A crisis is Life’s way of coaching your child

AVIS-on-Happyness

It is time parents grew up too – and not just older!

Whatever be the circumstance or temptation, parents must not get in the way of their adult children. 
Someone we know is looking for a marriage alliance for her daughter who is an alumni of the London School of Economics. We have met the prospective bride and found that she’s intelligent, compassionate and independent enough to make informed choices. But her mother insists on choosing a groom only from a TamBram, IT industry background so that the couple can “settle” down in Chennai in the next 10 years to be able care for her (our friend) in her old age! Another mother does not want a groom for her daughter from anywhere out of Chennai because she (the mother) has a ‘fear of flying’ – so outstation and overseas visits may not be possible if the groom came from outside Chennai! Yet another couple we know is ‘worried’ stiff that their 33-year-old son is unmarried – the son however believes that no alliance is coming through because his father insists on the girl’s side following a regimented process of match-making which most families find stifling – and avoidable!  
I am sure there are countless such stories around you as well – in your family, in your circle of influence. A lot of parents I know are sweating over their children quite unnecessarily. I believe parents must take a chill pill and let their young adult children just be. Most certainly parents have a need to counsel their children and share perspectives. But the engagement must stop there – at best with a sermon. Trying to micro-manage and live their children’s lives or live their own lives through their children is something that parents must totally avoid.

Parents must appreciate – and accept – that their children are unique individuals. Their Life designs are entirely distinct and different from that of their parents. Besides, they have their own aspirations and their own lives to lead. So, coming up with preconditions, like choosing a companion who is in the same city, or one who belongs to a specific community or insisting that a child gets into running the family business because there is no one else to run it or dictating how a young adult must live, ruins the party for everyone. It is possible that some of all this happens because despite being young adults, the children may not always share how stifled they feel with intrusive and instructive parenting. But it is time children spoke their mind, even as it is time parents grew up – and not just older!  

Never come in the way of your child’s Life choices

When your child makes an unconventional choice, celebrate, rather than worry!

Yesterday we met a gentleman who said he was concerned that his son, after his 12thgrade, wanted to pursue a career in art. What the man was perplexed about was that his child had never “demonstrated artistic talent” and yet he wanted to join a foundational undergrad program in art and follow it up with a two-year Master’s degree at some point.
I asked the gentleman what exactly was his concern.
He replied: “I wanted my son to have a basic qualification before he embarked on a career in art.”
By basic, what the man really meant is, doing a conventional degree in medicine, engineering, pure sciences, math, law or literature and such. And why does such a basic qualification matter? Because, as popular perception defines it, starting career plans in these fields are more stable and income, earning a living, doesn’t pose a challenge.  
But what about doing what you love doing? What about passion?
“Well,” said the man, “Passion won’t go anywhere. You can always pursue passion later on in Life after you earn some money and save enough to last your lifetime!”
The gentleman is not alone. This is how most of the world thinks, works and lives. A majority of the people believe Life must and will progress linearly. Which is you finish school, go through college, get a job, earn an income, raise a family, build a house, put your kids through school and college, retire and post-retirement you try to follow your bliss – health and time (on the planet) permitting – and, eventually, you die. Even assuming that this linear progression and its attendant monotony is sufferable, there is no guarantee that anyone’s Life progresses along this straight path. A health challenge here, a relationship issue there, a career low or a fundamental skills issue (because you have opted to do something only because it pays you and not because you love doing it) – all this and more makes your Life path look like an ECG reading, often even treacherous to survive! So, after battling Life’s ups and downs, when you finally have reached a point when you can afford to go do what you love doing, you are either too exhausted and Life-weary or you just have run out of time! 

Now, this perspective is not just about the career choices that your child may make. It is the best way forward for you – for your own inner peace – for all your child’s Life choices.
A fundamental principle of good, mature, intelligent parenting is to not try to live the lives of your kids. Simply, don’t come in their way. Don’t try to protect them. Yes, it is a natural tendency to tell them what you believe they must be doing. But say it suggestively and be done with it. Don’t impose your views. Don’t sweat over them. Don’t worry for them. Remember that they are individuals in their own right. They have an independent, intelligent mind – after all, they are your children! So, they want to go out into the big, bountiful world and experiment. They have a right to do what they love doing. And we must never come in their way.
What is the worst that can happen to your child if your child’s choice – of career or relationship or whatever – doesn’t work out? Critically time would have been lost during the tenure of the “experiment”. But how can you ever compute the value of the learning the experience will give your child? The experience of immersing in what she or he loves doing, the experience of selling a value proposition to the world, the experience of being rejected, the experience of thinking out of the box, the experience of stumbling, struggling, falling and standing up again. And how can you even put a value to whatever is making your child happy?
Yes, if a child is embracing a ruinous habit or when, for whatever reason, the child is straying on the wrong side of law or going against the principles of humanity, it is your duty as a parent to stand up and red flag that moment. But again, there are no guarantees that you will be heard or that your sane counsel will prevail. So, we come back to the same principle – suggest, advice and be done with it. Remember, in such cases, when you are not heard, you have not failed. It is just that your child’s learning curve is steeper!

I believe we can give our children only two things – roots, foundational values, on how Life can and must be lived and wings, freedom, so they can fly away. Why would you want to keep your child entrapped in your shadow? Why would you not let her or him just be, let her or him free, to fly away and touch the sky?

Let go and let your child simply be!

An integral part of parenting is having honest conversations with your child.
The internet is agog with the story of Heidi Johnson, alias Estella, a single parent, who wrote a letter to her 13-year-old son Aaron. There is nothing new in this parent-child skirmish – it is played out in every home at some point or the other. Except in Aaron’s case, his mother decided to teach him a lesson on “his choice of wanting to be independent” by threating to charge him for rent, internet and electricity. Estella posted her “offer”, that was contained in a hand-written note to Aaron, on facebook. She was reacting to her son’s statement to her that he was now “earning money” and hence was beyond her “control”. Estella said she was open to this arrangement, and refused to accept being treated like a room-mate and a door-mat, provided, Aaron paid for some of their living expenses. She concluded her note with a beautiful open-to-negotiate sign-off: “If you decide you would rather be MY CHILD again instead of a roommate, we can negotiate terms.”
The letter went viral and has generated over a 100,000 likes and 200,000 shares. There have been people in favor of Estella’s stand and there are those who are both criticizing and critiquing it. The verdict is clearly polarized.
In my opinion, Estella makes a valid point. She says, if you want to behave like an adult, who claims to know everything, then let’s talk business. And I don’t think she’s wrong with this approach. Yes, did Estella have to post her letter on facebook – well, that’s debatable. Even so, she has clarified that she never thought her note, which she had intended only for her family and close friends to see, would ever go viral.
Having honest conversations with your child is an integral part of parenting. It is a responsibility. The way to have these conversations is to be unemotional. And this is where Estella’s communication scores. More often than not, parents communicate asserting emotional authority or with the all-too-predictable I-know-it-all logic. Or they are dismissive of a child’s desire for independence, exploration, adventure or privacy with a how-dare-you attitude. Fundamentally, all parents must recognize that their children are thinking, feeling, independent, individuals. They have a mind of their own. They need not be inclined to live their parents lives – be it by way of values or opinions or outlook or relationships or careers. Yes, it is a parent’s responsibility to inspire and inculcate humane and ethical values in a child. But beyond that the parent cannot expect the child to follow those values to the “T”. Even so, surely, when there is a divergence between what a parent expects and what a child does, the parent has to sit the child down and have a candid chat. But that’s where it must end. If the child still wants to do things her or his way, the parent has to let go. Clinging on to your parental view or fighting the child’s choice is bound to create avoidable friction and often has the potential to turn the child into a rebel.

The only way you – and I – have learnt in Life is from experience. This is the only way your child too will learn. The experiences will vary in context and intensity. But the learnings are often very similar. So, let go and let your child simply be. Be a good parent, have an honest conversation, but beyond that expect nothing. If your child takes your advice, well, pat yourself for a job well done. If your child does not take your advice, and decides to go her or his way, then simply wish your child well. This is the best way to retain your sanity and inner peace. 

Don’t kill beautiful minds with poor parenting and poorer leadership

Don’t restrict your child’s natural curiosity to explore the world. Be an empowering parent – let go and watch your child grow!
A friend of mine from my college days reached out to me. He lives in Mangalore. He wanted me to “inspire some confidence” into his young, 16-year-old son. We met for coffee last evening. I found the boy to be very cheerful, very positive and extremely clear about what he wanted to do. He said he loved science – all three subjects, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. He aspired to study medicine (when he finished his 12th/Junior College in Mangalore) at the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune. He wanted to be a doctor and wanted to continue sketching (his hobby) all his Life. Now, what do you tell a child who’s got all his plans mapped out? I told him this: “Be curious always. Never settle into a comfort zone. Keep seeking, keep learning, keep enquiring. Nobody can motivate you. Motivation is an inside job. Whenever you feel distracted, think of what will happen to your long-term goals. Understand that distraction is not a sin. It will only delay your journey to your dreams and goals. When you refocus on your goals, you will let go of all that which distracts you.” The young lad smiled back at me. He appeared to have understood what I had to say.
“Are you on facebook,” I asked him.
“No,” he replied sheepishly, while looking at his dad questioningly.
My friend piped in: “His (Junior) College principal has made him sign an undertaking, an oath actually, saying for the next two years he will not get on to facebook or use a mobile phone – neither at College nor at home. The principal wants to ensure that his College’s success rate to get students into premier “professional courses” is never diluted. And I support the principal’s stand wholesomely.”
I disagreed with my friend. I said that both facebook and mobile phones are enablers. They are both tools, a way of engaging with the world, I suggested. But my friend cut me short. He was clear his son should not be “corrupted” with a view that “encouraged being on facebook”. I decided not to force my view. That ended my conversation with the young chap; for the rest of the evening, my friend and I went on to talk about our lives and times…
On my auto-rickshaw ride back home from the cafe, I reflected on the myopic perspective that both parents and teachers have that inhibits the natural curiosity that children have. In today’s world, when there is so much information available on fingertips, why would anybody want to deny their children access to that information? Yes, the internet can lead you to porn sites as much as it can lead you to wikis on various subjects. Being on facebook can connect you to friends and family who share experiences and learnings that can enable you to gain an insight into how the world thrives. Yes, you can end up adding avoidable people as friends on facebook if you are not prudent. But I feel a parent’s job is to help children develop this discerning point of view. Empowering with choice, while explaining consequences, is much better than restricting children from doing things that they will be naturally curious to do. This whole view that facebook and mobile phones will corrupt a child and ruin his or her Life is reflective of the parent’s/teacher’s poor quality of thought. In my humble opinion, the moment you restrain a child, you are planting the seed of rebellion or are encouraging the child to operate with deceit. Because, whatever you bluntly deny – without adequate logic and conviction – children will find the means, one way or the other, to access it. A better approach would be to allow the child freedom of choice, have continuous conversations and if there is an over indulgence from the child, only then take restrictive steps. To employ a blanket judgment that all children will get “distracted” from academics or that they will go “astray” if they are on facebook or if they use mobile phones is poor parenting and poorer leadership.

Another point: for heaven’s sake, let’s stop obsessing over “professional” courses, “safe” careers and “95+ percentage strikes”. What we need teachers to do is to inspire the spirit of excellence in children and not to flog them to deliver grades. What we need parents to do is to imbue good values in their children and not to make academically-proficient nerds out of them. Finally, here’s the bottom-line: This is not a case for facebook or mobile phones. This is about raising beautiful, intuitive minds. Empowering children will nurture their curiosity and creativity, restraining them will only make vegetables and rebels out of them.