This blog post has been contributed by Ignatius Fernandez, and is the first of a 12-part series on ‘Parenting is a Journey’.
A little boy returned from school one evening and gave his mother a letter from his teacher. She read it and wept. Briefly, the letter stated that her son was difficult to teach (rather slow); therefore he should quit school. What was she to do? Go to school and plead? Send him to another school? Get him a tutor at home, whom she would find difficult to pay? The more she thought of her options, she dismissed them. By morning, she decided to become his tutor. She would teach her son, the slow learner, who was rejected by his school. For years, with great skill and angelic patience, she taught him. In later life, even with several inventions to his credit, Thomas Alva Edison fondly remembered his mother, who taught him the fundamentals.
For the sacrifices we, parents, make we do not receive a medal of honour or a trophy. We give because of the joy of giving; because our love is strong. Paradoxically, it is this very strength that becomes our weakness. Despite our avowed concern for children, some of us forsake them to grandparents, babysitters or fancy day-care centres, in the name of our careers, which we believe cannot be compromised. For us, providing children with greater financial security is the priority. Some of us have our pet passions: partying, gambling, pubs, hanging out with friends, music and hours before the TV. We feel guilty giving into such indulgences. So we try to over compensate our children with gifts and concessions. Those of us, who believe that we can win the affection of children through ‘such gestures of love’, discover to our peril, that we have won only lip-service from manipulating children. Some of us (spouses) go to the extent of competing to gain favour with the children, indulging their every whim. Brownie points apart, we too deduce that children have mastered techniques of pitting father against mother to profit; and the rift between us widens. In time, we lose control over ourselves, our children and our family.
“Why should this happen to us? We gave the children all that they asked for”, we agonize. Why do well meaning parents end up disappointed? Dr Anuradha Oberoi, a child psychologist, attempts to answer that question: “Parenting is a journey. Not a formula”. Without saying so, she addresses parents who think that X input should yield Y output. The doctor maintains that the formula theory does not work. Instead, she argues that parenting has been and will always be a long and tough journey over unfamiliar terrain. To that she adds a startling assertion: “There is no such thing as a problem child. There is a problem parent”.
What a sledge hammer blow to us who are known for our untiring love! Yet, with some humility, if we assume that part of the problem lies with us, the obvious question is: How can we improve the quality of parenting? When young people plan to get married, parents check credentials – family, caste, qualifications, job security, assets, and so on. Seldom do they check on the compatibility of the partners and their readiness to bring up children with the right inputs. When the first-baby is born, it is a new world for those young parents. They pamper the child with gifts and affection. Only much later do they get to understand the meaning of tough-love. By then, it becomes difficult to reverse the trend.
To avoid such a situation, we need to follow a few guidelines. Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize winner (1952), a genius and one who put love into action, laid down the basic rule for parenting: EXAMPLE. Example is like using one burning candle to light several others; the first does not lose its brilliance. Would a son respect and obey his father who exhorts him to be honest, but will not give up his own dishonest ways? Will a daughter admire and be drawn to her mother who chides her for not being discreet and guarded in her speech, when she herself is talkative, constantly faulting others? Children would rather observe and imitate what they see in us rather than follow what they hear from us. If we are not a good example to our children, we forfeit the claim to respect from them. It does not mean that we have to be perfect. As long as children see us as heaven-ward looking, down-to-earth role models, we have lived up to expectations of our children.
Timeless advice comes to us from an expert: “The only way to raise a decent human being is by being one”. Ms Eda Le Shan (American psychologist).
NOTE: To profit from this series, please collect the 12 articles. Read them again. Mark relevant words and passages. Adapt and implement.