Here’s a lesser known secret to intelligent living.
A young lady got in touch with me. She said she was living-in with her best friend. But on the subject of getting married and having children, the couple, she informed, were in complete disagreement. “We love each other dearly. We like being in each other’s presence and we miss each other when we are not together. Where we differ is on getting married and having children. He wants to marry, he wants children and I don’t want either. Is it okay for me to disagree with him on something as important as that and still love him,” she asked.
I told the lady that it is possible and fine to differ with someone on an opinion or issue and still get along with that person. Even so, she must consider the long-term aspirations of her partner in the backdrop of their relationship – we will discuss that part in a bit.
First, let us talk about disagreeing with someone on an issue and still having a friendship, still loving that someone. I personally feel it is definitely okay to be that way. This is not about being hypocritical or practicing double-standards. This is a mature way of learning to separate issues from people.
It is definitely not easy to start with. But when you view any situation closely, you will find that it is imminently possible to deal with it dispassionately, which is always the best way too! What happens though is when we have a difference of opinion with someone, we try to avoid or even reject that person. We start finding newer flaws with that person in order to magnify and justify our difference of opinion. So, for instance, say you disagree with your friend’s political views. And you get into a strong argument with that friend. Instead of shaking hands with that friend at the end of a stimulating discussion, you choose to just walk away. The next time you meet that friend, you are carrying the baggage of the last experience and you begin to wonder why he or she is dressed the way they are. You start justifying your last opinion of this person with a fresh sentiment saying this person does not even know how to be properly groomed. And so this ruinous cycle of ‘building a case’ to isolate the person itself, not just the views, begins. It happens subconsciously. But it happens all the time in most relationships we have.
Pause for a moment now. Think of all the situations when you have disagreed with people in the last week. Just in the last 7 days. Review your sentiments, even the ones you may have not expressed but experienced in your mind, of these people. Objectively enlist the number of times you were on the ‘building a case’ mode with these people. To your surprise, in each of the instances when you disagreed on an issue, you have subconsciously, taken the route to justify and magnify the difference of opinion, often beyond the issue itself. You will be surprised how habituated you are to this practice.
We must break free from this thinking though. Three simple steps may be helpful here: 1. Acknowledge that each one is entitled to their opinion 2. If you disagree remember always that the disagreement is with the issue, the opinion, never with the person 3. Conclude each disagreement session with a smile and say clearly, passionately, that you hope to find a meeting ground sometime soon on this issue! Apply this to every relationship you have and to every episode where you have felt or expressed disagreement. Start with your list of last week and work back, ensuring also, that going forward you will not let any new disagreements assume demonic, irrevocable proportions.
In the lady’s specific case, the difference of opinion is not over political ideology or food preferences or movie options or a dressing sense. It is not even about marriage; disagreeing over that, in my view, can be managed and overcome. It is about something very special, very personal – the desire to have children. So, in case she maintains her stand while her partner still nurtures the aspiration to have children, at some point, their disagreement may lead to a separation. And there’s a learning here for all of us – if your disagreement is over something so fundamental that it may lead to you separating from the person you are disagreeing with, then accept the outcome gracefully. Don’t sweat over it – after all, it was your choice to disagree, so please respect the other person’s choice to move on.
The key point I am making here is that you can surely disagree with someone without being disagreeable to them and without feeling miserable yourself. Therein lies a lesser known secret to intelligent living!
A couple came to us wondering how they can separate while ensuring that their children are not affected. I shared how my friend and his wife worked out a win-win arrangement, based on my advice, that has helped them both immensely. On this Podcast, I talk about how it is possible for a couple to set aside their differences if they choose to keep their children at the centre of their Universe. Any fight that is ego-driven is not worth it. Focus instead on a “working arrangement” when the relating between two people goes out the window.
Listen time: 5:31 minutes
Can you gift your children their best friend today – “You”?
My blogpost yesterday on parenting had some people write in to me. A common thread that linked all the questions and sentiments was this: “How do you draw the line between being a parent and a friend? How do you decide when is the good time to step in and take charge when your child is drifting away?”
I will answer this from our own experience of raising Aashirwad (now 26) and Aanchal (now 21). We resolved early on to treat them both as individuals, allowing them the freedom to make their own choices from when they were toddlers. When they entered their teens, we told them both that we are their best friends, that we will always be available for them. And, we made it clear to them that in certain contexts, we will surely talk from our experience of what is right for them and what is not. To take our advice or draw from our experience, we said, was always left to them. We often summed up any parenting conversation with this line: “We are your best friends. But if you see us behaving like your parents, remember, you are responsible for it.” Let me tell you, this empowering approach with our children has really worked for Vaani and me. Of course, our children have stumbled, fallen, got hurt, cried and made poor choices – but each time they have come back to us, and continue to come back, for our perspectives.
So, I would recommend that if you want your children to grow up to be mature, intelligent, responsible, good, caring, loving human beings, stop being their parent. Start being their best friend.
True friendship is the ability to speak your mind, without being overbearing, and yet being available without being emotional or nasty or preachy with a regrettable “I-told-you-so”. The only way we can enjoy parenting without worrying and being anxious, is by being our kids’ best friends. Remember: they are your children. They are intelligent. They like to be treated with dignity. Sit with them. Have conversations. They will want to go back to Facebook. They will want to be on the phone for hours together talking silly nothings. They will want to run away for a movie than stay back and do the dishes. Don’t lose patience. Friends don’t. Parents do. And sometimes, despite your advice not to do a certain thing__like enter into a relationship or take up an extracurricular activity that will distract from the core academic curriculum__ your child may do it and then will come back home, heartbroken, defeated and want to cry on your shoulder. At that time please don’t say, “I-told-you-so!” Say instead, that you know what it means to feel lost in Life and that you say so, because you too have been there, done that. That’s how friends talk to each other. Tell your child you know what it means to be in her or his shoes. Watch the difference in your child’s attitude. See the learning, the awakening happen.
At the same time, good parenting is also being firm and steadfast on values. Your conversations with your child must be always full of anecdotes and not just preachings. You must lead the values campaign at home by example. If you want your child to know what integrity means, then demonstrate it. Don’t expect your child to practice integrity if you both are going to watch a pirated movie downloaded illegally online or if you are going to bribe a cop on the street (in India) because you parked wrongly! If you want your child to understand dignity and equal opportunity, practice that with your spouse first. If you don’t want your child to smoke, you must quit smoking yourself. If you don’t want your child to drink and drive, you stop doing that first! Of course, children will want to experience sex, sooner than we would want them to. Again your conversations help here. Don’t stop them from doing it. Tell them instead, when is it a better time to do it. And why.
And then take a few positions on what’s a no-no as far as your family is concerned: swearing in public, drugs, being rude, dishonesty, lying, whatever, lay down certain ground rules and make sure no one __ that includes you __ breaks them. Despite this if your child breaks one or more of them, get back into conversation mode.
Our parenting doesn’t make a child rebel. Our being unavailable when they want us is what makes them rabid. Fundamentally understand that children are human too. They have their own independent view of a world they are waiting to explore. Let us allow them that space while we remain available to them. Let us not bring our anxieties, insecurities and experiences into limiting their lives. If you believe you are a good human being, despite all that you have seen and been through in Life, know that your child too will eventually emerge as one.
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Being a parent is a blessing, it is not a birthright!
Someone we know is very, very keyed up that her adolescent son is not focusing on his academics at all. The young chap’s apparently only wanting to play outdoor sports and hang out with his friends. The mother laments that “since he’s in his 12th grade, getting past school and into a reputed college is crucial”. She’s also stressed out because a. she believes her son is a very intelligent and capable child who does get “80+ % without even studying” and b. she herself lost out in academics for the same reasons around when she was his age, so she doesn’t want history to repeat itself! She desperately wants her son to “wake up, smell the coffee and take his Life seriously.”
When she shared her “concerns” about her boy with us, I told her to take a chill pill. In my opinion, the young man is to be celebrated for “waking up, smelling the coffee and for taking his Life seriously”! Simply because he refuses to be boxed into a decadent education system and pinned down by a race for grades that are really worthless in Life.
Interestingly, while most parents may agree with this perspective, they will refuse to allow their children to break-free. And the reason is that all parental influence on their wards comes from them viewing Life through the ‘earn-a-living’ prism alone. Why should your child slog to top exams and get the highest GPA? So that she or he can get a top-draw salary in a “growth sector” industry. Sadly, few parents encourage their children to look away from the compulsion of ‘earning-a-living’; fewer still champion happiness and ‘following your bliss’.
Apart from the insecurity that their children may end up not being ‘economically viable and performing’ assets, what drives parents to be conservative and wary is that they want to possess, to control their children. We imagine we can possess our children just because we gave birth to them; that’s why we always justify our ‘rightfully’ worrying 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 child. You have children in your Life only because you are blessed!
Carefully consider this question – why are you worried for your adolescent child’s career and future? And the possible answer – you are finding 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 losing focus 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 unfounded. And if you are acting from that worry, from what you fear about your child’s future, it is totally unacceptable. Instead why can’t you act from faith in your child’s aspirations 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, not yours. Get this straight. If you have raised them well, taught them good values and share a good bond with them, then, surely you have raised them well! You have got an ‘A+’. Beyond this, please, let us not come in their way.
If a child wants to take up badminton or tennis or cricket as a career or teach or join the defense forces or act in movies or ride a cycle rickshaw or be a rag-picker, 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 the next Kailash Satyarthi or Abdul Kalam or Dr.Shantha or P.V.Sindhu or Roger Federer or Virat Kohli or A.R.Rahman or Amitabh Bachchan or Zohra Seghal or Gandhi? How can we make our world any better if we keep championing predictable, ‘secure’ careers, accepting mediocrity in thinking and limiting the aspirations and creativity 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:
- Am I doing what I enjoy doing and love doing or am I just ‘earning-a-living’?
- Given a choice wouldn’t I want to be doing something totally different from what I do to earn a pay check just now?
- Do I want to see my child as a well-qualified but incomplete and unhappy professional or do I wish for her or him to be a well-rounded, happy human being?
- 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 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, your support; not your ‘help’, not your advice and certainly not your decisions that are born from your insecurities, fears and worries!
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Allow your children the freedom of choice: don’t insist that they see Life from your point of view alone.
When visiting a friend’s place for Golu last evening, I was asked if we were looking out for a marriage alliance for our son. Well, our son is 26 and therefore, given our culture and prevalent norms, I was not surprised with the question at all. In fact, our daughter is 21 and it is only a matter of time before people are curious enough to suggest matches for her too. In reply to the question last evening, I said that both Vaani and I had left the choice of finding their companions to our two children. But our friend went on to say that we “must definitely influence our children to get married”. He elaborated that we must show them the “right direction” and help them make “informed decisions”.
I disagreed politely and so the conversation went on to graze on other topics.
But this morning, as I sat down to write this blogpost, the question I was asked, and my answer, were uppermost in my mind. I often 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, sometimes 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! Children cannot choose their sex or their parents or their homes or their places of birth or even their names. Everything is given. In fact, everything’s forced. So, obviously, we must at least give our children the opportunity to choose – in matters where it is still possible to exercise a choice – what, or who, they love! 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, to marry, whom to marry, when to marry, to have children, when to have them and so on and on. One area where parental force does not work is in deciding the sex of their grandchildren – and, at least in India, that is the cause of a condemnable and despicable social practice!
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 he or she has, they are 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 has worked for you and what has not? How about empowering the child, over time, to take her or his own informed decisions? How about teaching children to learn from their mistakes – irrespective of whether the mistakes happened because of indecision or poor decision or even 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 influence the child to study a said field. 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.
And, of course, coming back to the question of last evening, of a marriage-related conversation with an adult child, for all the perspectives cited above, Vaani and I have left it to our children to make their own decisions. In fact, we have told them that marriage is only an unnecessary social label – totally avoidable when you can relate to your companion and believe in the companionship! That’s the way Vaani and I live our lives. Why would we influence our children to live any differently?
Worrying about your children is pointless.
Vaani and I host a quarterly Event Series called Heart of Matter – Happiness Conversations along with the InKo Centre here in Chennai. At last weekend’s edition, we were in conversation with parents of special children. We talked about how parents coped with their new realities, and how they demonstrated grit and acceptance, to help their children pave inspirational paths. One of the parents, M.S.Ramesh, who is the father of entrepreneurs Sriram and Sunder Ram (both of whom were struck by cerebral palsy in their childhood) of Twin Twigs, had this to say: “When the doctors gave me this diagnosis about my children, my first reaction was ‘what next’….I didn’t ask ‘why’ or ‘why us’…I just moved on practically, to consider the next course of action.”
I find phenomenal value in embracing Ramesh’s approach and philosophy to parenting. Although we all know that worrying itself is futile, we still worry. Worse, we worry more about our children, than about ourselves, only because we feel protective towards and possessive about them.
As parents, all of us want our children to live comfortable and happily. We don’t wish that pain, in any form, touch them. Now, the truth is, what we wish for as parents is never going to happen. Our children are going to encounter pain, they are going to suffer if they don’t learn to be accepting of the Life that they get, they are going to be unhappy until they learn how to live in this world and yet be above it. Important, our children are possibly going to end up making the same mistakes that we made and what we don’t want them to make. They are more likely to reject our sage counsel than accept them. They are sure to stumble, fall down, grope in the dark, fight, resist, kick-about and then come around to discovering that their parents (aka us) were, after all, right. A young lady, in her late 20s now, we met last week said how much she could relate to what her parents had told her during her adolescent years and through young adulthood. “I feel they were sincere and profound with their perspectives. Every word rings true now,” she confessed.
So between two points of view – of the parent in Ramesh and the child in the young lady – I guess we have a pragmatic approach that’s worth considering. Keeping my focus on parenting and on parents’ tendency to get keyed up about their children, I would just say this: take a chill pill.
No amount of worrying about your children is going to make their Life journey simpler or easier. If you have children who are not taking your advice, please tell them what you have to say, and then let them go do what they want. If you have children who are dealing with a crisis that they can’t resolve or you can’t help them solve, pray for them if you believe in the power of prayer; if you don’t believe in prayer, just let them be and trust the process of Life. After all, you too have waged so many battles in and with Life to be where you are today. So simply trust that your children too will get past their crisis phases.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t live your children’s lives. No matter how much you wish, you can’t make their lives any more comfortable. No matter how much you want to, you can’t prevent them from going through their share of pain, unhappiness, suffering and catharsis. So, stop worrying about your children. As Khalil Gibran (1883~1931) has said, “…They are not your children…They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”
The reason why you have a child is not for you to worry yourself thinking about getting him or her married.
A friend and I got together after several years. His daughter is now doing her final year in law school. She wants to be a sports lawyer. And wants to go abroad to pick up a Master’s degree in that field. But my friend and his wife want to get her married. “In my community, girls cannot go out of the country without getting married. Besides, what is the need for my daughter to do a Master’s when she has to actually focus on raising a family,” explained my friend. I was both shocked and disturbed by what my friend had to say. We had ordered a drink and in silent protest I cancelled my order. I felt very uncomfortable calling a man who had such primitive, regressive thoughts on parenting, my friend. I pretended I had an urgent call from home and said that I had to leave. But before I left I told him this: “This may seem like unsolicited advice. But please don’t come in the way of your child’s dream. You have not brought her into this world for her to only marry and raise children. She has the potential to make this world a better place. Please allow her to do that.”
I have no idea if my well-meaning appeal made any difference to my friend’s thinking. But what he had to say left me very, very concerned for what’s happening around us.
I just don’t get this. Why would parents want to interrupt – and how could they – their childrens’ Life plans? I see so many parents around me vexing over the marriage of their young adult children as if the raison d’etre of these young folks is to have sex and procreate. If this sounds crass, let’s learn to live with it. Because that’s precisely what parents of my generation continue to do with their children, of course, they camouflage it in a socially acceptable framework called an “arranged marriage”. In fact, nothing seems to have changed. For they continue to perpetrate the same crime that’s been going on for generations now. I can’t quite understand why parents need to “worry” about their young adult children? Why not just let them be and allow them to figure out Life for themselves? Let them marry when they want, to who they want to live with. If they want to live in, and not marry, so be it. I would much rather that parents hoped that their children found true love, companionship and understanding than rush to get them married.
For a change to come in social outlook and individual actions, the younger generation needs to speak up too. In the name of respecting their elders, many are unwittingly letting regressive thinking prevail. But there seems to be some hope. Yesterday, my son directed me to a Facebook post by a young gentleman called Dhruv Deshpande . Google him and check out his post of June 13th – it has gone viral!!! He invites people of his generation to work on making the world a better place, one parent at a time: “…Today, the biggest propagators of the notion of rape culture, caste system, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia…are your parents’ generation, however latent it may be. Do not ignore it because you think you’re respecting your parents…If you trace it, squash it. Let it be an argument, a fight, a stand-off, but don’t give up on your parents by silently letting them be carriers of social evils…So, stop preaching online. Look behind your computer screens at the wrinkled little lovable bigot you’re living with. If you love them, tell them they’re wrong. They’re wrong a lot…” I feel Dhruv’s said it. And said it well. To the list of social evils he has there, I will add the scourge of arranged marriages in the name of “performing duty”, “keeping the honor of the community intact” and “in order for parents and grandparents to die peacefully”.
In my humble opinion, it is a grave mistake for a parent to not know what his or her child dreams of. It is a graver sin, of course, to come in the way of that dream, citing as an excuse, of all things, an arranged marriage!
Faith, not religion, and being grateful, not ritualistic, are the keys to facing Life’s upheavals.
When I was raised, there was an effort, naturally, to mold me in the classic TamBram culture of being God-fearing and ritualistic. I first resisted that attempt – not entirely to challenge the existence of a Higher Energy but more to rebel against my parents – but soon, as I graduated to adulthood and began a family with Vaani, I developed my own method for communion with divinity. I retained my secular and pragmatic, non-ritualistic, outlook to Life even as I visited places of worship seeking inner peace, answers to existential questions and often to simply recharge myself. Over time, I came to the understanding that religion is completely avoidable – in fact, it is my personal opinion that it must be treated like a narcotic, it should be never tried and must possibly be banned on the planet! I also understood that the real God is the one that is within, your Life source that keeps you alive and going. It is the same Higher Energy that powers the Universe that is in you, in me. So, in effect, you are the God you seek. So the right way to be is to not be God-fearing but God-loving! Which is why, as I have realized, it is very, very important to keep the faith in yourself. Swami Vivekananda sums this up so beautifully: “He is an atheist who does not believe in himself.”
I believe it is the responsibility of all parents to raise their children with this understanding of Life and champion the relevance of faith in today’s times. Faith is not what you have in an external agent or resource. Faith is what you fundamentally have in yourself. It is the awareness that if you have been created you will be looked after and cared for. It is this awareness that can help anyone get through Life’s upheavals and crises. Surely no one’s Life is going to be free of problems and challenges. No one is going to get through Life without facing at least one situation that defies logic and human problem-solving skills. It is to deal with such a situation that we must teach our children the value of keeping the faith in themselves – which is, really, in the Higher Energy that has created all of us! Indeed, the presence of a teacher – someone, who can lead and coach without bringing in religion or rituals – will be highly valuable here. But the absence of such a person is never going to stall one’s inner evolution and awakening. Faith is so unique and intensely personal that when there is faith anything – a.k.a miracles per the world – is possible!
We must remember, however, that faith works miracles only when you develop and retain an attitude of gratitude. Even in the gravest of situations, if you are grateful for the Life you have – at the most elementary-yet-profound level for simply being alive; remember, you are having this experience only because you are alive! – you will find that Life will always open doors. You may not often find all the solutions you are looking for, but you will discover newer ways and means for experiencing Life, for facing your situation and for lasting yet another day.
As parents we have to teach our children the right values no doubt. We must give them the freedom of choice to live their lives their way surely. But, in addition, we must also teach them how to keep the faith and how to express their gratitude for this free, unsolicited (none of us have asked to be born!), limited-period gift called Life. Protecting our children from going through their upheavals and learning curves in Life will never work. Each one of us has to bear our own cross. So it is for our children too. We can be there for our children, we can be with them, we can walk with them every step of the way, but we can’t live their Life for them or instead of them. The only way our children too can evolve and grow up to be better human beings, more resilient and compassionate, is by learning to keep the faith that all is well and to be grateful for whatever is, the way it is!