The most important role of a parent is to enable a child’s bliss.
My friend is stressed out over his 15-year-old son’s “future”. The lad has below average grades in high school and is unsure of what he wants to do in Life.
I believe this is a perfectly normal state for anyone to be in. So, I advised my friend not to be stressed out. “In fact, you must celebrate that your son does not know what he wants to do. If you are cluelessness in Life it is a great state to be in. I was clueless about what Life meant to me till I was 35, and now, I am have no clarity about how long it will take me to fix the material, professional and financial dimensions of my Life,” I told him. (Read more here to understand the context in which I made my statement: Fall Like A Rose Petal).
I am not sure my friend is convinced with my perspective. Even if he isn’t, it is fine. Life doesn’t offer any of us, any more clarity than what we think we have. The best way to move forward in Life is to go one step at a time, one moment at a time, one day at a time. This doesn’t mean you should not have a plan, that you should not have a long-term vision. You must. But if you don’t have a plan or a vision too it is perfectly okay. Over time, you will figure things out. There’s no point though getting keyed up with what’s happening around you and imagining that everyone’s getting “ahead in Life” while you are clueless. More than children, it is the parents who are keyed up over their children’s peers getting “ahead in Life”! And that’s pretty sad.
Let’s look at this from a higher plane. The truth is all of us have to end up dead – sooner or later. We are all speeding towards our deaths, but at different speeds! So, what is the sanctity about wanting to be ahead of the others? This keeda, this avoidable desire-virus, is what makes parents like my friend unnecessarily sweat over their children. The teens actually are a great time to experiment with Life – try out many things, decide which ones give joy, try these ones out more and eventually pick up that one thing that is immersive, blissful. Now, this decision about what to do in Life must not be a decision that’s based only on earning potential, career growth opportunities, reputation in society, marriage prospects and such. You must do only what makes you come alive and what you absolutely love doing – something that makes you lose yourself when you do it. And finding that something takes time – several years, in some instances. How then can parents expect their teens to attain this clarity?
But that’s exactly what parents across are demanding of their wards. Look around you. Every child out there is in line to be slaughtered on the altar of a “stable” career. Just because they have “memorized” syllabi and vomited them in exams to secure “high grades” people think their children are “brilliant”. The truth is their brilliance has been sacrificed in order for them to merely become employable. So, astronauts, musicians, sportspeople, actors, artists, chefs, designers and standup comedians end up becoming engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants and MBAs. Generations of parents have done this to their children. And children when they become parents perpetrate the same horror, the same injustice. In the name of concern for their children’s “future”, parents are literally crucifying the happiness of their kids. And while doing all this, instead of feeling accountable, they end up being stressed out and anxious?
Vaani and I are offering a Program called Zero-Anxiety Parenting – ZAP – targeted at parents of children and young adults. And through that Program, the one fundamental principle we wish to champion among parents of teens is this: “Please do not get in between your children and their bliss.” We encourage parents to trust their children’s choices, to trust the process of Life and to let go. We are calling for a paradigm shift in parents – we are imploring them to switch from merely wanting to see their children earn-a-living to parenting them in such a manner that they can see them living, thriving and being happy! Only when parents start celebrating their children truly, they stop being anxious.
Don’t come in the way of your young adult child’s need to experience Life.
My friend and his young adult daughter had a spat. She wanted to go for a late night party. And he did not want her to go. She called him names and abused him using expletives. Their fight became public knowledge with him sharing the entire episode on Facebook. While one of my friend’s friends advised him to take a chill pill, take it easy and let his daughter have her share of fun, a few commented otherwise. They felt children had no right to “ill treat” their parents. Someone even said that children must not cross the line that parents draw for them.
I find this whole episode avoidable. It is an unevolved perspective that everyone connected with this incident seems to be bringing to the table. Why should any parent impose restrictions on an adult child? That the child used expletives, as claimed by the parent, is a clear sign that they both need to have a conversation not just on how to express themselves but also on values. Why should the parent rush to post this episode on Facebook? And finally how can it be insisted that adult children must toe the line of their parents? Aren’t adult children individuals in their own right?
I am not discounting that any parent has a concern for their child’s safety – whether the child is old enough or not! Even so, adult children demand dignity, empowerment, trust and freedom. And in my personal opinion, from experience, I can say that when entrusted with responsibility, they always take pretty good care of themselves. On her return home from her first late night out, when she was in her first year in college, Vaani and I spoke to our daughter Aanchal on why hanging out late can be both fun and risky. So, we shared some tips to make the experience easier for her and for us. After that night, she has always handled her late nights, her safety and her timings remarkably well.
Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter whether someone is an adult or a minor, a parent or an adult child, trust is integral to make people behave responsibly. When you tell someone you trust them you are inviting them to act with both empowerment and prudence. This is the only way forward to make relationships thrive.
Of course, when someone you trust lets you down or if they are circumstantially challenged to be unable to live up to your trust, then you must have honest conversations. You must invite them, while being compassionate, to introspect and course correct. And if they have a genuine reason for whatever happened to them, demonstrate more trust in them by being patient with their situation. At the end of the day, people are shaped by the experiences they go through and not only by the advice they receive.
So, coming back to this instance of parenting adult children, don’t come in the way of their need to experience Life on their terms. Just be available for them, to hug them and take them home, if ever they stumble or fall.
Trust not just your children to make informed choices, but trust the process of Life itself!
A friend called me saying his adult daughter who is in her final year at college does not speak much to him or his wife. She keeps traveling on some pretext or the other and prefers to be aloof. She does not seek any advice nor does she offer much information. “I am aware that she is making her choices without involving us because she feels we may not approve of her decisions. But in letting her just be, am I failing in my duty as a parent,” he asked.
Good question. Parenting is always a full-time job no matter how old your children are. With adult children there is always a question of having to respect their privacy. This is a conundrum that every parent faces.
So how much involvement must parents show in the lives of their children, especially if the children are young adults?
Let me share from our own experience of parenting. Vaani and I have kept our equation with our children simple. We have let honesty be the primary basis for all conversations. In any situation, we offer our perspective – not necessarily our opinion – and we leave the final choice to Aashirwad (26) and Aanchal (22). By perspective, I clearly mean we share what we have learned from Life in the given situation. We don’t ever say our way is the only way to have dealt with Life. We say: “this is what happened with us, this is how we dealt with it; it is up to you if you want to borrow from our experience.” We have always maintained that there is no right way or wrong way to live Life; there are no “our generation” or “your generation” issues; so we, in a way, have always encouraged experimentation and learning. Yes, on issues relating to values – integrity, compassion, respect for individuals – or non-negotiables – like drugs or drinking and driving – we remain unflinching and ruthlessly discourage any deviations. This approach has worked for us greatly. Aashirwad and Aanchal have always made their (informed) choices in Life, they have always kept an open channel of communication with us and important, they know that irrespective of the choices they make, they are always welcome back home should all that they try ever fail.
I believe that in dealing with adult children we must accord them the dignity as individuals and their privacy must be respected. If an adult child chooses not to discuss something with you it must be seen as one of two things – either the child does not trust you or the child wants time to herself or himself to sort things out. Either choice must be respected. Yes, if the child does not trust you, it is very important to understand why – but it is important also to recognize that the mistrust has crept in over time, over honest conversations not having been had.
Parenting is a blessing. But it is never easy. So, whenever in doubt, I simply lean on the one God of parenting I know – Khalil Gibran – and his wise words. They help me anchor in peace and learn to trust not just my own children better, they help me trust the process of Life itself!
A switch in attitude is crucial to “handling adulting s**t” as you enter your 20s!
The other day, at a café, I overheard two young people in their early 20s talk about how complex adulting is. They shared with each other the challenges of having to manage paying their bills, balance their cash-on-hand situation, their pay slips and tax returns; and also plan their investments in gadgets, vacations and wardrobes. It wasn’t that I was eavesdropping. But they were talking loudly – enough to distract me from checking Facebook on my phone! One of them added that she wasn’t ready for marriage yet because she wasn’t quite sure she could handle all this “adulting s**t”! “I can’t now start raising babies when I myself have not grown up from being a baby,” she remarked.
I found the whole perspective amusing. I met Vaani when I was 19, I proposed to her when I was 20 and we married when I was 21. We had Aashirwad when I was 23 and she was 24 – she is a year older than I am! I don’t want to sound like a boring old man now and say how small our monthly income then was and how we managed and blah! But instead I want to say that adulting is so much fun.
I guess it clearly depends on how you look at it. Having been under the watchful care of parents for almost 20 years (I always feel Indian parents too should embrace the American way of sending away their kids into the big world when they turn 17), our children tend to take for granted a sense of security. This, besides the fact that almost everything – housing, food, out-of-pocket expenses and education – are taken care of. There is always this attitude that most urban Indian children, coming from middle-class and upper middle-class backgrounds, have: they are groomed, raised and tuned to ask, is everything ready for me? When they step into independent adult Life, they are perhaps not even attitudinally ready. They ought to be thinking, feeling and saying, am I ready for everything, in fact, anything? This orientation, this switch, is crucial to be adult-ready!
I believe as parents we have to engineer this switch in attitude. No serious preparation is required. Just honest conversations – not only on how money is earned and bills are paid, but also on relationships, the upheavals of Life, on compassion, love, loving, relationships and the Purpose of Life itself. We did that a lot, and still do that, with our children Aashirwad and Aanchal. When Aash went away to University of Chicago he was barely 18. He wasn’t ready then to absorb perhaps everything that we were sharing with him, but his “adventures through adulting”, I guess, helped him connect the dots. For Aanchal, just her physically being with us as we navigate a tumultuous, cathartic phase in our Life, (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), helped her grow into being adult-ready. She had to often jump in and take charge, which she always did, apart from watching, from close quarters, how real world challenges are faced and dealt with.
The whole process of parenting and grooming adult children is not at all as complex as it appears to be. And I repeat, adult Life is a lot of fun! The simple change in attitude that we must all encourage in our adult children and what they must embrace is this: stop asking is everything ready for me and instead ask, am I ready for everything, anything?
Life is inscrutable – we all know that. So, the best way to meet Life daily is to be ready, and willing, to accept everything that comes your way! This is not specific to adulting at all. This is what Life is all about. But since this lesson is never openly shared in the course of everyday conversations in our homes, our children aren’t oriented to look at Life this way. Just that switch in perspective can make their adulting experience so much richer, so much more enjoyable!