Let’s learn to let our children be who they are

The biggest support that you can offer to your children is to never compare them with others.  

Each child is unique. Each child is independent. And each child has a different way of experiencing and making sense of Life. We must learn to appreciate this difference, this uniqueness, and to allow our children to grow up – and evolve – into being good human beings. This is our “only” responsibility with regard to our children.

But most of the time your parental concern for protecting your child from Life’s truant ways comes between you and your child’s journey to explore – to touch and feel – Life. From taking time, or even being unable, to appreciate a child’s dyslexic condition to forcing a science curriculum on a child who is interested in arts to forcing a young adult into a software career, when all he wants is to create music, to insisting that your daughter marry someone from within the community than someone who loves her deeply – there are a million ways in which you – and I – often fail to support our children. Or, for that matter, even understand them.

Therefore, I was very encouraged to read renowned theatre actor and film director, Chitra Palekar’s (who is divorced from Amol Palekar) views on a “different” choice her daughter made many years ago. Chitra shared her personal story with The Times of India (TOI) yesterday saying how her daughter walked up to her one day in the early ‘90s and reported that she was a homosexual.

Chitra Palekar (right) with her daughter
Pic Source: Internet
“Would you love your child less if he is left-handed? Would you hate her if she is dark? You don’t. It is the same case here. Nothing changes because she has a different sexual orientation. Science has proved it’s not a disease, it is merely a difference. She is your child. And you want her to flower,” Chitra told TOI. She added: “She told me: ‘Amma, I’m a lesbian’. I wasn’t shocked. I was just surprised, taken aback. Heterosexuality is what we’ve all grown up with. My only knowledge about homosexuality was through films and some literature. But I immediately accepted her. Because she was the same that she was till two minutes ago. Nothing about her had changed for me.” Chitra says she was only hurt that her daughter had not shared this ‘difference’ in her with Chitra any earlier. But being the mother that she is, Chitra forgave her daughter and moved on. Her daughter, now 41, teaches at the University of Western Australia, and lives with her partner of 14 years.


When it comes to our children, not all of us have to always deal with situations as difficult as the one Chitra had to. But her maturity and her understanding are indeed an inspiration. Comparing our children with other children and pining for them to “not be different” is ruining our own happiness and that of our children. What we can learn is to just let our children be who they are. We can teach them good values, we can invite them to learn from our experiences by sharing with them openly – but beyond these we must cease to have any expectations from them. They have been created to experience Life in their own unique way. That way may not be the one we know or understand. I believe the only blessing we can ask for, is for our children to be happy doing whatever they choose to do in Life – whoever they choose to do it with!

Responsible children come from responsible parenting

The best education you can give your child is to always teach them to do what’s right than what appears to be right; and to always own up a mistake, say sorry – and face the reality as it is.
Source Internet
This past week there have been rumored reports on social media sites of a top industrialist’s son being involved in a hit-and-run case in Mumbai. The reports suggest that the young man was driving an Aston Martin Rapide in a drunken state. His car is believed to have crashed into two other cars and injured two people. The reports allege that the industrialist hushed up the matter by influencing the country’s top media houses to “black out” the news of this incident and also by getting one of his company’s chauffeurs to “own up and surrender” for the accident. The only reason why I am not naming the industrialist in this post is because I don’t want to be party to a rumored report. Besides, the issue for examination and review here is not who did it.  That is best left to the investigative agencies of the land. What’s important is to look at what we can learn from this instance.
Undoubtedly all parents love their children above all else in the world. But that affection can sometimes blind parents and cloud their vision for their children. Here are some thoughts on mature parenting that I believe are relevant here.
The first principle to imbibe, internalize and initiate in parenting is ‘responsibility’. To groom responsible children, the parents must first display responsible behavior. We must recognize that it is in their teens that children seek independence. They are driven by a passionate sense of adventure. They want to explore this beautiful world, they want to explore their bodies and their sexuality, they want to express themselves and they want to do things that they believe has not been done before. The normal approach that parents take in such cases is to restrict their children, admonish them and often make them yield under emotional pressure. And often when much of this is being forced upon the children, the parents are not conforming to or following any of this themselves. For instance, at least in an Indian context, parents will openly watch pirated movies, will drink and drive, will pay petty bribes to get “stuff” done and flout any inconvenient law like wearing a seat belt. Yet the same parents will insist that their children speak the truth, are ethical, don’t drink and drive and grow up to be sincere law-abiding citizens. How much more ironic can it get? In India, working around an established legal framework, is considered “normal”. It is obviously not right to bribe a traffic cop if you are caught driving without your seat belt on or fail a breathalyzer test – but it is considered or appears to be right to most people. And this is where parents miss the point. How can you have anyone – let alone your children – do something which you are not willing to do yourself? So, be responsible. Lead responsibly. And you will have responsible children following you.
The second principle is to inculcate in your children the courage to own up. Let’s recognize a child’s, especially in the teens, spirit of adventure will drive him or her to take risks. How much ever you may advise, counsel, lead by example or even show case through examples from Life around you, every child will learn his or her lessons only from his or her personal experience. Whether it is having pre-marital sex or getting drunk or drinking and driving or whatever – more than all your preaching, what wakes up a teenager, or even a young adult, is when things blow up on his or her face. So, whenever something goes awfully wrong, be there for your child. Don’t rub it in by saying “I told you so!”. Instead teach your child to own up the experience, whatever it may be, and face Life squarely. Covering up or shielding a child from the consequences of his or her actions will only mean that you endorse such deviant behavior. Which is surely not true. I am sure that industrialist is as distraught as any other parent in his position will be. But by not teaching his child, if at all those reports are not rumors but are true, to own up and face the legal process, he’s grooming, however unwittingly, his child to be an irresponsible parent and citizen.
Let’s remember that as we grow older – and hopefully wiser – as parents, the most gratifying thing in Life will be to see our children lead happy and responsible lives. For that aspiration to come true, it’s very important that we lead the generation that we brought into this world – responsibly!

Always empower your children with the truth

One of the key responsibilities we have as parents is to be honest and speak the truth with our children.
There may often be the urge to hide the truth from children imagining that they may not comprehend or they may not be able to handle the real world. So, whether there is a relationship issue between parents or there is some difficult or unique Life situation that the parents are handling, with regard to either the children or the family, it is best to share whatever is going on with the kids. Honestly. Transparently. Of course, you can always package the truth in a creative yet simple manner in which the children will understand it better.
All of us know that children are very perceptive, intelligent and curious. Yet we are reluctant to share what we have learnt from Life with our children. Really, the adult view that children will not understand is a myth. They know almost everything about everything. Often times, they know better than the parents! An integral part of parenting is to have open conversations even on “seemingly difficult or taboo” subjects like sex or a biological process like menstruation or divorce. Children have no notion of right or wrong. And none of what is socially taboo is really wrong. So, by not discussing with them or telling them what we know when they ask us, we are encouraging them to either conform to mindless social norms or to think of those subjects as wrong! Which is unfair. For if sex were something wrong to indulge in then children wouldn’t be born in the first place. Or how can a biological process, which is as an aspect of creation, be wrong? It is like saying facial hair in men is wrong – even if you don’t like it, can you do anything about the way a male is biologically engineered? Is going for a divorce really wrong? It is only an affirmation of incompatibility between two people – which really is a great step towards their own happiness and inner peace. It’s another matter that most parents can’t handle incompatibility issues maturely and make the divorce process messy – particularly for their children.

Don’t philosophize the truth with your children. Tell it the way it is. Children are phenomenally intuitive. They grasp the truth. And internalize it quickly. My own experience with parenting has been full of interesting moments of truth and learning opportunities.
I remember when our son was about three years old, we attended the weddings of a few of our friends – all of which took place in the same year. And naturally, in the following year, some of these women got pregnant. We attended their baby shower events with our son in tow. Around then, my wife and I were also expecting our second one. One evening our son demanded to know from my wife: “Mom, how do people have babies?” My wife replied matter-of-factly: “When they get married!” There was a long silence for several minutes. It appeared to us that our son had forgotten both the question and the answer. He seemed to be immersed in playing with his collection of Hot Wheels miniature cars. Suddenly he looked up and shot his next question: “But dad and you never got married, so how did you have me? And now you are having another baby?” Startled, my wife and I looked at each other and smiled. Obviously, since our son was not at our wedding, he didn’t think of us as married at that time! I explained: “Babies are born when a man and a woman come together. Most of the times they are married when they come together. Just as your mom and I. You will learn how this works when you grow older. It’s pretty simple actually!” That’s it! Our son did not have another question. And we have never discussed it again!
Children are also always watching their parents – and imitating them. The first heroes and icons for a child are her or his parents. As a young CEO, I was wantonly aggressive in my 30s. I used swearwords all the time. My son was barely eight when I caught him swearing. The computer, on which he was playing a video game,  was hanging. “F#%$!”, he swore. I happened to be in the room. I looked at him and told him in a stern tone: “No! That’s not a word you must use son!”. He shot back: “But you use it all the time!” I remember being caught defenseless. I quickly apologized to him and promised him that I would not use it again. My assurance didn’t matter to him, I suppose, for he asked: “What does f#%$ mean, dad?” I concealed my shock and replied with a straight face: “It’s a word that people use to swear. It means the act of sex that a man and woman have. Again, I am sorry for using it. It’s not a word that people should use. Definitely not children. And you will understand this word and what sex means when you grow up. I won’t use the word again. It will be nice if you also don’t use it!” From that day on, I curbed my urge to swear – eventually I have given up swearing totally! I guess my son may be swearing at times, like most people do in a subconscious sort of way these days – but I am also sure he will remember this conversation from an educational perspective, of what he learned from me, just as the way I remember teaching him!
Surely, discussing the truth – in any context – is always uncomfortable. Yet, whenever we have had to discuss difficult situations or issues with my son and my daughter, through their teens and into adulthood now, my wife and I have always told them the truth. If we know better than them we share what we know. If we don’t know something, we admit we don’t know. Simple. At the end of every conversation, we pause and ask them if they have questions. If they don’t we invite them to come forward to ask them whenever they have one. We have found this approach very productive; evidence being that their adolescent years have been very enriching – full of learning, sharing and camaraderie – for all of us!
The initial growing up years of children, from childhood to adulthood, are both precocious and precious. It is important that parents hold their hands and walk them through this phase. What they learn through this time stays with them forever. Irrespective of the circumstances in which you have to be a parent to them and irrespective of the environment they have to grow up in, if you can help your children know and face the reality of their lives, of this world, you will have given them the best education that they can possibly receive. One reason why many of us like to avoid telling it as it is to children is because our parents never told us so. But that’s not a great excuse. The world we live in is not the same world in which we were raised. What our parents did__or did not do__was from their worldly view. Surely we don’t necessarily hold the same view. So, we can be progressive, a lot more liberal and certainly direct and upfront. Not that our children will not learn without us. They eventually will. But there’s greater joy in educating our children and empowering them with the truth than watching them struggle, stumble, fall and learn!

Parenting ‘young adults’: Know when to let go!

The much-publicized showdown (this has been covered extensively by the media in Chennai) between celebrated Tamil film director Cheran and his daughter Damini, over Damini’s choice of a Life partner, leaves us with very significant questions that, I am sure, are on the mind of every parent who has a young adult at home waiting to make Life choices. The questions are:
  •     How much parental control is right and necessary in helping “young adult” children make Life choices, especially with regard to their companions?
  •      What does a parent do when the young adult child is, at least in the eyes of the parent, committing a mistake, virtually hara-kiri?
  •      What must be done when parents and young adult children can’t understand each other anymore?

The New Indian Express: Aug 4 2013
But first, let’s quickly review the Cheran-Damini context. Damini says she wants to marry and live with her boyfriend Chandru, who was an apprentice in Cheran’s office. She has complained to the Chennai Police Commissioner that her father used goons to harass Chandru and even had him roughed up on a few occasions. Cheran, on the other hand, has clarified that he is not against his daughter choosing her Life companion but is against her relationship with Chandru, whose character, says Cheran, is “not very good”.

Prima facie, both father and daughter appear to be right in looking at things the way they are, from where each of them is seeing it! Damini believes in Chandru implicitly. And Cheran refuses to. Possibly Cheran has his own valid reasons – because he’s looking at Chandru as a parent and not as a lover. So, he’s seeing something that Damini, at this time, given her age and her limited exposure, is not seeing. Now, the best way forward for both parties is to let go. First for Cheran to let go and accept that his daughter is now a young adult, who cannot and must not be controlled. And, next, for Damini to appreciate that her father is no villain and only wants her not to be hurt in the future, if her choice of being with Chandru, does not work out for whatever reason.

Fundamentally, we parents must accept and appreciate that our children have very different and unique Life paths from our own. Just because something happened to us, it is not necessary that the same will happen to our children. So, let go of that anxiety or expectation – whichever way you are looking at things. Especially when dealing with young adults__irrespective of the legal definition, any child over 16 years of age, per me, qualifies for this classification__employ a simple process (that will address, among other things, the three questions that were raised above) in all matters where conflicting viewpoints emerge:
  •      Advise – First attempt advise. Share your Life experience with regard to the context on hand. Place both pros and cons. Transparently. Calmly. Enable informed and intelligent choice-making by your child.
  •      Champion – When you notice that your child persists with a choice that you don’t agree with, invite the child for another round of conversations. Don’t reprimand. Remember: each individual is adventurous in her or his own way. Your child perhaps loves experimenting. Don’t restrain that spirit. Instead, champion your school of thought, calmly, with compassion. Outline where the child’s choice will end up, according to you, should the child insist on walking down that path. Always remind the child that if she or he fails, she or he is “welcome” back home anytime.
  •      Let Go! – When you still don’t see your child picking up your sage counsel, simply let go! Keep an open mind. Wish your child well. Be open to you being wrong with your assumptions. Because ultimately, it is your child’s happiness that you want. And not wanting to prove your correctness or yourself right!
  •      Never say ‘I told you so!’ – Should the child’s gambit fail, and she or he has to come back to you, simply receive her or him unconditionally. Don’t rub it in. Don’t say “I told you so!”. This is not an ego battle that you have won. Your child is back with you only because she or he realizes the mistake. Celebrate that learning, so that the mistake is not repeated, with care and compassion.

This process works fine in any context. Whether your child has a problem with academics or alcohol or tobacco or relationships or values. This process, above all, ensures peace and harmony while dealing with different approaches to Life and wherever conflicting views, between parent and child, emerge on Life choices being made.

I have learned from Life that there is no right way or wrong way to live Life. Each of us has our own journeys, peppered with our own unique experiences that lead us to our own personal learnings. The most important aspect of parenting is to know when to advise and when to let go. To be sure, by letting go, you are not being irresponsible. In fact, you are being mature – because you are preserving decorum and harmony in the relationship with your “young adult” child. The world is already ridden with enough strife and misunderstandings. Surely, you don’t want your small world too to be torn asunder by the same factors. Each of us learns to live Life more from experience than from being told how to live it! So, this Friendship Day, choose to be your “young adult” child’s best friend! Simply enable her or his learning too by letting go and, if required, getting out of the way!


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!!


Don’t come in the way of your children!


Don’t come in the way of your children. Let them journey through their lives and find their own paths.
We try to possess our children just because we gave birth to them and therefore we are ‘rightfully’ (that’s a delusionary claim, in my humble opinion!) worried for them. The very idea of possession is so vulgar. It reduces the child to a thing. You possess a thing. You don’t possess your children. You have them in your Life because you are blessed! Parenting is a blessing and is not your birthright!
I read some very tragic stories in the media over the last couple of days. That got me thinking on parenting, responsible parenting at that, all over again. And when I refer to parenting, I am not just referring to biological parents here. I am addressing the role of teachers, society and media, besides the natural parents.
Ashok Kumar
The first story is of a 15-year-old school boy from Chennai, R.Ashok Kumar, who was the runner-up in the National (Indian) Badminton championships. When he returned to Chennai with his medal and certificates, his school admonished him for missing too many classes ‘in the name of sports’! His mother, who works as a maid in households in the neighborhood, is at a loss on what to do. She says her son loves the sport but is ‘worried’ because the school threatens to throw him out. This was also the fate of young Indian cricket star, Unmukt Chand, 19, who led India to victory in the U-19 Cricket World Cup a few months ago. His college, St.Stephen’s in New Delhi, initially did not allow him to appear for his exams because he did not have enough attendance! It then took some backlash in public for the college to revoke its insensitive and senseless stand!
At least, in these two cases, we can see that the children as still in a younger age group, and therefore having __ not mandatorily, in my humble opinion again__to be answerable or responsible towards a school or college, apart from their own families.
Gaurav Jain
But take the case of this young post-graduate, Gaurav Jain, from New Delhi. The Hindu reports that after picking up a Master’s Degree from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication’s Amravati campus this year, Gaurav realized he needed to live the Life of a poor person if he wanted to honestly critique public policy. So, on September 10, 2012, he hired a cycle rickshaw from Roop Nagar (a New Delhi suburb) for Rs. 40 a day, giving his driving license as collateral. Apart from actually living the Life of the folks on the street, Jain also writes a blog on his daily learnings. Titled ‘The other side of the Fence’, his blog, cycletorickshaw.blogspot.in, chronicles his Life and times. And Life on the street is not easy. It has his own upheavals. Jain, given his education, started to mobilize the unorganized cycle rickshaw pullers into a team so that they could demand better fares from customers and better treatment from the high-handedness of the cops, who normally give members of this trade a raw deal. A few weeks ago, Jain was assaulted by a cop for “parking in a no-parking zone”. The story made it to the papers in New Delhi. And Jain’s family flipped! They had no idea their son was a rickshaw puller. And so they actually threw him out. They disowned him! And Jain found himself sharing a 100-sq ft space in a small tenement with six other daily wage earners! The Hindu further reports further that since this incident, his family and Jain have made peace. Jain is now back home. Enriched with his experience, he is now looking for positions where he can apply his real-world perspective in matters of public policy!
Can you imagine a family actually disowns, even if for just a few weeks, an adult son, just because he dared to be different __ with a good reason to boot?
This brings us to a larger question, a common thread, that passes through all three stories and is possibly playing out in your own homes too! And that is the rather sick trend of parents (and teachers) coming in the way of their children’s dreams! If you have adolescent children you will relate to this even more. You are finding now that your child, who until now, was listening to you, does not want to be told ‘anything’. You are beginning to wonder if your child is focused on academics. You worry, therefore, for your child’s grades and job prospects. If this is happening in your home, let me tell you that YOU are losing it! Your worry is understandable. But you acting from that worry __ what you fear about your child’s future __ is totally unacceptable. Instead why can’t you act from faith __ in your child’s desire and ability to make intelligent, independent choices about her or his Life? And why can’t you have faith in your ability to guide, counsel and support your child’s vision for herself or himself? Your children want to live THEIR lives. Get this straight. If you have taught them good values and share a good bond with them, then, you have raised them well! You have got an ‘A’. Beyond this, please, let us__that you and me__not come in their way.
If a child wants to take up badminton or tennis or cricket as a career or act in movies or ride a cycle rickshaw or be a ragpicker, what, pray, is the harm? How many more doctors and engineers and lawyers and software programmers do we want to produce in this world? And if children don’t take those decisions how will we have next the Saina Nehwal or Roger Federer or Sachin Tendulkar or Amitabh Bachchan or Gandhi? How will we have a better world if we keep championing conservative, secure careers, accepting mediocrity in thinking and limiting the aspirations of our children?
Here’s a simple test that you may want to take in your private time. Do it with just yourself. If you are a parent, ask yourself:
  1. Am I doing what I enjoy doing and love doing or am I just earning a living?
  2. Given a choice wouldn’t I want to be doing something totally different from what I do to earn a paycheck just now?
  3. Do I want to see my child as a well qualified professional or do I wish for her or him to be a well-rounded human being?
  4. Will I feel proud my child owned a villa and four cars or will I be happier if she or he touched the lives of people, made a difference to this world and inspired millions?
You know what you answered. You know what needs to be done. You are not dumb-headed because you are the parent (or teacher) of such a beautiful, intelligent child! So, please, for heaven’s sake, get out of the way of your child’s future. Your child needs your love, your understanding, not your ‘help’ and certainly not your decisions that are born from your insecurities, fears and worries!