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Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
If someone were to ask parents this question, they’d get a range of answers:
“I’m a strict parent.”
“I’m more of a friend than a parent to my children.”
“I just leave them alone unless they are wildly out of line.”
“I like to know exactly what’s going on in their lives.”
There is no ‘best’ kind of parent. It is merely your idea of what kind of parent you are. And yet, this very idea becomes your burden – and your child’s burden.
Let’s take the idea of “I’m a strict parent.” You say this with some pride. You are a no-nonsense parent who is bringing up ‘good’ children who will grow up to become ‘good’ and ‘worthy’ human-beings. You have your rules which you explain, clarify, and enforce consistently. You believe this is a ‘good’ kind of parent to be, so you have worked towards being this kind of parent: a ‘strict’ parent.
But by labeling yourself a ‘strict’ parent, you create a prison for yourself – you want to work always inside the boundaries of ‘strictness’ which you believe is ‘good’ in a parent.
Never mind that there are many occasions when your heart is melting. Just as you begin to respond with how you truly feel, you are reminded of how important you believe it is to be ‘strict’ and instead of giving your natural response, you give your ‘strict’ response, keeping up your image of yourself as a ‘good’ parent (all this image-building and maintenance is happening only inside your head! 🙂 )
Your child has just had a nightmare. You want to hold him close till you calm his fears and his trembling body. But you are very aware that you are a ‘strict’ parent, and no ‘strict’ parent would be so indulgent of what is, after all, only a bad dream. So you hold back, tell him “it is only a bad dream, there is nothing to worry about. Now go to sleep”, and force yourself to turn around and leave his room. Neither you nor your child is at peace. His fears are not assuaged, and your peace of mind is gone – because your response was based upon your idea of the kind of parent you are, instead of the parent you actually were at that moment – the one who wanted to gather her child close in her arms to make him feel safe and secure.
You’ve kept up your image, but at what cost to yourself? And to your child?
The ‘easy-going’ parent has the opposite kind of issues. There will be many situations which shock or appall you, which make you want to put your foot down and say “NO”. But you are mindful of your image as an ‘easy-going’ parent. And ‘No’ is not a word found too often in an easy-going parent’s vocabulary, so you watch your child go haywire in all kinds of ways, but you say nothing, do nothing. You bite your tongue, steel your nerves, and remain an ‘easy-going’ parent.
No matter what your self-image as a parent, no matter what kind of parent you think you are, the real you cannot take the strain beyond a point. When you reach that point, you become irritable, worried, anxious, adding further stress to an already strained situation.
Not content with creating your own prison in the form of labeling yourself as a particular kind of parent, you have been working actively to reduce the size of your prison, till you are stifled.
As your niggling dissatisfaction turns to active discontent, you look for reasons all around you, outside you – the kids are pushing your buttons, you haven’t been getting enough rest exercise sleep food, there are too many demands on you… You are so busy looking for a situation/person you can hold responsible (blame!) that it doesn’t even occur to you that you are the source of your problem. Heck, you are the problem!
You might think your consistent responses as a particular kind of parent are creating a firm set of rules for your child to follow, but in all probability, they confuse the hell out of her. Your child always knows when ‘you mean it’ and when ‘you don’t really mean it’. So when your authentic response matches your self-image, the message she’s getting is ‘Dad means it’. But when the two are not in line with each other, she doesn’t know whether you mean it or not, she doesn’t know what to make of your reaction. How can she? You yourself don’t know what to make of your response! You are acting from a mind and heart torn by conflicting responses.
All you end up doing is confusing your child and yourself, and laying the foundation for ‘not telling the truth’. After all, if you feel one way and you act another, and you do this regularly, you’re being dishonest. You are breaking (or at least loosening) the bond of trust between yourself and your child.
Your child will learn to make inauthentic responses – she will learn from you. You will be unhappy about it, you will urge her to tell you how he ‘really’ feels, but she won’t be able to; not unless you have broken out of your self-imposed ‘image’ as a parent, and are telling her how you ‘really’ feel.
Don’t worry about what kind of parent you are. Don’t worry about what kind of parent you want to be. Just make the response that comes naturally to you in a given situation. It will be the best response you can make. Simply be the parent that you ARE in that moment, and enjoy the freedom it brings you! 🙂
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
“Dad! I can ride a bicycle on my own! Look! Look!” Your daughter is screaming, and you’re grinning, bursting with pride.
“Wonderful!” you say as you scoop her into a bear hug.
“Mom! I made soup and sandwiches for dinner,” your son says, and your heart swells with pride at his thoughtfulness.
‘Good’ things have happened: your daughter can now ride a bike, and your son can put together a meal, however basic.
“I didn’t get selected for the dance!” he wails.
A pang goes through you. Your child is hurting. “That’s terrible…” You want to help your child live through this ‘bad’ incident.
Your child learns to label things events people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ early in life – and keeps applying these labels to every event person situation throughout his and her life. I want to add a third option. Things might also be ‘I-don’t-know’.
So here is the choice of labels: the good, the bad and the I-don’t-know. For years, I would label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (Where do you think kids learn to label? From their parents. 🙂 ) And then, to my daughter’s frustration, I became an ‘I-don’t-know’ parent.
“It’s awful, isn’t it?” she’d ask about something.
“Maybe, I don’t know.” I’d say.
The turning point was a Sufi story I read many years ago. Here it is:
An old man lived in a cave in the mountains. There was a village close to the foothills, whose villagers visited the silent old man from time to time. As far as anyone knew, he had never come down the mountain. Nobody knew how he lived, where he found his food or what he did all day, but he seemed content in his cave. Over time, the old man acquired a holy patina, and people began to visit him to ‘get their desires fulfilled’. The old man never said anything, but the villagers left his cave satisfied.
So a man might visit the old man with a loaf of bread, asking for a good job. He would sit with the old man in silence for a while and descend the mountain, feeling his wish had been granted. In some time, he would perhaps find some work, and feel that the old man had been instrumental in his gaining employment.
In this manner, the old man began to gain a reputation.
One day, an old woman who had a young able-bodied son went to visit the old man. She was bemoaning the fact that her son had broken his leg and would not be able to till their field. This had happened at a very inopportune time, because they would miss the planting season and would not have a harvest, meaning near-starvation for them in the future. “Find some way out,” she said to the old man.
He kept silent as usual. For some reason, the woman wanted a verbal assurance from him, which he wouldn’t give. “What a terrible thing he broke his leg, isn’t it?” she repeated again and again. The old man realized that she wouldn’t go away unless he said something. The next time she repeated, “What a terrible thing he broke his leg, isn’t it?” he spoke.
“Maybe, maybe not,” he said.
The woman was so taken aback and horrified at this unsympathetic reaction that she left immediately. She told all the villagers that the old man had lost his head. People stopped visiting him.
Ten days later, the kingdom was attacked by a neighboring ruler. The king sent his men to round up every able-bodied man to join the army. The old woman’s son had a broken leg, so he was left behind.
Full of joy (and contrition), the old woman took a jug of milk to the old man at the top of the mountain. “Now I see what you meant. We will manage somehow for one season with less food. But if my son had been sent to fight, he would surely have died, because he knows nothing of fighting –he is a farmer. It is good that he broke his leg. At least his life has been spared.”
Again she insisted the old man agree that it was good that her son had broken his leg.
Eventually, the old man responded, “Maybe, maybe not.”
The woman was enraged again. She swept down the mountain in a fury.
When a sudden storm swept through the village, the old woman’s son couldn’t seek shelter in time because of his broken leg. As a result, he suffered further injuries from the house falling down around him.
The woman went back up the mountain: “My son could not even seek shelter in time, and now he has even more injuries all over his body. Isn’t it so bad that he broke his leg?”
The old man said, “Maybe, maybe not.”
The woman couldn’t believe her ears, and left, promising herself that she would never again visit the crazy old man.
Then a miracle medicine man passed through the village. He said he had only one dose of his miracle cure, and out of common humanity, he would give it to the person who was suffering the most. That person was the old woman’s son. He took the miracle dose and was instantaneously restored to full health.
The woman ran up the mountain, her heart full of gratitude. “Thank you,” she said to the old man in the cave. “Had my son not broken his leg and then been injured in the storm, he would not have been a candidate for the miracle drug. Now he’s fine! Isn’t that a good thing?”
The old man’s response was characteristic: “Maybe, maybe not.”
And so I became an ‘I-don’t-know’ parent. I believe it is one of the most valuable and enduring gifts I can give my child – the recognition that there is a third option to ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
As an I-don’t-know parent, I am more balanced emotionally, more accepting, more at peace, more content.
You might want to try it – just once – as an experiment, and see how it goes. Will it work? I don’t know! Maybe, maybe not! 🙂
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
I must have been 5 or 6 years old. It was the summer holidays, and my maternal grandparents were visiting us. Their visit meant being regaled by fantastic stories, and spoiled with fancy meals, treats and unexpected gifts.
One day, my grandmother called me to their room and gifted me a comb made of glass. It was a real comb, not a toy. I was enchanted – still am, truth be told (though the adult in me wonders who would be foolish enough to manufacture a comb made of glass, how they sold it, and why my grandmother gave it to me when I was so little and could easily have injured myself or someone else with it). It had belonged to my mother when she was little. That set the seal on it. I didn’t have an altar, but had I had one, the glass comb would have been on it! 🙂
My grandmother told me that she had preserved it over so many years so she could give it to her eldest grandchild (me). She handed it over almost ceremonially, and I promised solemnly to take care of it, to preserve it so it could be handed to my child.
Granny smiled her approval.
My sister woke up from her nap to find me brandishing the glass comb. I told her all about it. She doesn’t have a jealous bone in her body (didn’t even then), and was delighted with my acquisition. I decided I would do my hair and hers with it – just to mark the day as a special one, after which we’d put it away carefully and ensure it stayed safe.
You know what happened next. One of the teeth broke off. We were lucky neither of us was hurt; we weren’t physically injured, but I was inconsolable. Firstly, I’d damaged something that my mother had had in her childhood. Secondly, it was irreplaceable. Thirdly, I’d damaged it despite my best intentions to keep it in pristine condition to be handed down to my progeny. Fourthly, I’d broken it the very day I’d got it, not even two hours after it had been gifted to me! A worse fate could not be imagined. ( 🙂 )
My grandmother took me aside and into her arms. “Why are you so upset?” I told her all the above, and perhaps more.
And then she said something which has stayed with me forever. “When even human beings don’t last forever, why cry over a comb?”
My tears stopped instantly – as if they’d dried up at the source. This was a new idea. I’d heard about death before. I knew about death and what it meant. But this was the first time death had assumed immediacy, a direct application to life – my life; me, who had never till then experienced death even at second hand!
Of course, in the decades since that day, I have ‘lost it’ and ‘cried over’ innumerable things people circumstances feelings movies books incidents, but increasingly, this idea has become more present to me, and I am calmer and less inclined to fly off the handle than before.
Recently, a video on Youtube went viral. A TV host asked some parents to tell their children that they’d eaten all the kids’ Halloween candy and record the kids’ reaction. I imagine everyone who watched the video was ‘rolling on the floor laughing’ (ROFL in Facebook, IM, PM and text lingo), but mainly because (i) they knew it was made up (the candy wasn’t all finished), and (ii) it wasn’t their kid howling for the lost candy.
If you were actually confronted by your child screaming for candy he had lost, I think you’d be shuddering with horror rather than laughing. “It’s only candy,” you plead, “we’ll get some more. We’ll get some the next time we go to the store. I know it was special candy. I’ll find out where it’s sold and we’ll buy it from there. Okay, we’ll go get some tomorrow, when the stores open, but stop crying. It’s okay, it’s only candy.”
But he keeps repeating how he wants ‘those’ candies – the ones his friend/sibling took or that fell by the wayside or the dog ate up or got washed in the laundry or… “It’s only candy,” you repeat, your energy ebbing, your will bludgeoned into submission. Sorry, he’s not buying it.
“It’s CANDY!” he tells you, since you haven’t yet got it. 🙂
Over the next few years, he learns ‘it’s only candy’. But other things replace ‘candy’. As more years go by, he learns for those things as well, that ‘it’s only candy’.
The point is: we all have our candy. What’s yours?
That she should fill the ice-cube tray up to a particular point? That his cupboard should be arranged a certain way? That she should / should not wear hotpants? That he should wake up at 5am and study for an hour because research reveals morning hours are the best to concentrate and retain what you’re learning? That her waist should measure 23”? That he must get at least 95% in every test, project, exam?
Your child will be gone – to study, to work, to live his/her own life. Whether or not you realize it, the time you have together is short (though it seems like eons, sometimes! 🙂 ). And you’re screaming about candy, and she’s telling you “it’s only candy”, and you’re not getting it. 🙂
But sometimes, a glass comb breaks. Your child meets a special thing, the opportunity of a lifetime, a fork in the road, and you’re afraid he’s making (or has made) the wrong choice.
You’re convinced he should be an artist, when he wants set up and run a business.
You know this girl is wrong for him (is any girl/boy ever good enough for your precious son/daughter? NO! 🙂 At least, not for long. Now that you know this, bite the bullet and be gracious.) – she’s a terrible influence on him, she’s taking him away from his family, friends and hobbies – but he’s serious enough to talk to you about getting engaged to her.
She wants to go camping with a bunch of friends, one of whom is on drugs while another is known for her promiscuity, and nothing you say, nothing you promise her makes any difference. She’s determined to go with them.
You’re getting divorced, and your daughter, out of a (you feel) misplaced sense of loyalty, decides to go with your partner, because her sibling chooses to stay with you. You’re convinced that without you to act as a buffer, she will suffer terrible physical and emotional neglect at your partner’s hands, but she won’t change her mind.
These are the big ones – the glass combs. They can change the course of your child’s life, and you get palpitations if you let yourself think too deeply about such decisions.
Alright, take a break from thinking about your child. Think about yourself, instead, about your life. You’ve had such ‘glass combs’, haven’t you? Some of the choices you made turned out alright. Others didn’t. But on the whole, you’re muddling along alright, aren’t you?
If you think you’re not alright, well, step up and change things! You’re an adult, after all, with more sense, experience, knowledge, maturity (all the stuff you keep throwing at your child! 🙂 ) than your child. Get out there and change things for yourself!
Sure you’ve broken some glass combs! Pick a glass comb you broke a long time back. It seemed awful at the time I’m sure, like the end of the world. But out of that ‘end’ came a beginning, out of which came other endings and other beginnings.
This is a serpent whose tail you can’t reach – as time goes by and your life circumstances change and you change, what seemed awful can turn out to be one of the best things that could have happened to you (I should know – I’m divorced! 😉 ). In similar fashion, something that was awesome at the time is a nuisance now (you know this one – when you get something you wish for only to discover you don’t want it 🙂 ).
If you look closely, candy or glass comb, ‘it’s only candy’. And there’s always more candy! 🙂
He was 13 when I first met him, a boy suffering from both shyness and acne. I tried to draw him out in conversation. He was polite, but not forthcoming. After we’d met a few times, he became friendly in his own quiet, understated way. As he opened up, I found out that his entire social circle consisted of his parents.
I was a teenager myself, and knew many introverts; but I failed to understand how a person’s only friends could be his parents.
“Someone at school you get on with? A friend who comes over for your birthday? Someone you play with – like tennis or video games or something? Someone you meet for lunch or dinner or the occasional movie? Someone you chat with on the phone?…” I persisted, trying to find out who else he was friendly with.
“Well, there’s you guys,” he said. I think I succeeded in hiding my surprise. He’d met me and my sister not even half a dozen times, when his parents had come over home with him, and we were the only friends he could think of, aside from his parents? Didn’t he need any distance from them? If he hung around with them all the time, he would only be ‘their son’. How would he know who he was when he was on his own? How would he know who he was when he was with a friend? (Of course, he had to have a friend in the first place before he could know this, which brings me right back to where I started!)
His mother sat there, beaming at us. When he’d gone to another room to look at some books, she confided in me. “You know, we had him after almost 20 years of marriage. We had almost given up on ever having a child, and then we were blessed with him. I can’t thank god enough. Such a wonderful boy! He’s so caring! He won’t eat lunch without me. When he gets home from school, if I’m not home for some reason (though I try my best to be there), he’ll wait till I get back so we can eat together. As a result, we sometimes end up having lunch at 4pm! With a son like him, I feel I have the best of both worlds – the joys of having both a son, and a daughter who is close to me. God bless him!”
Over various meetings, the parents echoed their fervent love for and delight with the boy. He too, seemed perfectly happy – at peace with his studies, his interest in music and movies (which he indulged by attending performances and shows with his parents) – enjoying life with his parents.
They didn’t force him to do anything against his will. They didn’t manipulate him. It just seemed that his wishes and theirs naturally coincided, so there was no conflict whatsoever. It was quite amazing to see, and a lesson in loving people, I used to think.
As the years went by, we continued to meet them. Every now and then, I would try and tell the boy he should cultivate some friends outside the family circle. He said he didn’t feel the need for it. I even told his mother that she should encourage him to have some friends – she said they had suggested it every now and then, but he negated the idea. All of them were content.
The day came when he left school and went to college in a city that was a significant distance away. They were all apprehensive about his moving. In the weeks before he moved, he spent even more time with them, and concentrated on reassuring them that he would manage fine without them, as would they without him. Distance would make the heart grow fonder, he assured them.
Many years passed, during which I married and moved away. I met the parents 10 years later. They happened to drop in. Quite obviously, I asked after their son. A curious restraint seemed to come over both husband and wife. Since I had asked the question of the gentleman, I was looking at him. He seemed uncomfortable, but replied that the son was doing very well. He was happy and settled in a great job.
Before I could continue the conversation, someone else said something, and the topic was dropped. I had two children (a toddler and a dog) to take care of, so I was in and out of the conversation, and then they left.
Later that evening, I asked my father what I’d done wrong by asking after their son. He said, “I forgot to tell you – they haven’t had any contact with him for a few years now. The lady is terribly upset about it –they both are, but she can’t bear to be reminded of it. I was supposed to warn everyone at home to stay off the topic. But you came unexpectedly, and what with the children and everything, it completely slipped my mind to tell you.”
I was shocked. How could this be? Apparently, when the boy moved to another city, he got to know other people his age. He was plunged into the world of young people with their normal friendships, hobbies, pursuits, interests, loves and hates. He discovered he liked hanging out with people his own age, gossiping about people movies books teachers crushes boyfriends girlfriends ideas over innumerable cups of tea and coffee, a few sodas or a pitcher of beer.
As he was drawn to people his own age, he contrasted it with his own life at home till then – a life he had consciously chosen. He blamed his parents for not letting him have any ‘fun’ while he lived with them, for keeping him tied to their apron-strings, for not letting him lead his own life, for “wasting my teenage years – which should be the most fun years of a person’s life”. (?!)
He decided to ‘punish’ his parents by expunging them from his life. They took some time to understand the situation. Initially, he stopped writing to them (email was still nascent in India) or calling them. When his parents went to visit him, he was always ‘busy’ and couldn’t spend time with them. His mother he avoided meeting altogether.
On one visit, the father pleaded with him, trying to explain the parents’ position. The son was unmoved. “You didn’t let me live my life,” he accused. “Now, you have to pay the price. I hate the thought of you both – I hate to think of how you took over my life for almost 2 decades. I can’t forgive you – either of you. As for Mom, she is my mother – how could she do this to me? I never want to see her or hear from her again. In fact, I might as well tell you – I have no intentions of ever again meeting you either. This is our last meeting.”
The father came away broken-hearted.
I learnt all this from my father. Some months after this evening, I met the gentleman. I didn’t mention their son at all. He broached the topic himself. I apologized for my gaffe at our previous meeting, and he was gracious enough to accept my apology. “You obviously didn’t know,” he said.
“Any news of him?” I ventured.
“No. None at all. After he stopped speaking to us, we managed to get some news of him through friends of his whose phone numbers we had. But he found out. He didn’t want us to know anything about him or his life, so he dropped those friends, moved jobs, moved house, changed his phone number … We don’t know anything about him – where he is, what he’s doing.” His eyes filled with tears, and I looked away.
“Do you know he turned so virulently against us that after the first year of college, he actually approached a friend’s father for a loan to cover tuition fees and living expenses? All the checks I sent him went uncashed… It’s killing my wife – any reference to him puts her in depression for weeks. We’ve almost stopped meeting people, and everyone we meet, I tell them in advance not to mention our son.”
I apologized once again for having done so. He waved it aside. “I wonder how he is. Wherever he is, I just hope he’s happy, healthy, safe, at peace. It’s a relief talking to you – I can’t talk to anyone else; definitely not my wife. People keep asking for details, keep asking if they should try and locate him – it feels like they’re gouging out my heart…”
What a terrible, terrible waste! And it came from nowhere, for no reason.
Wait – I believe there was a reason. Perfect amity is unnatural – you have to be god-like to always get along equally well with everyone. The regular individual will always feel the stresses and strains of her interactions with people, even loved ones. Make that ‘especially with loved ones’. 🙂
In the wildest of my dreams I wouldn’t have predicted such a future scenario for the happy self-contained family, but the parents should have encouraged him to go out and mix with people his age. They encouraged him, but it was more like making mild suggestions, which he shot down every time.
They could have sent him to camp during the holidays. They could have enrolled him in music classes or workshops. Sure he’d have rebelled. He might even have said something like, “How can you say you love me if you send me away?” (Yes, you know this – kids have a peculiar penchant for turning everything around to suit their own point of view. But then, so do adults! 🙂 )
But that little ‘hurt’ of sending him away would have faded in the light of his experiences. He would have gotten to know people his own age, he would have enjoyed (or not, and that is fine too!) varied experiences with them. He would eventually have got over the ‘pain’ of his parents forcing him to do his own thing. He would have become a more balanced person, able to build and sustain relationships with people other than his parents – a skill absolutely vital for a happy life.
If your child is to grow into a fully functioning worthwhile adult, make sure you have some difference of opinion with her. Give her many opportunities to experience different slices of life, different kinds of people, different activities, different ways of being; because love needs distance to be real, to be felt. Justlikeyouneedspacesandpunctuationbetweenwordssothatyoucanmakesenseofthemenjoythem. 🙂
‘Force’ her, if you need to. (Take this last with a pinch of salt – no point sending your low-energy arty child to a heavy-duty trek.) Choose appropriate activities, and some not-so-appropriate ones. Too shy? Maybe drama class will jolt him out of it. Too dependent? You might want to pick a summer camp where she stays away from home for a few days and learns to rely on herself.
Your child is her own person and needs to live her own life, distinct from yours. The sooner the both of you realize this, the happier you’ll be.
The complete title of this post is: Why Your Child Listens to You Sometimes and How to Ensure This Happens More Often. 🙂
I must clarify that the word ‘listen’ in the title has been used according to your definition of the word, not mine. When I say ‘listen’, I mean pay heed to an idea or thought, consider it. The listener is then free to embrace the idea partially or wholly, or to reject it.
When you use the word ‘listen’, you mean ‘do as I say’ or ‘obey’. So this post is about why your children do as you ask them to do sometimes, and how to make sure they obey you more often.
I believe there are 2 laws at work which make a child obey its parent(s). One is the law of expectation, which I have talked about earlier. If you truly expect a child to do as you have said, you will usually find very little (if any) opposition to your will.
The other law, which unfortunately comes into play a lot more often, is the law of desperation. Most of the time, you are desperate that your child obey you. And how can you not be desperate?
My daughter rarely remembers to apply lip balm. When she was little, years ago, I would do it for her. When I got her her own lip balm (at 6 or 7), I said if she was old enough to choose the flavor and brand of her lip balm, she was old enough to apply it, so all I would do was remind her to do so. Like so many other things, the novelty of having her own lip balm ensured that for the first few days, it was applied many times a day. Then, it became just another chore. One had to wash one’s hands (she had the balm in a little pot)…, and there were so many other, more interesting things to do – so the lip balm application fell by the wayside.
Her lips dried up, started peeling, started cracking so badly that she had blood oozing from them. Sometimes, dried blood was caked on them, and smiling, eating, drinking, talking became painful. “It hurts!” I was told, as if I personally had taken a hatchet to her!
“Well, you don’t remember to put on the lip balm,” I pointed out.
“It’s too much work! It’s cold and I have to keep washing my hands to put it on. There has to be a simpler way.”
“Okay. Shall we get one of those lip balm applicators that works like a lipstick? You just roll it up, apply it, roll it back down, and you’re done.”
I heard an enthusiastic yes. We went shopping and bought something. History repeated itself. For the first few days, all was well. Then some days it got left behind at home when she went to school, and she wasn’t able to reapply it in school and her lips bled and the blood caked up and…
We bought another stick of lip balm. One to keep in the school bag; one at home, so she would always have access to something.
One got lost. We bought another. She changed her mind about the flavor – she didn’t like it any more. We bought another.
Years down the line, I still come across one or two of those ancient lip balms on sticks and toss them into the bin. But the point is: she just did not apply it.
Let me tell you, it hurt to see her with lips either bleeding or caked with blood over 50% of the time. I once told her even the beggars on the streets didn’t have such dry lips. “Mom, give me a break, okay? Don’t get after me all the time. I know what to do, and I’ll do it if I want to” was the response I got, along with all kinds of dire looks. (Sigh! :-))
On various occasions, members of my family took me aside saying I should do something about it, because besides looking terrible, she was in real pain – unable to smile or talk, eat or drink. I told them I reminded her every now and then, and they were welcome to join me in doing so (which they wisely refrained from! 🙂 ), but beyond a point, she had to look after herself.
Once it got so bad that I actually applied some Vaseline to her lips after she had fallen asleep. This happened for two consecutive nights. Then I thought, “What the heck! Into every life some rain must fall. If this is the trouble she chooses for herself, so be it.”
And that’s where we are today.
I once asked her how come she ‘forgot’ to apply the balm despite the pain. “There are so many other things…,” she said. I smiled my understanding. How could I not? There are a million billion things that are so little, so simple, that I can do for myself, which will make my life easier, simpler. More importantly, these are things I actively want to do for myself. But I don’t do them – because there are so many other things… 🙂
So when I say the law of desperation, I know what I’m talking about.
You know what I’m talking about too! Your child is low on iron, but won’t eat any proteins or green leafy vegetables, and won’t pop that iron pill either. He is sleepy but won’t stop playing that computer game so he can get enough zzzs. He can cure his 19/20 eyesight by doing eye exercises, but won’t. (And he says he doesn’t want to wear spectacles!) All he needs is 15 minutes of Math practice a day, and he’ll be a whiz – but he doesn’t find the time…
As a parent, there are innumerable times you are desperate – often for a very good cause. But the point is, the more desperate you are, the lower the chances that your child will ‘listen’ to you.
When you care about an outcome beyond a point, you build failure into it. Read that once more. When you care about an outcome beyond a point, you build failure into it.
Think about all the times you ‘won’ at something, all the times you succeeded. You were ‘cool’ about it, not desperate. And now think of all the times you were ‘desperate’ to have things your way (people, situations, results) – rarely did the chips fall in your favor.
I don’t know why this is so, but I have found it to be always true.
The funny thing is, the few times I have succeeded despite the desperation, I have found that once I’d got the outcome, I didn’t want it! I’m sure you can relate to this one too. 🙂
If you can drop the desperation, and have the expectation, there’s a good chance that your children will ‘obey’ you more often than they do right now.
And for the occasions they don’t, remember: into every life, some rain must fall.
When I was a child, an aunt told me, “It is up to you to get your father to stop smoking.”
I was fired with enthusiasm, and confronted him right away. “You’ve got to stop smoking! You know what it does to your lungs, your health, your life. Just stop, okay?”
My father, a very wise man, replied, “You know we all have to die one day, in some way or other. Maybe I’ve decided to choose this way.”
Nothing more to be said, is there?
P.S. I am anti-smoking personally, but it is every person’s right to choose for themselves at every point in their lives.