Parenting is perhaps the only job in the world that you figure out as you go along. For everything else, you would need some kind of training, a degree or at least abundant knowledge.
It’s no wonder then, that we are often at a loss for what to say or do in a particular situation (and there are thousands of them) with children. Yes, even those of us who write parenting columns, blogs or books usually have no clue. Unlike marriage and relationships, of which we read a fair bit before going to the deep end, we dive straight in with parenting, knowing fully well that there are no life vests.
When we find ourselves fumbling, we reach out to social media, parenting fora, facebook groups, blogs, books and such like. I believe there’s money to be made from parenting workshops these days too.
I have done my fair share of reading up whenever I have had situations at home, and they continue with alarming consistency as the years go by.
It took me five years, but I finally figured out what is wrong with books like “How to talk so kids listen” and other such. Like every other parent looking for answers and afraid to ask questions, I read the book, cover to cover. I also tried a few exercises from the book diligently. I followed instructions and waited for results.
It seemed like Re had read it before me; sometimes it even felt like he wrote it.
And then the truth finally dawned on me.
Fact #1 Children are not listening to your words. They are listening to your actions.
Sometimes, your actions and your words are in two entirely different orbits. When you are not walking the parenting talk, your child can see right through it. Parenting is show, not tell.
I have been meeting quite a few parents of students, ever since I became a teacher and some conversations are deeply insightful while others leave me wondering how parents can expect their children to be a certain way when they are creating an environment for the exact opposite. Like expecting them to read when they don’t or expecting them to excel in a sport or instrument when they haven’t as much as lifted their buttocks to do so themselves. Or expecting them not to watch television when they are self-proclaimed couch potatoes.
They all seem to have different stories with similar subtexts. “They don’t listen,” is a common peeve of parents about their children. The ones with kids who don’t read want them to read. The ones who read are expected to read something else, something classic, something ‘cerebral’.
Fact #2.: Children pay more attention to what adults say to each other, than what we say to them.
We constantly expect our children to make good choices and do the “right thing,” but they need to hear us talk it out, getting a sense of the way we think or reason and see us follow our own words. When parents are ambivalent about themselves, they induce children to disregard verbal messages entirely. If you are constantly whining about your life or your job but are doing nothing to change your universe, the child is bound to feel that whining is an acceptable state to be in, and may often use it as a strategy to get things done.
Fact #3 Children are always watching us.
While we are trying hard to camouflage our anger through strategy, they are watching us; while we play the one-upmanship game in parenting with our partners, they are watching; while we mutter curses under our breath at raging drivers, they are watching; and while we chat with our friends on the phone, dissing this or that, they are watching us.
In fact, every time we “tell” our kids to do something, we are really showing them how to do something else. When we yell at them in anger, we are showing them how to get someone to listen to us.
A few days back, I tried to shoo away a stray cat who broke into my house and got into a fight with our house cat, Bravo.
Re saw this and was confused. “Why did you use shouty voice at that cat?”, he asked.
“Because he was being mean to Bravo,” I blurted, without much thought.
Re thought for a bit and then said, “Mamma, I think if we give some food to the mean cat, it won’t be a mean cat any more.”
We think parenting is a set of things we do or don’t do in order to produce children who do/don’t do a set of things. But most of the time, our children give us the cues and lead the way. I think we can be better parents by learning to grow down instead of helping our kids grow up. It has worked for me.
(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 18th August, 2014)