funnest chocolates ever, and now they go and do this?

Lil D wanted to buy a Blue one, just to see what was in it. I bought it for her, and after putting the little toy together, it turned out to be a kind of game.

Why do they have these silly girl and boy things, I fumed. Don’t you enjoy this stuff? Why assume girls will not enjoy this or boys will not enjoy that?

Lil D, in her own little wise way, put things in persepective for me. Girls won’t mind if they get this, mamma, but what about boys? How will they feel if they get a bracelet or something?

That got me thinking. We encourage our girls to do everything that boys do, but do the boys get the same encouragement if they tap into their “feminine” side? Or are they mocked or berated for acting “like a girl”? Somehow, I suspect the latter.

Still, I feel Kinder Joy should have stuck to being gender neutral. Chocolate is enjoyed by one and all. And that’s how it should remain, don’t you agree?

The Right Time

Over the years, I’ve come to realize something: There’s no really “right” time for life’s biggest moments.

When you fall in love, it’s not at the right time, when a cool breeze is blowing, violins serenade you in the background, and rose petals shower down upon you. It’s seldom (see how cautious I’m being? :D) that all these elements come together miraculously, precisely at the moment that you fall in love. That’s why they make movies! Love comes in little moments, when you’re laughing together, or sharing a plate, or having a serious discussion.

Similarly, there’s no right time to have the Big Talk with your children: when the TV is off, the hard chair is in the spotlight, and your podium is all ready. No, you can’t build up a scene like that; it’s just unnatural. There are so many aspects to the Big Talk that you can’t simply slot it into a one-hour speech and be over and done with it. Any questions? No? Good! You know how that works, right? You’ve nodded off or just tuned out of so many such sessions right from school to college, or during those mandatory training sessions at office.

The Big Talk with your children happens in little moments, like when you’re watching a movie together, or he/she tells you something that happened at school, or it’s that screaming headline in the newspaper that simply cannot be ignored. You explain, you reason, you argue, you convince, you persuade. More important of all, you listen and you discuss. It’s a two-way street, it’s not you dumping all over your child, not an item on your checklist that has a time allotment of 1 hour, to be checked off promptly.

So many parents labour under the impression that their child is a complete innocent. It’s just that they don’t give them enough credit. Children know the facts much earlier than you think they do. It’s the mystery, the surrounding smoke that needs clearing up, that needs demystifying, that needs a handy guide to make one’s way through. So many aspects need to be explored, not just the mechanical. The emotional, the practical, the fear, the hope…there’s really no way that you can educate your child on everything that goes with the territory. And everything need not be taught — your child needs do the growing up on his/her own.

What the Big Talk really does is to gradually open up a door through which your child can walk in whenever he/she desires, pull up a chair and sit down to learn from you and teach you. The right time is right now — this very moment, and the next, and the next.