How children sometimes make better parents

And just like that, I seem to have logged in nearly five years of writing on parenting. Five years of being daunted by my own fears and insecurities, not knowing if I was doing the right thing as a parent, but often resigning myself to “this will do for now” and putting it out there. It’s like people who write about finding love and have no clue how to do it for themselves.

I used to write a relationship column many years ago and it felt way easier, because, in the end, all men and women fall into fixed matrices and it’s not very hard to extrapolate and theorize. With children, it’s trickier. So every time I get an email or a message asking me for advice, I stop to think how much do I really know, and I am queasy about what to say.

But I know this: I am okay if my child shows me the way.

I used to constantly write parenting scripts in my head. What will I say if Re asks me this or that, what will I do if he does this or that. But every other day he throws a googly I haven’t googled yet.

In the past few years, I have made many virtual friends, some of who I even met in real life. I made a few enemies, like the lady who wrote to me saying I had no business bringing a child into this world without buying a house first. Or the one who thought I was being self-indulgent when I wrote about stay-at-home-moms. Or Chetan Bhagat fans who got all riled up when I wrote this.

Six years of being a mother and I can’t say I know things better now, or that they have become easier (as friends constantly promise you). But there are the few things that I make a point to remind myself and perhaps they might work for you:

Here are my top seven:

  1. Talk to your children: In the time that you spend talking to each other, combing the internet for ‘parenting’ ideas, jumping on every ping of the Whatsapp mommy groups, talking to the teacher, the school, TALK to your child. I found most of my answers in Re’s words.
  2. Know that everyone is trying to wing it: Yes, even the one who wrote that book on parenting. Or the one who conducts workshops on how to talk to children. Or the one who hosts a talk show on parenting. Or that teacher at school who gave you tips on how to raise a child. Even your mother.
  3. Live like a child once in a while: Like children if we live life as units of micro time, dealing with one thing at a time, and moving on to the next pocket of time to fill, we would be happier parents. What messes us up is our five-year plans.
  4. Trust your instincts: When you have no time to talk to anyone else or scour the interwebs for solutions, talk to yourself. Listen. The answers are within; you just haven’t reached out to them.
  5. Write: I know it’s easy for me to say, but try and keep a journal of tough parenting times. Some day you may want to read what you were battling with. Life is always easier in the past tense.
  6. Grow something: Collaborate with your child on bringing something up – a plant, an animal, another child, if you have the mind and body for it. Every child is an amazing parent if given a chance.
  7. Ask and you will not receive: Talking to your children is not about you asking the questions and them giving the answers all the time. It is a conversation, it’s two-way, it’s open-ended. Re once told me I ask too many questions. I learned to tone it down that day onwards.

Parenting is live, 24/7. It’s like being in the Big Boss house without even being aware that there are cameras in your child’s head. That everything you say and do is being recorded. There is no editing, touch up or color correction. You can strategise how you will present yourself at a date or an interview and make an impression, but as a parent, you are there, in the moment, in all your naked vulnerable state, without makeup or filters. There is no auto-correct, and children pick up on everything. Even the things you don’t say. Life is what happens between Facebook posts.

 (A version of this post appeared as my column in the Pune Mirror on 6th July, 2015)

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Walking the parenting talk

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)

About a moon

Re has a special thing for the moon. Every night without fail, he looks out for it and when it is not visible, he asks, “Has the moon come?”

Some days we can see it from our living room window, some days we actually walk back with it. Some days we sight it from the park, or on our way back from the beach, or driving back, from the car.

Last week, Re and I were driving back from the library and Re claimed the moon was ‘follering us’. And indeed Mr Moon tailed behind for quite a while and then, the car took a right turn northwards and suddenly, he vanished out of sight.

“Oh no! The moon has taken the wrong way,” he exclaimed.

Oh, really?

“Yes. I think he got lost!” Re seemed very concerned.

“Don’t worry. He’ll find his way back. He should just ask somebody for directions,” I replied.

“Yes, moon must ask for dilekshuns!”

Which I am sure he did. Because by the time we reached home, there he was, again.

The other day, it was new moon day and Re as usual was looking for his favourite evening buddy. I pointed out the crescent and said, “Look! There he is!”

“No, that’s not the moon. That’s the moon’s cuzzin.”

And that’s how the gibbous moon came to known as the moon’s brother and the half-moon as the moon’s sister. There are no-show days of course. When I tell him that the moon has gone for his cuzzin’s birthday party. Or to his naani’s house. Or that it’s a holiday and he is still sleeping, so will come late tonight.

Some day, I will have to tell him that they are all just one person. Right now, I don’t have the heart, so I am letting Re enjoy the visual of a large moon family, complete with dada, mamma, cuzzin, brother, sister and whatnot.

To Re of course, the moon is whole, luscious and in all its glory. We still haven’t got talking about waxing and waning, although a friend, Meera sent me this delicious story about it.  I am planning to read it to Re soon. You can read it here:

Someday we are going to ask the moon over for a playdate. And his cuzzin. Yes, we are.

You are invited too.