Parenthood and Its Responsibilities

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I grew up with a naive notion that I would pass through life smiling and laughing, as I am inclined towards being a happy person.
But every single day, as a mother of two, there are more reasons to fret and worry and less to laugh, no matter how hard I try.
Becoming a parent is supposedly one of life's greatest joys, but for me, one of the biggest shocks ever, came with impending parenthood.
I was a young and happy mother with a heart full of love for the child I was carrying.
My doctor friend had once said, children don't need anything beyond some of your time and lots of your love.
Ah! If only it was as easy.
The truth was harsher and tougher to deal with.
My day and my time was no longer my own, I was never free, and I was faced with the gigantic task to molding a personality, to make the child a good human being.
It was a job that could not be outsourced, resigned from or delegated.
As Indians, the task of socialization extends beyond the parents to an entire household.
But as a young and intelligent mother, I realized what it entailed-the child would pick up the maid's vocabulary and mannerisms, be vulnerable to emotional blackmailing from grandparents and even risk being abused by the battery of servants we end up with.
The child innocently trusts and believes whatever he sees.
But it is only a discerning eye of a parent that can see hands lingering while bathing our children, the irritation rather than love with which each morsel is fed.
The solution in my mind was simple-make the child independent to feed himself and perform his personal hygiene routines.
An old aunt had once mentioned that a child can eat by himself at 2 and by 5 can get ready all by himself.
I belong to a family of educationists and besides a lot of knowledge I gained from my father's conversations, I also got valuable insights from my sister, a professor with 32 years of teaching experience.
She taught me how to listen to what my children say, and to spend quality time with them.
It is so common for parents to shake off what children say, dismissing it with 'they do not know'.
Actually what children say is based on something they have noticed or something that may have hurt them.
They will come to you a few times but seeing your indifference they will stop sharing.
Nothing worse can happen between parents and children-the gates of communication must always remain open.
And parents have to take out time for their offspring.
Women claim to give up careers to be with children, but are found to leave children with maids, and spend their days in lunches, kitty parties, television and internet.
Children need may be just an hour or two, but the comfort of being next to a parent, who shows that he can resolve all their problems, is there for help and support, can make the child feel so safe and happy.
Just to sit while he works, talk while he eats, and be at his bedside before he sleeps can make his young world blissful.
It is in giving as parents that we will do our job of parents well.
The role of the father is not small either.
Fathers have as much capability to be both father and mother, and can make children feel good.
Instead of basking in the glory of their proud creation, they need to get their parental act together, participating in the child's upbringing, preparing him for life ahead and being friend and father simultaneously.
But fathers are males, and the male species assigns some gender specific habits and traits.
For instance, I have heard fathers tell their sons-you are a man, and men don't behave like that.
God! This is terrible, since at a very early age, the child is being asked to suppress his feelings.
Somewhere around teenage, we expect them to be all grown up, and emotions like crying make them a 'sissy'.
But in fact, it is quite alright to cry, and vent feelings, and show your softer gentler side even as a man.
Men want to have a man-to-man talk with their sons at an early age, little realizing that the tender mind cannot understand the adult perspective, and the notion-I will tell my son the truth-is even more damaging.
This is because his simple world with limited knowledge and no unhappy experiences, cannot fathom what is being told to him.
Whatever he can make out, gives the impression that it is grave reality and he needs to grow up fast to understand it all.
He tends to withdraw and without anyone to share and support, he seems lost.
Boys can be soft and emotional too, and must not bottle up their feelings, or feel the need to lie to wriggle out of situations.
But they first have to be taught to be bold to face the world and accept the truth.
Lying is the easier way out, and it needs the courage of conviction to be explained-where will this come from, if parents don't teach their children? I remember my three-year-old son walking down the corridor in his school, leaving my hand saying he was a big boy, though a minute later a dog made him grab it again.
At that point I did not reprimand, but told him that it is normal to be scared and not "unmanly" to wish to hold your mother's hand.
To let the child cry himself to sleep, is another thing I have never been able to do.
I remember a friend locking up her 2 boys at 7.
30 pm with lights off, forcing them to sleep.
Being soft, I let my daughter wait for her father, eat dinner with us, and sleep by 9-it was not so bad.
But today those two boys are revolting against their parents, and have drifted away.
Doctors believe that this incessant crying, makes something snap inside the brain and leads to unexplained fears, which if not addressed, will manifest themselves later in life.
A neighbor's son, at age 2 got locked in the car in the U.
S.
He saw through the glass window his parents frantically trying to break open the car, his grandparents in agony, mother and aunt crying, while he banged the door.
So much for technological advancement, the car could not be broken into and emergency help had to be sought.
By that time 15 minutes had passed, oxygen levels inside had fallen, and the child had been hysterically crying.
That episode was soon forgotten by all others.
Today the boy is 13, and his insecurities manifest themselves in myriad ways.
His father shakes it off saying, "oh, he is a strong lad".
The child, wishing so much to live up to his father's notions, wants to show he is just that.
But that tender innocent mind is unable to wipe out fears and memories.
If only his parents had explained, consoled and reasoned out rationally with him even at age two, it would have helped.
It helps so much if parents devote a few minutes every week just to listen to what the child has to say, address his anxieties, stress and fears.
It is not enough to drive children to school, drive them to games, take them for multiple activities that will build their resumes more than their personality.
Do they talk about the child's interests or drive in silence, leaving the child to play on one of his many portable gizmos? They are with the kids, but talking on the phone, or if they do talk, it is to paint a larger than life image of themselves, their illustrious background and brilliant achievements-which does not impress, but belittles the tender minds in their own eyes, brings a feeling of inadequacy and the parent seems even more intimidating.
Parents love to preach and children hate to hear sermons.
As parents we need to have humor and hearing patience, rather than reproach, snap and get irritated with their frivolous nonsense, in which unfortunately lies the key to the child's personality.
Truth is another dangerous domain, which can have the worst negative impact if not shared properly.
While it is important to tell children the truth, it must be the limited truth, the amount they can understand, and substantiate it over time as his understanding improves.
In my effort to see the world from the child's perspective I made some startling observations.
The joy of sending our children to school makes us forget, that we are pushing them into unknown realms.
From the warm comfort of homes they are left all alone with a pack of kids and fiercely stern teachers.
Can they call us-no, can they share their anxiety-perhaps they are unable to explain what they are feeling-they only want to cry, but then that will show them to be cowards and the other kids will make fun of them.
I never realized how cruel a peer group can be, and what extent they can go to, to show your little one down.
They will insinuate, provoke, ridicule and belittle.
Unfortunately, there is no one to come to your child's rescue, in that big place called school.
I soon learnt what can be done to safeguard my little son's interests.
He was very small in build and being the youngest in class, was the target of bullying, and called names like midget, Tom Thumb and so on.
He dared not risk a physical rebuttal of their accusations, so developed a razor-sharp tongue to lash out-it got him beaten up too-but I was happy that he tried.
The solution of course, lay elsewhere-befriending the teachers-seeking prior appointments, sharing my problems and pleading for their intervention.
In India it takes little to make the world of our kids warmer, befriending the maids in school, the canteen guy, the watchman and other staff involved.
They then watch out for your son.
The world is obscene and so unsafe-with an elder daughter aged 23 and a son younger by 10 years, I have seen the society changing for the worse.
When he was born I thought I need not protect him from abuse, the way I had to, my daughter-but I was wrong-boys are even more vulnerable.
They are abused as much and that too by those we may trust the most-with migrant labor leading frustrating lives, our kids are the easiest target, and the warning, "don't tell your parents", works so well.
But we have to constantly reinforce with our kids- don't listen to them-because as your parents we will believe you first.
Their body is theirs alone, not for anyone else to touch and abuse.
It helps to have staff registered at the police station, and have their identity and address details.
Paying more helps to get better staff, and I found that salaries they will get everywhere, but what they will not get in very home is respect, and the extras-like an evening outing funded by you-for a movie show, an extra sari, money for their kids education, and a cumulative monthly bonus to be paid only after they complete a year.
Carrying the joys and anxieties of motherhood for a quarter of a century, I often look back and wonder whether I did everything right for my children.
I can only say I tried not to make mistakes, and I gave all of myself to my children-my husband and I made our children's life our own, and we would perhaps not know what to do if without them-our days were spent with them, doing things for them, and waiting for them as they went about their activities.
It was never a question of our children waiting for us.
And yes, this did bring one big positive in both children, I do not see insecurities manifesting themselves in dreams and nightmares, tantrums or sobs.
Only time will tell whether my model of socialization is worth emulating, but despite my mistakes, I feel I could not have done more.
My daughter tells me that while growing up she felt the lack of freedom, but is happy that it gave her fewer options of how to spend time, and she took to excelling in academics.
Boys are a bit different, I have to ensure that his mind is engaged all the time to prevent mischievous thoughts from entering his mind.
Parenthood is a job for life, unpaid, and unending.
But the ensuing joys are the non-monetary payment we receive when we see our children happy, balanced, and good individuals who can think beyond themselves and show their fine character.
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