Parenting – a topic that has always triggered a curiosity in me.. Whatever knowledge I gained through observations, by reading books or listening to others’ advice, tips and feedback set a ground, but when I had to apply it I floundered. Not only did I stumble and sometimes fall, I took my two boys with me, in the stumble and the fall. Ah!! It was not easy to gather and dust myself and the other two too. Parenting styles did not appeal to me as I found them branding the parent I am, to just a style. Looking back at what I have been following as a parent of two boys, there is one word seems so apt and appropriate – A process..
The process of parenting was not a carefully thought out and planned one but one that kind of unfolded itself from time to time and in hindsight I am aware that it was set based on my thought as one of the parents, on bringing in certain traits in the boys.. It worked sometimes and didn’t sometimes and when it didn’t work, my mind would go on an drive to figure out what to do. There were two factors that I was clear that I need to be – alert and flexible. Alert to the signs I receive that tell me that the process is not working and flexible to deviate from the process, if needed. Nothing was cast in stone. Sharing some of the steps that I tried, erred or intuitively felt and learnt from, in no order of priority, as I believe that each step is as important as the others.
- I had well-wishers giving me advice, feedback, tips and tricks on approaching certain situations. I tried them but it would sometimes boomerang and generate a result that caused some damage. Reason was – my context was different and what worked for someone else was in their context.. Oops and it took me quite sometime to figure out that while all the advice, feedback, tips and tricks were given with a good intent, if I try it and it generates a result that causes some damage, I need to drop it.. Can’t afford to attempt another trial on similar lines, let alone a few more because the damage is in the mind of a child and reversing it brings with it, its own challenges.. Each one to their own..
- There was this feeling in me that I was different from anyone else and vice versa and didn’t relish being compared with anyone else, even if it meant that I was put in a ‘nicer’ light.. Comparing my two boys with each other or with anyone else was hence something that I would avoid.. And anyone who compared my two boys in front of me, had it from me!! And if they compared them (not in front of me) and I get to know of it later, they still had it!! This included the odd instance when the boys compared themselves and put themselves or the other down.. Needless to say, I am not here referring to the aspect of them being inspired by someone.. That is a different aspect altogether.. If no two of us are created in the same way, why are we trying to make people be the same? We cannot make anyone be inspired by someone else, just by comparison. Inspiration needs to be earned.
- We all have this need to be liked by others and consciously or unconsciously as parents one of us play the good cop and the other the bad cop. One parent playing good cop all the time and the other playing bad cop all the time, comes with its own limitations as much as both playing the good cop all the time or both playing the bad cop all the time. There were times when either me or my husband would go overboard with the ‘cop’ role that we were playing and telling each other so wasn’t easy because each of us thought we were right. The balance was sometimes difficult because there are times when the cops begin to fight trying to play their ‘cop’ role and you know who is at play at that time :-).. There are times when an unexpected ‘extremely good’ cop comes in the form of grandparents (the boys’ grandparents not mine :-)).. Some steps that are carefully built in, gets undone. Telling the grandparents to not interfere does not bode well.. Staying quiet while they play the ‘extremely good’ cop leads to some other challenges.. What worked well was taking the boys into one of the rooms at home, if I had to reprimand them or make them see the light of a situation.. It is not about which ‘cop’ you are playing, it is about being able to balance the ‘different cops’ at different times..
- This is one step that raised conflicts in me when I tried it out and then I discontinued it after a couple of years. Little did I realise that in a way it has helped, despite being conflicting – payment for some tasks that they do which kind of helped in running the house. Fill the water jug and they would earn a certain amount for every refill. Clean the table and that earns them some amount. Clean the toilets once a week and that would earn them a certain amount. Why did this create a conflict in me? It was the thought of “Why should they be paid for work that may become their responsibility later in their lives?” But the thought that they are not being given money just like that and they are earning their money which becomes their pocket money; and at the same time it also helps in instilling some responsibilities, made me feel reassured. Why was this discontinued? Because they grew up and so did their interests :-).. We need to pay a ‘price’ to build some responsibilities..
- I am a strong believer that at best we can give people choices for them to decide what to do; but we cannot take decisions for them. I applied this while bringing up the boys too. Giving them choices would apply even when they came to me for suggestions. When the choices were given, there would also be a discussion on the pros and cons of each choice.. In a way this helped because they knew they took the credit if the decision turned out to be the right one ar face the consequence if the decision turned out to be a wrong one.. Well, I also was sometimes mean enough to give only two choices – one was what they wanted to do and the other what I wanted them to do. I would pitch it in such a way that they would take a decision in the way I wanted them to.. and when one of the boys got to know about it, it earned me the title ‘the worsest mother’.. Give them choices and allow them to take their decisions. With choices and decision comes responsibility..
- This step to me even today, has been the best one in the entire process of parenting – freedom they have to ask questions; be it to seek information or while being critical of something that happened. There are those odd times when questions are asked for the sake of asking questions. In many situations though the questions they have asked have the power to change my thinking. There are those odd times when I have wondered why did I choose to give them the freedom to ask questions.. What to do, this was an irreversible choice 🙂 I remember an incident that happened during one of their birthdays. My husband was not in town and not wanting the birthday boy to feel bad, I decided to take them out for dinner. When we went to the restaurant that we had chosen, we saw a notice that they had shifted to another place. Telling the birthday boy who was closer to the notice, to read it and keep the information in memory, I drove towards the destination. A few minutes later, we were lost as he wasn’t able to recall the street. He must have been about 12 then. I fired him for a couple of minutes as we had to drive back to read the notice all over again. We finally located the restaurant and had our dinner and the hunger satisfied, there were smiles on all our faces. Out comes a statement and a question from the non-birthday boy, “Amma, what you did was not right. You shouldn’t have shouted at him like that. So what if he forgot? It is his birthday today and you shout at him on a day that is important for him?” To start with, I tried justifying what I did but a little while later what he said hit me like a ton of bricks. I apologised immediately but the the guilt in me took many days to fade away. Be the model for what we want our child to be..
- A relative of mine told me, “Malu, in our culture boys / men are not allowed to do household chores or help the women in the chores. You have two boys and as you grow older, when you have your menstruation cycle you may need help. So to start with, tell them to make you a cup of tea at that time. Explain about menstruation to them.” I was very skeptical of this suggestion. The boys were 12 and 9 at that time and I wasn’t sure how much they would understand. The carrot to me, was making the boys be independent or to help in doing household chores. I explained to the extent that I thought they could understand and taught them to make tea for me.. We have come a long way after that :-). Responsibility begins at home.
There are so many other steps that were a part of the process. Some got added at different stages of the boys’ growth and some got removed for the same reason. As I keep telling my boys, “More than the confidence I have in you or myself, I have immense confidence in the process that was set and followed.” I guess in a way this helped me to minimise the impact of any stumble and fall and also to not take it personally as a failure of ‘me as a parent’. As I end this blog, I realise that along with them I have evolved and grown too..