A cardinal principle of parenting (especially of adolescents and young adults) is to not come in the way of the passions and dreams of your children.
In a recent story “The lure of foreign education” in Business Standard my former colleague (when I was with BusinessWorld/ABP) Anjuli Bhargava reviews the pros and cons of educating children abroad – especially if parents can afford it. I am not going to analyze her piece here. All I am going to say is that whether it is their education or their relationships or their careers, give your children the power of choice. Offer your insight from an experiential and values-based point of view. But leave the final decision to them. If you can fund their dreams, great. If you can’t afford to fund them, at least don’t stop them from chasing their dreams. Encourage them instead to believe in themselves, to trust the process of Life and that will lead them to find creative ways to fulfil whatever they are setting their sights on.
I talk from personal experience. Vaani and I have followed this principle with both our children – Aashirwad and Aanchal. In fact, the decision to send Aash to the University of Chicago in 2008 in the most improbable of circumstances – when we had no means to even cover living expenses for us in India dealing as we were with a bankruptcy (which we continue to endure) – and the story of his miraculous graduation from there is detailed in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Westland). I always tell Aash that his real education happened over the course of the four years of his undergrad program in the way he learnt to thrive in a multi-cultural environment and in how he conquered the harsh winters of Chicago. The degree that the University offered him is just a piece of paper. But what he learnt from Life on a US campus he will find unputdownable, and invaluable, over time. Aanchal is currently looking to do her Master’s overseas. And she’s working on getting her funding in place – through scholarships and grants. We know that she will find her way. So, what we have learnt, as a family, is to never come in the way of what Life is offering us. We truly appreciate the value of going with the flow.
Vaani and I believe parents must never weigh the aspirations of their children against their own (parents’) insecurities. This is not about education alone. Even in the matter of relationships and career choices, as parents, we must learn to let go. We must understand that our children have unique Life paths. Just because we went through a certain experience it need not be necessary that our children will go through the same. Yes, all of us parents are always wishing that our children must not encounter pain in Life. We want them to lead good, comfortable, prosperous, healthy and happy lives. But do you even see the futility in having this expectation? No amount of prayer or wishing by you can prevent your child from having to go through her or his unique Life path. To put it bluntly, you cannot live your child’s Life. You cannot prevent your child from experiencing pain. All you can do is to, if you know that art yourself, teach your child how not to suffer in the face of Life’s challenges, when pain strikes. And if you don’t know how to avoid suffering, then just back off. Let your child learn from her or his own unique experience. Also, please, please, don’t see your child’s Life as a financial opportunity, an investment that you must seek to extract a yield out of. Your child is not here to fulfil your dreams either. Nor is your child here to jump at your every whim, obey your every command and fear your every look. Your child’s future – be it education or marriage – is not a duty or responsibility either that needs to be ticked off as having been accomplished in your Things To Do list. Your child is, to quote Khalil Gibran, Life’s longing for itself; your child is born through you and not for you. And certainly, your child didn’t ask to be born. So let your child simply be. And believe me, or look at yourself – haven’t you, despite all your frailties and challenges survived and reached where you have in Life? – your child will be just fine!
Finally, allow me to suggest this. Be your child’s BFF. It’s far more fun than being your child’s parent! So, go get yourself a Snapchat account and an Instagram handle. Be an uber cool parent. For, parenting in today’s world, especially of adolescent and young adult children, can be a joyous opportunity to practice detachment, to let your hair down and to let go! And when you do let go, you will find that your children always turn out more responsible, more caring, more compassionate, more strong and more successful – in that inescapable worldly sense – than you would have ever thought of them to be!