Shernaz tells us about effective parenting and the relationship that we must have with children, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
Parents who keep hovering over their children like clucking mother hens often raise unhappy children. Their finest intent can still extinguish an aspiring flame before the pure oxygen of true understanding enlivens it. Parenting is a very complex task with hardly any fixed frames of reference. Coming under the purview of behavioural science it constantly needs shifting approaches. Even siblings cannot be driven by the same standards. Every child is unique, and parents must look between the intricate layers to unearth subtle nuances of parenting. Rather than knowing the right way to raise children, parents must be able to feel, to sense what is best for a particular set of circumstances.
Regrettably, for many, parents and siblings think they understand every member of the family. They take it for granted that they have an indisputable right to guide an ‘errant’ family member into the ‘precise’ groove; notwithstanding that it is a rut they are trying to push this ‘incorrigible’ person into. Rather than accredit and celebrate his difference they snub and belittle him. Undeserved appellations and humiliating epithets divest him of his self-esteem. He is sneered at, scolded, threatened and cajoled, sometimes even bribed to be like his brothers and sisters. Such comparison can breed feelings of uncertainty, inadequacy or generate harmful rivalry and even jealousy between siblings.
Sharp derision and well-meant but traumatising remarks push a child further into a diffident shell or make a monster out of her. She is impelled to retreat into her world of make belief; becomes a recluse, afraid to socialise and is promptly tagged a loner. If her frustration erupts in tantrums and rebellion, the behaviour is noxious and merits greater retribution. In extreme cases, such a child could grow into a social menace and could even harbour thoughts of suicide or murder.
Restless and disconsolate in their little hearts, such children struggle to understand and be understood. It is very lamentable that lack of sympathy snuffs out the very essence of a child. Bereft of empathy, backing and unconditional love from his near and dear ones, the precious little blossom wilts in his prime. He is a little shoot that requires special nurturing and who can do it better than parents who are not enmeshed in the snare of social conditioning?
Unappreciated by his own people, always censured, chastised, shot down and ridiculed such a child retreats into a world of fantasy or into a morose silence reinforcing unwarranted behaviour from elders and peers. Then come more labels – recluse, moron, worthless…. He stands no comparison with his siblings because they dutifully toe the line; are great and good kids and a source of pride to the family. Amid the glitter and tinkle of glass, a diamond goes unrecognised, uncut, unpolished, languishing for an approver in the dark patronising alleys of society, customs and family bonds that turn into a noose. It takes a discerning teacher or an outsider to truly value the gem and bring out its brilliance if he is lucky enough to find one at the right time.
Put-down criticisms become self-fulfilling prophecies, convincing the beleaguered member that their mistaken judgments of him are true. Most of the time such children are like the glorious golden eagle, which pecked the dirt for worms, he lived out his life unearthing little wrigglers like the rest of the brood he had the mishap to be born into. He could not rise into the open sky, where he truly belonged because he grew up believing he was a chicken. Let us not make mice or chickens out of our little eaglets. Let us make affirmative and joyful deposits so that they have a well-heeled balance in their memory banks to fall back on in adulthood.
Parents who are positively and actively involved with their children play an awesome role in their success. Healthy exchanges and confidence boosting help a child to grow into a strong, well-rounded person. Let us heed the sane advice of Fredrick Douglass: It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. Happy couples bring up emotionally well-balanced kids. Children need to share their anxieties and struggles, their achievements and dreams, as much as elders do. We are often so demanding and lost in our own problems that we brush away those little human beings with inconsiderate remarks or laugh off their troubles. However inconsequential a child’s worries may seem from our grown-up outlook they are real and very scary to a child. It requires a patient hearing and empathetic response to make a child feel secure and loved. Communicating with every child, acknowledging them with acceptance and appreciation, lessens family conflicts and parents will hear less of ‘you love him/her more’.
‘Different’ is not necessarily difficult or high-risk. That little tyke may or may not turn out to be a genius. The virtue of birth alone into a particular family or community does not stamp one irrevocably with a distinct personality. We are all individuals and have a right to our uniqueness even as toddlers. When gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals are fighting for their different sexuality to be accepted and recognised, we have millions of youngsters who have to forfeit their ambitions and dreams on family altars and often cannot fight for their rights. Subjugated by their omniscient elders and smothered by emotional blackmail they have to go into medicine or engineering or law or the armed forces or this or that and the other because that is what ‘the family has always done’. Their singular, unrecognised talents die indecorous deaths; their individuality is silently squelched under the rigid and coercive iron heel of authority. This is a very distressing truth, particularly in our Indian society.
The unimaginative apathy of our education system is well known. Rote memorisation scores over vibrant curiosity; standardised test and exam results define achievement while character building takes a backseat. As the child grows, the innate sense of wonder and amazement at the unfolding beauty of the world around him should blossom. It is the adult’s responsibility to see that it is not stifled to die an imperceptibly slow but sure death. Parents must give wings to their children and be the wind underneath. Perhaps if they fly too high too soon the force beneath their wings may be reduced till the child is ready to soar into his sky of dreams, ambitions, and fulfillment.
Over-ambitious, hard-driving parents at the other end of the band want their child to jump-start on what modern day society equates with success and so push him up the wall by wanting him to excel at everything. Along with academics he must endeavour to be an athlete, a cricketer, swimmer, dancer, singer, and learn foreign languages…the pressures are endless. Overscheduled, stressed out, he doesn’t know one week from the next; he loses out on the fun and mirth of childhood and finally suffers a breakdown – a jarring wake-up call to his elders!Success cannot be gauged by tests and exams alone. The ability to appreciate different perspectives, self-discipline, doggedness, the capacity to face life’s knocks with equanimity — qualities that are crucial to school and life should be the benchmark to assess success.
Parents must consciously strive to remember the immortal words of Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls live in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer‘s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so also He loves the bow that is stable.
Children are not given to us to fulfill our unachieved aspirations; we are mere gardeners who must sow the seeds, nurture and water the saplings and watch over them tenderly as they grow and bloom each according to his capacity. They are not our possession and as such must be allowed to follow their own dreams. So let your golden eagle rise to the heights he can reach; allow the Archer to shoot His arrows swift and far, that they may do His bidding by fulfilling their destinies and surge forth to find their full potential.
There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Photo from the internet.
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