(for those who know it all and for those who are still struggling even after years of experience)
Is it only me or are there other overwhelmed and hassled parents out there wondering what’s happening around them? I mean with raising children. Am I doing it right or is there something wanting? Every time I call up any of my friends, the conversation somehow manages to drift to the children – their studies, behaviour, food habits, digital media, etc. etc. In short, it’s all about the children. No, no, I am not complaining. I’m blessed with two angels (well, that description varies on the situation and circumstances!) and I can’t think of a life without them. But how did this happen? Why is it we can’t discuss another mundane yet interesting things like, I don’t know, maybe our interests, hobbies, books, movies? When did they take over us and started dictating terms? We had a whole rocking (no pun intended!) life before these lovable minions invaded our universe. So, what happened?
I will tell you what happened. We got carried away, swept off with the gush of motherly emotions and are now trying to grasp at anything that can provide us with any kind of support. Oh, please, don’t look towards the husbands/fathers! They are as much help as these kids!! We need some solid adult advice. Yeah, try recollecting the advice given by our mothers and mothers-in-law. Believe me, they were good advice, if only we had heard them the first time (yes, heard them, because listening comes after that; there’s a fine difference between hearing and listening). Anyway, not too late now. So here I am trying to gather some of these scattered pearls of wisdom, some from my rapidly diminishing memory and some from my own trying experiences.
1. Be firm – it’s ok to say NO
Why do we have to go on a guilt trip and get all emotional about saying NO to the children when needed? I fail to understand why parents, especially mothers, feel saying no means showing they don’t love their children. There are times when it’s needed to turn down their requests or demands. They are not old enough to understand what’s good for them and what’s not. That’s the responsibility of the parents. We know what works, so let’s do it, with no emotional baggage. What starts with demands for chocolates and toys, will grow into expensive gadgets or larger pocket money or bikes. So, learn to say no firmly when required. It doesn’t have to be a shouting match or emotional meltdown. Explain it to them, be reasonable, be clear and most importantly be consistent. They have to learn that some things are just not acceptable to their parents. Children will respect you more if they see you think clearly and are reasonable. So, dear mommies, start early and inculcate this habit in both the kid and in yourself. Saying no does not mean you love them less; it means you love them enough to make the right choices for them.
2. Set the rules, you are the boss
Another responsibility that comes with the job is setting the rules of the house. No way, it’s not a prison or a camp for rules – is the first line of argument. I know, it’s my home dearie and that’s why there are rules. The children need to identify and feel responsible for this place which is being nurtured with so much love and care. Maybe some of you will be comfortable if I replace the word rules with ‘habits’. Either way, there must always be some dos and don’ts in the home. Let’s start with some simple ones like table manners. I always insist on the children clearing up after them. They have the luxury of having a room to themselves. Great, now manage it. Getting them to clean their room during the weekend has become a rule or habit for them. Or helping me lay the table for dinner. Clearing up their room after a play date. Feeling thirsty – you know where the kitchen is. These are easy enough chores for them to do and it makes them feel like responsible members of the family. It makes them feel more involved. Believe me, they’ll thank you later (now, of course, they’re muttering and cursing under their breath!). And most importantly it will make your position clear in the house. You are the mother, not their personal genie to wait on them every minute. In its own way, this will also gender sensitize the boys. Managing the house is not the responsibility of only the women but also the men of the family. This is a more effective way to bring up sensible and sensitive citizens of tomorrow rather than lamenting later.
3. Teach by example
Remember, the children are watching you. It matters how you conduct yourself in front of them. This is especially for the fathers. If the children see you helping around in the house, they will grow up with the knowledge that it’s okay for the men to work at home. How do you expect your son to learn about helping out if all he sees is you sprawled out in front of the TV while the mother is shuttling between the kitchen and your demands? The good news is more and more men are now more hands-on dads than the previous generation. I remember how shocked my father-in-law was when he saw my husband changing nappies with such élan! I guess we, the present generation of parents, are doing something right. Now, all it needs is we keep at it and instil these same values and sensitivities in our children. Being polite and respectful, caring for the elders, not using abusive language, being helpful and empathetic – there’s so much we need to teach our children. But all this becomes so much easier if we, the parents, practice it. Then all we have to do is watch our little babies blooming into wonderful human beings, a rapidly declining species in the present scenario.
4. Be them, be with them
Just because we are parents doesn’t mean we have to be boring! To build the bonds you desire with your children, you have to be part of their world. Play with them, do some activities with them to understand them better. It’s so de-stressing sometimes just kidding around with them. I saw a dad trying to do a front roll with his 2-year daughter on our society lawns yesterday. It was a sight! Oh yes, this was equally de-stressing. I saw another dad bravely trying out the wave board. Not a good thing to try especially for his size, but appreciated his enthusiasm. At least now the father will understand better the skill required to use that plank with four wheels which cost him a small fortune! In our home, we have a game night on weekends where all of us sit down to play any board game, be it scrabble or Uno or Scotland yard or Battleship. Anything but something. It’s noisy, chaotic, dynamic (because rules keep changing as per the winner/loser) and good fun. Sometimes these games teach us so much about our own children, about the kind of individuals they are. These game nights are the best ‘family time’ we have. Children find it easier to bond with their parents in such situations since the parents are also on the same footing as them, their equals. So, try to squeeze in some game-time in your busy schedules.
5. Restricted use of the digital media
Oh yes, this needs to be handled on priority and sensibly. It’s sad watching these kids clicking away with dexterity at the small keypads on the phones and tabs. I can think of tens and hundreds of other things they can do. Children resort to these gadgets because they are not being kept adequately busy and interested. Allow them to explore new activities; encourage them to try out new things. Reading is becoming a near-extinct habit. Try to instil the habit of reading in them. And since most of the popular books and series are being made into movies, they can be tempted into reading first and then getting to watch the movie. Believe me, it has more than one advantage. Or have game nights. Or organize play-dates with lots of board games and activities. Yeah, I know school days can be packed and such luxuries of free time are hard to find. But that still isn’t the excuse to go back to the gadgets. They can unwind by doing some drawing or leisure reading or listening to music. I have got my daughter into learning a foreign language on the iPad using one of the popular apps. She’s excited because she gets to use the iPad; I’m happy because she gets to do something productive. Of course, all this is done under supervision AND restricted time limits. No binge sessions, irrespective of whether it’s a holiday or not. All this is possible if the parents decide to put in that kind of effort. We have to know what we want them to do and only then can we think of ways to implement it.
6. Get out of the house!
Oh, how often have I heard those words and how much I used to love them as a kid! Children have to get out and play. All this overprotectiveness and mollycoddling is not good for them. A scratch or two is like a badge of honour for them. Forget about vitamin D and sunlight. Playing outside is more a learning experience than any one of us would care to admit. Children come up with the most innovative of games and can spend hours playing, improvising with time. They learn about team building, negotiations, leadership, empathy, marketing, innovation, adaptability, crisis management; everything you would anyways be paying lakhs later for them to learn at some hoity-toity management institute. The best part about the summer vacations is watching the groups of children racing their bicycles around the society buildings or trying out some new tricks on the horizontal bars or jungle gym. Their excitement is infectious and the laughter, pure and clean. As moms, we have to complain about the dirt and sweat, but in our hearts, we rejoice at the sight of them marching into the house looking like this, attacking the snacks like locusts and trouping out after collecting some more armaments for their next adventure. Children have to get out and get dirty and play. All these fancy gadgets cannot replace the joy of sweating it out in the parks. If your child is not interested in going out, then put on your shoes and take them along. It’s as beneficial to you as it’s to them. So, go on parents, show them some of your rusted skills and watch them enjoy!
7. Talk less, listen more
We would never give up a chance to give them an earful. Don’t we just love the sound of our voice, giving away sermons, with the I-told-you-so tone? You are not alone. It’s a trap we all fall into ever so often. I know it’s irresistible and unavoidable. But after years of putting in conscious efforts, I have realized that it is very much avoidable. With a tween in the house, it’s not always possible to impose your diktat. To avoid shouting sessions, I decided to listen to her part of the argument. It didn’t always make sense but it allowed her to speak and that cooled down the tempers. Children today are more aware of their needs than we were at this age. They are exposed to information like never before, often confusing them. Add to that the peer pressures and raging hormones. So instead of dismissing them as kids, it’s best to listen to them. What happens then is, firstly, it opens the doors for further communication. You are better able to understand what your child is thinking and you can in all your wisdom guide him or her. Secondly, the child also feels more confident about himself since he’s being heard by the grown-ups in the family. It fosters a positive image of oneself. And finally, since the channels of communication are open, you can talk to them about their responsibilities and duties without sounding condescending. They are more likely to listen to you if you speak to them and do not give orders. Yeah, the flip side is you may have to spend lots more time ‘listening’ but it’s worth it. A solid foundation takes time and effort to build; it certainly cannot be built in a day and with the presence of distracting gadgets!
8. Leave them alone
Yes, children too need some time alone by themselves. They need to be able to think and do what they want. Constantly telling them what to do, creating a regime detailing every hour of the day does more harm to them than we can imagine. They are individuals and they must be made to realise that. And that will happen only if they are given the chance to be on their own. By this I don’t mean, leaving them alone unsupervised. I mean giving them some time during the day when they are free to do what they want, with no gadgets or no studies. The first few days when I started this, my children were totally lost. They were happy not to have to do anything but after a day or so they got bored with their free time. That’s when the fun began. They tried to explore ways to keep themselves busy. And what ideas flowed! Their minds started working overtime and they looked forward to getting this free time. Now they demand their free time and I couldn’t be happier. Young minds are restless and inquisitive; they want to learn and are ready to be shown the world. So, let them fly, don’t curb their passion and clip their wings just because it doesn’t fit into our parents, timetable.
Sometimes we do things unconsciously, thinking that’s how it’s done. But what we forget is that each child is unique. I’m sure you will agree with me when I say that what works for one need not necessarily work for the other. Times are changing so must our parenting styles. Now is the best time as any to bring in the changes. Let’s try to change tactics, innovate, redesign and reinvent our parenting strategies and see what works. Once a parent, always a parent. Happy Parenting!
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I absolutely agree with all the points…..very true and practical to implement……This article is wonderfully written and worth publishing in a magazine or as a column in a newspaper.