Let your child live and learn from Life’s experiences

Our children have lives of their own. No matter how much we worry for them, they still have to live out their lives.
A friend recently shared that though her young adult daughter was greatly interested in theatre, she was not letting her join her college’s theatre group because she felt one of her daughter’s classmates was making passes at her (the daughter). The mother confessed that she was worried stiff for the “future” of her daughter.
I believe worrying for our children comes naturally to us parents. But we have to learn to let go.
In our friend’s case, she must appreciate the fact that, naturally, a grown-up, young adult, woman will attract the attention of class-fellows. And that she must trust her daughter to be able to handle any advances, that she may or may not be interested in, appropriately. She can’t forsake her daughter’s interest in something she’s passionate about for the sake of her (the mother’s) perceived peace of mind. Honestly, for how long, and from how many people and things, can we protect our children? When they are in their early teens or younger, we can direct them and have them follow us. But, as they grow older, they will have to be allowed to touch and feel Life, they will want to make choices – some of which will not be acceptable or may not seem correct to us as parents – and they will want to experience Life at their own terms. I strongly believe we must not interfere with the learning curve of our children. While we must always champion what’s the right way to do something, we cannot and must not expect them to accept our view immediately. We must have faith that they will see our point (if we have an objective one, that is) – when they have tried, tested, fallen, failed and learnt from their experience.  
Our children are born through us. And not for us. This is not an original thought – this is what the venerable Lebanese-American poet and writer Khalil Gibran (1883~1931) has said over a century ago. And this is so true now, as it was then. The lives of our children are distinctly different from our own. We imagine that they are intertwined because in the first 15 years of a child’s Life, as parents, we are providers, protectors, planners and directors. So, by force of habit, we get into the control mode as soon as our children want to go out and explore the world. Two forms of worry are intrinsically seeded in us parents – one is that we don’t want our children to make the same mistakes that we made or live the hard lives we have had to live; and the other is that we don’t want them to suffer at all. Now, both worries may be justified, but try explaining these to your child, especially if he or she is over 15, and see what happens. This doesn’t mean you must not counsel or that you must not share an experiential point of view. This just means don’t expect an immediate buy-in. It is this expectation that distances your child from you and that distance is famously touted as a “generation gap”.
Whether you believe in this or not, this is the way it is. Each of our lives is designed in a unique way. Whatever is happening to us has been ordained, most definitely in a cosmic sense, to help us grow and evolve, even as we biologically age. This is exactly the way the lives of our children too are designed. No amount of forethought by you could have changed the course of your Life. Similarly, no amount of worrying by you can change the course of your child’s Life.
Sit back and re-examine your relationship with your child. Especially if you have a teenager or a young adult at home. Reboot your perspective and role – both. Choose to be a good friend who suggests, but does not demand; who shares, but does not control; who is honest, but does not insist; and who is forgiving, but does not say ‘I told you so’ when things don’t go per your child’s plans. None of us can ever claim to be perfect, understanding parents. We are all works-in-progress. And so are our children. If we understand and appreciate this truth, we will stop worrying and let our children live their lives – and learn from their experiences!

Live in faith and without fear

Those who are in doubt will always live in fear. Those that live in faith will know no fear!
Doubt is not the work of a curious or inquisitive mind. It is the product of a mind that refuses to trust. Deep beneath the layers of mistrust lie past experiences. It is in these experiences that trust could have been eroded, because none of us really is born with doubt, fear, mistrust embedded in us. It is years of living in an environment of mistrust that leads people not to have faith. There’s an old Malayalam (South-Indian language) saying that goes, “A cat that once falls in a tub of hot water will never trust water in the future!”. The cat was not born to hate water or with a phobia for water. But its experience of falling in the hot water tub made it wary and untrusting of water.
So are we. You and me. Our experience of dealing with someone defines our level of trust with them. When we go through Life’s myriad experiences, we develop attitudes to Life, based on them. A person who has lost a lot of money will not trust anyone with anything material. Someone who has had too many health challenges will never trust doctors and hospitals. Someone who has had a few bad relationships, will not readily trust the institution of marriage. And so on. But when we live each moment in doubt, in fear, without trust__of something or the other__we are living a shackled, imprisoned Life. We are created to be free. Live free. We were always liberated. But we are burdened by the weight of our doubts and fears. To break free, we must learn, yes, learn, to move on. To treat each experience as an individual event and not generalize. If one person cheated you of money, it doesn’t mean all of humanity are frauds. If one bad relationship caused you grief, it doesn’t mean you can’t have another. If your plane had a bad landing or you survived a crash, it doesn’t mean you should stop flying.
The venerable Khalil Gibran (1883~1931), the Lebanese American writer, demystifies doubt and faith thus: “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is its twin brother.” To move from doubt and fear and to embrace faith, simply trust Life. Let go. Make that bungee jump. If you haven’t come crashing down and died yet, it means you are flying. And what if you die? Don’t worry, don’t fear, because you will not even know it when you die!

Let ‘em children be free

Kate, William and the Royal Baby
The arrival of a British Prince on the planet, as Kate and William’s first born, has whipped up such a frenzy. I read in one of the papers this morning an astrologer predicting how the child would fare as a man. There is speculation on what impact his birth, and new merchandize that is likely to be launched, will have on the British retail economy. And another point of view speculates that unless this Prince goes on to be 87, in 2100, chances of him being King are slim. One headline said “Royal Baby misses being Suriya (the Tamizh movie star) by a day!” – meaning, absurdly, that the baby was born a day ahead of Suriya’s 38thbirthday!
And then there’s this picture of the day-old baby on the front page of a newspaper – serene, unmindlful of all the attention, secure in the arms of its mother Kate.
That led to wonder why is it that we don’t leave our children alone? Bad enough we have been brought up without much choice. And now we are perpetrating the same abysmal conditioning on the next generation?
First let us understand what Khalil Gibran (1883~1931), the venerable Lebanese-American thinker and author, said so emphatically – that our children are born through us, not for us! We are only instruments that delivered them here. So, let’s stop being possessive about them. Children are not things to be possessed. We must recognize them as individual human beings __ like you and me. You don’t control human beings. If you do, you are a slave driver, a dictator. Not a parent.
Second, look at how choice-less birth is – yours, mine, even your child’s! A child cannot choose its sex or its parents or its home or its place of birth or even its name. Everything is given. In fact, everything’s forced. I am sure if each of us sat and thought about it, we perhaps may not really have wanted to have the name that we have been given. We may have preferred some other name. But since there was no choice possible, we endure our given names. So, obviously, we must give our children the opportunity to choose what they love – in all matters where it is still possible to exercise a choice! Looking after and raising children, with good values, does not give us the license to force them to do anything and everything we want done. But invariably we force a lot – what to eat, what to wear, when to sleep, what religion to practice and so on. Or as in the case of the Royal Baby, even his destiny is forced on him already. For all we know, when he grows up, he may not want to be King. He may just want to be a wanderer, traveling the world – and not want to be confined to the monotony and rigor of monarchy!
Third, we often confuse our parent-status with ownership. “My child” does not ever mean to us parents – “child in my care”. It has always meant “I own this child!”. So, where’s the child free? Isn’t the child enslaved right at birth? We mask this injustice in the garb of “protection and security”. Demanding obedience to a code of conduct laid down by us has become a universal basis for bringing up children. A child has to adhere to a parent’s “yes” or “no”. The child has no voice and even if it has, it is often bull-dozed into submission. I am not saying that we let children do whatever they want. But how about replacing obedience with intelligence? How about telling the child, through several conversations, what is right and what is wrong. How about empowering the child, over time, to take informed decisions? How about teaching children to learn from their mistakes – borne from indecision to poor decision to plain recklessness?
Fourth and finally, let’s not try to make our children like us. Let them be different. Just because you are a doctor, does not mean your child should be one too. Help the child understand her or his calling by allowing experimentation. By trying and failing. Maybe even a hundred times. Our current education system, in India at least, is very restrictive and taxing on children. It measures talent only in set parameters _ science, history, geography, a few languages and math. But what if the child wants to be an artist? Or an entrepreneur? Or an inventor? Or a writer? Or a politician? Or a photographer? A musician? Or an actor? Unless you have given ample choice to a child, and seen for yourself the level of proficiency and passion the child has in a field, do not force that study on that child. Grades and marks are not the only markers. Joy (how much joy a child derives doing something) and effortlessness (how easily is a child able to accomplish something) are key indicators too. Look for them always.
So, whether the new born is a King-in-waiting or a Princess of your family, allow any child choice, freedom and the opportunity to live his or her Life. Remember: as a parent, you are simply an instrument that brought your child to this world. Don’t ever mistake your being a parent for being an owner. Be a great friend and a compassionate mentor instead!

To be a good parent, be a strong one in your child’s moment of crisis!

Give your children strength when they are in pain and are suffering. Don’t suffer for and with them!

The only joy we parents want is to see our children happy, healthy and successful. No parent will want their child to go through any pain. And least of all will want to see them suffer. Yet, the nature of Life is that the destinies of our children are different from our own. They will have to live their Life’s design__no matter what we may wish for them. So, intelligent living in the context of parenting is to be able to feel their pain, when they do encounter it, give them strength to endure it, teach them how not to suffer and show them the way to a courageous Life! 

Your first reaction to any pain your child may have to face is one of shock, grief, agony. In your grief-stricken stupor you will plead with each source of emotional succor for mercy. You will offer yourself in place of your child, to a higher energy, and wish that your darling angel be spared. This may well be a noble point of view, but in Life’s scheme of things, it hardly cuts any ice. The truth is, just as you have faced Life, learning from your every living moment, your child too has to go through her or his own learning curve. You cannot circumvent that process. It is both illogical and impossible.

So, indeed, the best thing you can do in an unfortunate situation, when pain is inflicted on your child by Life’s inscrutable design, is to replace your own suffering as a parent with acceptance. From this acceptance you will derive great strength. It is this strength that your child needs. Remember, irrespective of how old your child is, or how old you are, to your child, you are a hero. Your children grow up looking up to you for everything. Initially for food, security, warmth, love and care. Pretty soon, with their first ‘real Life’ experience, they again look up to you __ this time for strength, for hope, for faith and for understanding. It is more important for you to deliver on that expectation of your children than for you to mourn their fates.

A friend spoke to me yesterday about his daughter. At 18, she was going through phenomenal turmoil on the academic front. She had been a topper in all years at school, barring her last one. Resultantly, she did not get the kind of grades she needed to have to get into medical school. Besides, she did not qualify in the national entrance test to medical schools. Since then, she has taken a year off and has been preparing, at a special residential turtorial, which is five hours away from where the family lives, for the 2013 national medical school entrance test. My friend reported that his daughter was continuously in a state of confusion. She feels confident one moment and diffident in another, he said. She doesn’t want to live away from home but she also laments that her focus on her preparations flounder whenever she is at home. My friend and his wife have told their child that they are not keen she studies medicine if she can’t make the grade or cope with the pressure of the intense competition she has to face in  gaining entry to a reputed medical school. They have counseled her. They have talked of alternate career options. They visit her frequently. But, says my friend, the child’s sense of insecurity over her ‘seemingly uncertain’ academic future and confusion prevails. “I feel so helpless watching her suffer. I try to put up a brave front. But I wish there was a way to help her understand that what she grieves over, the uncertainty and homesickness, will be inconsequential in just a few more years,” said my friend. Indeed he is right. And he is doing, as a liberal parent, the best he possibly can. I would any day recommend that parents have honest and uplifting conversations with their children just as my friend has had, than bull doze an opinion or decision. The easiest thing for my friend to do would be to bring her back home, order her to quit making attempts to enter a medical school. And force her to study something which is more easily achieved than let her go after what she loves so much __ which is to study medicine! Yet, my friend is choosing the better way__of letting the child decide while placing all options in front of her__in the interest of his child’s longer term learning. And as he makes his choice he is finding a, perhaps difficult, way to overcome his own suffering of seeing his child ‘needlessly’ suffer.

My friend’s predicament is far more simpler. It is an academic situation and borders on above-average performance and brilliant performance. It is a dilemma between doing something more comfortable yet unexciting (from the child’s point of view) and doing something against all odds but that which is bound to give the child great joy! Many parents have to deal with failed relationships in the their childrens’ lives, horrible health complications, lay-offs, death of their companions or their children! On Sunday I read a heart-rending story, in The Hindu’s Sunday Magazine section, of a young mother’s valiant effort to quell her own suffering to help her 5-year-old daughter fight acute leukemia. The mother differentiates her own suffering of seeing her daughter suffer from that of her daughter’s. She says, “(My daughter) has fought her lonely battle — lonely because cancer pain is unique in its ability to wreck you.” And how she __ and through her, her daughter __ derive strength and succor in listening to A R Rahman’s unputdownable music of over the last two decades. She concludes her piece saying: “Two-and-a-half years on, the promise of a healthy life (for my daughter) is within reach. Jai ho, Rahman bhai. Her (my daughter’s) healing, like your music, is the hand of God!”

To be sure, my wife and I too go through our own dilemmas of having to worry for or agonize, over choices our two young adult children have begun to make or over situations they are faced with, or to let go. We have learned that there’s no easy way to this. Acceptance is the way. We have learned to accept that our children are separate from us. That their destinies are different. We have learned to accept that we cannot live their lives for them __ not anymore. That we cannot decide for them or direct them. That they must learn of Life, from Life, in their own unique ways. So, we do, what we can perhaps do best. Which is, we give them strength. We tell them what we feel and never force a view or enforce a decision. We remind them that no matter what the outcome of their choices will be, they will not be judged or rebuked. We tell them the doors to our hearts and our home is always open to them (and to their families when they raise them). In the last few years, at least a couple of events in our childrens’ lives, based on decisions they took,  were avoidable. We may have saved some money and some sleep had we prevented them from taking those decision. But in doing so we may have robbed our children of a wealth of wisdom that they have drawn from those experiences that their decisions landed them in. That enriching awakening for each of them is worth far, far more than what we perceivably lost!  

Almost always, the most quoted Prophet on Parenting, Khalil Gibran’s words have inspired, guided and led the way for us. Here’s the most significant extract from one of his poems “On Children”:

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.

I hope his words lead you too to letting your children go and find love, experience, learning and meaning in Life__in the way it is ordained for them!!