Are You Parenting from Love or its Opposite?

For much of my life, I thought that the opposite of ‘love’ was ‘hate’. And then, I discovered that these two words were opposites only in English grammar quizzes.  

Love is an energizing force – it gives you the energy to move towards some things and people, and away from other things and people. Hate is energizing too! It gives you the energy to move towards some things and people, and away from other things and people.

That is why I say: hate is not the opposite of love. Of course, one seems to be a positive force and the other negative, but that is only a matter of how you interpret the words themselves.

Love may give you the energy to care for a sick child when you are completely exhausted; while hatred for a bad habit may help you rid yourself of it – both positive outcomes.

Reverse the interpretation, and another picture emerges. You may ‘love’ your body image a certain way, leading you towards anorexia (a negative outcome); while ‘hating’ your parents might motivate you to study hard and go away to a good college, making a good life for yourself away from them. 

So what is the opposite of love? I think fear is. Love energizes, but fear paralyzes. Fear grips you and doesn’t let go. You don’t know what to think, what to do, which way to turn. Every option seems unsafe, fraught with danger. You are unable to take any action – either to run away from the fear or to confront it, deal with it. You do the only thing you can do – you give in to it.

So I’m saying fear is the opposite of love.

You can parent from love – but how can you parent from fear?

I’ll show you how you parent from fear.

Your son doesn’t like guns, he’s not aggressive, he doesn’t like sports, he’s not into technology (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have made ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ acceptable – even fashionable!); instead, he is always reading. And no, he’s not reading the Hardy boys series or Biggles or Percy Jackson: he’s reading poetry, classical English literature, mythology; he enjoys sculpture and painting. He is your son and you love him – no doubt whatsoever about it. But you’re uncomfortable with the idea of him being such a ‘sissy’ – no boyish pastimes, no macho stuff, he’s every girl’s best friend and knows no boys (if he does, you haven’t seen any evidence of it). At every turn, you ‘encourage’ him to go out and play cricket or football or baseball. You buy him War of the Worlds games. You enroll him (or try to) into adventure sports activities. You ask him to be a boy (or a man).

You wonder what is wrong with him. You wonder what your friends think – you wonder what his friends think – of him and of you! You wonder what successful career he could possibly have – become a sculptor? Teach English or mythology? Nothing wrong with these options, but they’re not what you had in mind when you thought of him reaching the pinnacle of success at work…

You wonder if he’s gay. You watch his every move with a hawk’s eye, ready to pounce on the slightest ‘symptom’ of homosexuality. You read obsessively about closet gays. You see a counselor or doctor. You find out how you can influence his sexuality, his interests, his career choices – so these are more acceptable to the world at large.

If your child does not fit the ‘norm’, you lose your joy in her, your enjoyment of her. The only thing that drives you – relentlessly – is that she should be more middle-of-the-road. This is parenting from fear.

She’s outspoken, and refuses to pretend a grief she doesn’t feel at a grand-aunt’s death. She’s not behaving inappropriately – she just wants to sit and make conversation with a cousin, or read a book or watch TV. You tell her, “No chatting; don’t read or watch TV. Aunt… has just died. You should behave more funereally.” (!)

It’s immaterial that your child didn’t know the lady who died; you are more concerned about what people will say if they see her doing ‘normal’ stuff when there’s just been a death in the family. You force her to behave in a manner untrue to herself. Even you, who knew the lady, do not feel much grief, but you have perfected the art of showing the expected reaction, doing the expected thing, however disconnected it might be from what you are really feeling. And now you’re forcing your child to do the same.

This is parenting from fear. If you think for a bit, you’ll find that you parent from fear much more often than you realize. Fear of what people will say. Fear of what kind of life your son will build for himself if he goes so much against the ‘masculine’ mode. Fear of what people will say about you as a parent – that you did not raise him to be more ‘normal’. Fear that you did not teach your child how to ‘behave’ in social situations. Fear that she will not be a ‘success’. Fear that she will be singled out, ridiculed, left out in the cold, not find friends or acceptance

You, her loving parent, who is so anxious for your child to find acceptance and love, end up withholding both from her. Yes, you yourself! Supremely ironic, don’t you think?

You are so afraid of what others will think and say and feel about this unconventional boy of yours, that all your parenting becomes focused on making him more conventional. You send him clear signals that he will have your approval if he fits the mold.

Your child understands what’s going on. In essence, you are telling him, “I love you, but I will love you more if you are this way/ do this thing/ be this thing …” You are telling him that he is not okay as he is, that you do not accept him for who he is.

You jeopardize your relationship with your child. She may or may not ‘change’ herself to fit the norm, but you’ll definitely find her moving away from you. This only increases your frantic desperation. Fear has you in its thrall, and there seems to be no way out.

Identify exactly how you parent from fear, and I’ll tell you tomorrow how you can break the stranglehold of fear to enjoy parenting your child as you would like to – from love. 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂

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Communicating With Your Child in an Impossible Situation

“Umm – Vinita, can I speak with you privately?”

I was teaching a course on fashion, and one of my students walked up to me at the end of class. (This wasn’t in India, where it is not done to call your teacher by his / her name.)

 “Sure – go ahead,” I replied. I was slightly taken aback because this girl had shown no particular inclination to have private conversations with me over the 15 months that I had been teaching her various courses.

But she seemed to want to do so now. We found an empty classroom, and sat down.

“What’s the matter?” I asked her.

She was curiously reluctant to begin. Eventually, “You know, what I’m telling you is in confidence. I don’t want it to get about. I had earlier confided in one of the other staff members and she went and told so many people.” She squinted at me, “Did she tell you anything about me?”

“No, I haven’t heard anything about you or about anyone else, for that matter. And before you go any further, I must say that I will respect your confidence, but if you have the slightest doubt about it, please don’t tell me anything.”

“No, no, I know you won’t tell anyone. That’s why I decided to speak with you.” She stopped again, and I waited.

“I had an abortion yesterday.”

I didn’t know how to respond, so I kept quiet. She looked at me, and when she saw the lack of either condemnation or inquisitiveness, she went on.

“It was my third abortion.”

“Oh, no!” burst out of me. “Don’t you use protection?”

“Well, he doesn’t like to, and I forget to take the pill sometimes.”

“How are you feeling? Should you even be at school today? How did you manage? Did you have a friend with you?” the questions poured out of me.

“My mother went with me,” she said.

Suddenly, I was struck by a thought. “How old are you?”

“16, but I turn 17 next week.” Thus far, she had sounded like an adult trying to discuss an issue with another adult. But at the mention of her birthday, her teen enthusiasm took over, and she preened.

I couldn’t hide my concern. “Do you know that having so many abortions could seriously impact your having a baby later on? You might not be able to conceive, or the baby might be harmed by all the abortions you’ve had.” I couldn’t have given her the slightest technical details of what I was saying if my life depended on it, but I knew that she was taking a real risk with her health.

I didn’t really understand why we were having this conversation. Her mother seemed to know what was going on. She’d even accompanied the girl to her third abortion. I was thinking: If the mum is okay with her having sex at 16, why doesn’t the lady just remind her daughter to pop the birth-control pill? (The girl lived at home, and even if she’d lived elsewhere, all it took was a phone call to remind her…) That would solve the problem.

“How can I help?”

“You see, my mother is very worried. She is upset and unhappy and forcing me to leave this man, but I love him and I can’t live without him!” ( 🙂  Oh, the agonies of teen love!)

“Don’t your parents like him?

“My dad doesn’t know, but my mum is not in favor of this relationship. You see, he’s 41 and married, with 3 children.”

I was completely tongue-tied – physically, and mentally. I didn’t even know what to think, let alone what to say. Me, a woman married for over a year, and I feel like a new-born babe in front of this 17-year old who’s talking to me of love and abortions and a man who is committed to his wife and children, but also claims to ‘love’ her.

“I want to ask you what I should do. I know it’s not good for me to have any more abortions. Every time, I think this is the last time I will have an abortion, but then I forget to take the pill again… I love him too much to let him go.”

“What does he say?”

“He will not leave his wife and kids, but that’s alright with me.”

I groped carefully to find words that might reach her. “You know there’s no future in this for you. You are a lovely girl with a great enthusiasm for life, and you have all of that life ahead of you. You are lucky to have a mother who is so supportive of you. Though she is against your relationship with this man, the love you both share is strong enough for her to be there for you whenever you need her. She is asking you to leave the man. Why don’t you try doing that?”

“I have tried,” she sounded desperately close to tears. “Especially after every abortion – I hate that I have to go through these abortions. He won’t come with me; my mother does. I want to have babies later on, and every abortion will make it more difficult. But then he calls me again, and I can’t stay away. And my mother is heart-broken about it. I love her so much I would do anything for her. I hate giving her so much pain, so much trouble, but I just can’t stop loving this man.”

I still didn’t see what she wanted from me. “Listen, maybe you want me to say that it will all turn out okay with this man, that it is okay for you to be in this relationship. That might make you feel better about your decision to continue seeing the guy. Because you have made that decision, haven’t you?” She nodded unwillingly. “But I can’t say it, because I don’t believe it to be true.”

We sat in silence for some time. Then she got up. “Thank you for listening. It has made me feel a lot better. And please don’t tell anyone – I know you won’t, but I still need to say it.”

I nodded. “Take care of yourself and your mother. Bless you.”

This incident took place about 15 years ago, and I’m sharing it because this could be true of any child, anywhere in the world. Then, or now, it probably IS true of some children in many parts of the world.

There is so much to learn from this:

Sending the girl somewhere else was not an option – the family did not have the wherewithal. And then the man could well have traveled and continued the relationship on an off-and-on basis.

Besides, you can’t run away from your life. If she had gone to some far-flung place, she would still have been vulnerable and might have gotten into a similar or worse situation from being on the rebound, or feeling the lack of romantic love in her life, or feeling that she was over the earlier relationship and ready for a new one.

Whoever you are, whatever your situation, running away doesn’t solve it. You merely take it with you, though you might take some time to realize this. 🙂

I deeply admire the mother for sticking by her child. She realized what so many parents do not.

 Condemning the girl, blaming her, scolding her, blackmailing her (“How could you do this to me, your mother, who loves you so well? How can you hurt me like this? What have I done to deserve such treatment from you / to have such a fate? I brought you up so well…/I have failed as a mother…”) – all of which she must have done – would only serve to make the mother feel better by giving vent to her feelings.

It would not help the girl or the situation. Revisiting the mistakes that were made by either the parents or the girl would also be futile. The mother realized that just continuing to communicate with her daughter was vital. At least the lady knew what was going on; she could prevent things from being worse than they already were.

If she had not accompanied her daughter to the abortions, how would the girl, as a minor, have accessed a hospital to have the procedure done? Where would she have got the money? How would she get the post-operative care – physical mental and emotional?

Certainly the girl was conscious of and vocal about her mother’s support despite the latter’s deep disapproval (to put it mildly). That in itself was a huge anchor for her.

I don’t know how it all turned out. I respected her confidence by never again referring to the matter, even privately, even with her. I figured if she ever wanted to speak with me, she would raise the topic herself.

The point is that sometimes, despite our best effort as parents, things don’t turn out the way we’d like them to. In this particular instance, they turned out horribly wrong.

If your daughter doesn’t join law school (a dream you have cherished for her since she was conceived – ! – ), it’s not the end of the world, but if she decides to beg for money, live in the street and eat out of soup kitchens, that is another level of pain altogether.

If things go horribly wrong, what can you do as a loving parent?  Unfortunately, there are no right answers here.

You know your child. You know how far gone the situation is. Some children realize things quicker when they are left alone. Others need to be helped out of situations. Yet others need to be bullied out of them.

Whatever you decide to do, you might want to consider the ideas below:

1. Keep the communication lines open – Agree not to talk about the area of conflict, but keep things as ‘normal’ as possible otherwise. Don’t raise the topic every time there is a difference of opinion with him. Try not to blackmail him with it. Avoid the attitude: ‘we’ve let you get away with the one BIG thing, but you’d better toe the line on all other counts’.

If you can do this, your child will keep you in the loop, and you will still be a part of his life; you may still have some influence on him. If nothing else, he will appreciate your not withholding your SELF and your love because he is going against your wishes in one area of life.

2. Do not blame yourself – It is natural to keep going over the problem, wondering what you did wrong, what mistake you made that allowed this awful thing to happen. You keep wondering what you could have done to prevent its happening: you should have noticed it earlier, you should have nipped it in the bud, you should have… There is no end to this.

You have a lot of power as a parent, but you have no control. That is the truth, and as you continue parenting, you come to know that even the power is more a figment of your imagination than reality. 🙂

3. Keep perspective – So many things seem like they are the ultimately awful thing that could happen to you, but with time, you might find that they were the making of you. Besides, life is pretty long, and memories are pretty short. Life goes on.

My student might have been 15, or perhaps even younger (“oh, no!” says the parent in me) when she got into the relationship. I’m sure that in another few years, the man would have aged considerably. By the time she was in her early 20s, she would be working, and find many more congenial men, which would naturally break up the relationship. She might get very busy at work, and the relationship would die a natural death.

And she would still have the rest of her life ahead of her. (However, it still beats me how between mother and daughter they did not manage to ensure the girl took her birth-control pills regularly.) Scarred, perhaps, by her earlier experiences, but still, free of the situation.

4. Do not allow your child to get away with blaming you – Children do this when they are scared. However old they are, they will revert to early childhood and tell you, “If only you had… / you had not…, I would not have….” Don’t let them get away with it.

 You might choose to say: “I hear what you are saying and I understand that you feel this way, but I disagree. I don’t think I am to blame for the decision you made. You may blame me, but I don’t blame myself. I don’t accept the blame you are trying to lay on me. You don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.”

5. Figure out with your child how you will treat the issue in public – If your child is in a homosexual relationship (and that is an impossible situation for you), someone you know will know about it – someday, somehow. Discuss ahead of time with your child how will treat the topic when it comes up. Are you to feign ignorance? Are you to say you know about it and are okay with it? Are you to say you know about it and respect your child’s right to lead his life his way? Decide upon something you are both comfortable with.

This is much better than either hiding it or flaunting it. If you hide it, your child may think you are ashamed of the issue or of her, and may stop communicating with you. If you flaunt it, that might not go down well either. She might feel that though you actually dislike the situation, you are putting on a show of being proud of her, or putting on a show of being a lot more liberated than you really are (you want people to think you’re ‘the coolest Dad/Mom’ in the world).

Either way, you’re not being honest with her. She has been straight with you – she has told you about the horrible situation. If you want to keep communicating with her, you need to be honest with her too. If you’re straight with her, you’ll manage to get through to her – always. Even in the most impossible situation.

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Why Your Child is Jealous and What You Can Do About It

Most parents understand jealousy. Either their child is or has been jealous, or else they have experienced jealousy themselves as children. And no, you don’t need to have a sibling to feel jealous. I know many only children who are jealous; they can’t handle their parents paying attention to any other child.

I believe a child feels jealous only if his parents don’t pay sufficient attention to him. Even if he is a single child, with no other ‘competitors’ for his parents’ attention, he will feel the emotion of jealousy – though he might not express it. But the moment his parents focus their attention on another child, sibling or not, this jealousy is expressed.

The jealousy does not arise because the parents are paying more attention to someone else; but because they have not paid enough attention to the child. Read this sentence over and over again. If you have, or know, (or were yourself) a jealous child, you will see the truth of this.

As an early teen, I was babysitting 5 kids who were all very fond of me; the oldest was 7, and the youngest 3. Their parents got together as a group every few months, and each time, I would babysit the kids. As I was organizing them into a game, one of the girls came up to tell me something her grandmother had told her.  As she whispered into my ear (it was a secret meant only for me 🙂 ), the most aggressive of the lot, a 4 year old, pulled the scarf around my neck tight, almost strangling me. I took what preventive action I could and yanked the scarf out of her hands.

After catching my breath, I told her that she had pulled the scarf so tight that I had had difficulty breathing. Her response: “I’ll do it again if you share secrets with anyone but me. I will strangle you. You are NOT to be anyone else’s special friend – only mine.”

I ignored her, and turned to the child who had been whispering in my ear. The aggressive girl pulled my scarf tight once more, but I slipped it off my neck. She then started yanking at my clothes and hitting my legs, shouting that she wouldn’t let me listen to the other girl. I turned and asked her, “Do you want me to listen to you?”

She shouted, “Yes.”

“You have to stop hitting me and stop shouting and then I will listen to you.”

She kept hitting me and shouting, “You must listen to me – only me. You must be only my friend. I won’t let you play with anyone else.”

I left the room, shutting the door behind me and holding it shut. She kept banging and shouting from the inside. After a few moments, I opened the door, and came back in. She was in a full-blown tantrum, eyes streaming, nose running, throat screaming and arms flailing.

I held her to me in a tight hug, imprisoning her arms between our bodies. As I held her, I patted her back, and made soothing noises. When she had quieted down to the occasional sob, I pulled away, and asked if she was feeling better. She nodded.

“I like you very much, you know,” I told her. She put her arms around me and said she liked me very much too.

“You hurt me when you pulled my scarf, and when you were hitting me and shouting,” I told her.

“But you were listening to her!” she said.

I explained that I didn’t belong to any one person; I had to look after all of them, and they knew each other so well…!

She insisted that she wanted to be the closest to me: “You are my favorite, and I have to be your favorite too.”

I told her things didn’t work that way. “How can I be your favorite?” she asked.

“Hitting and strangling me is definitely not the way to go,” I told her.

We settled for peace, and the rest of the evening passed off uneventfully.

Her parents were very indulgent. Her every wish was granted. “She’s such a terror, we dare not thwart her” her parents said. But despite that, the child was jealous, because she didn’t get enough attention from the parents. It was almost as if she were a nuisance, who had to be controlled before she got out of hand. Never did I see her parents enjoy being with her for the joy of her company. Never did I hear them appreciate her for who she was; though she earned plenty of praise for her many academic and co-curricular achievements.

But your child wants more than that from you. He wants to be valued first and foremost for the person he is, and only then for things he has ‘done’.

As I grew up and observed this child grow up, I found that she retained the jealous streak even after she’d graduated from school! (Her parents are family friends, so we stayed in touch, though the babysitting had stopped a long time back.) In conversation, she came across as a mature, well-read, impressive adult, but the veneer cracked the moment her parents (or anyone she was attached to) paid the least attention to anyone but herself.

So your child might be feeling jealous because he is not getting enough attention from you (enough according to him, because this is about his feelings). You might be disbelieving: “What! ME not paying enough attention to my child? Nonsense!”

Sorry, but what you think doesn’t matter. How your child feels is the ‘truth’ for him, and that is what determines his behavior.

To make matters worse, you hold your child’s sibling(s) up as a shining example of what he/she is not.

 To your little one, you say:

“Look at X: he is so responsible. He puts things back, packs his school bag, does his chores, studies, helps you with things… And you! You don’t even put the cap back on the tube of toothpaste! You should learn from….”

To the elder sibling who has been upheld as the example of a model child (the one you’re raving about in the previous paragraph), you say:

“Look at Y: she is so little, yet she has such charming manners. She says please and thank you and doesn’t interrupt people… And you! You don’t speak, you growl. You’re frowning all the time. You barely mumble. You interrupt people. And now you’ve started walking away while people are still speaking to you. Hey! Where are you going? Come back, I haven’t finished…” 🙂

And then you wring your hands and complain to anyone who will listen and lose sleep at night that your children are jealous of each other!

Here are 3 steps to restore your peace of mind:

1. Pay each child enough attention – they may want different types of attention. At different times in their lives, they will want your attention in different ways. Do your best to understand what kind of attention they want, and give it to them. Spend time one-on-one with each child. This is YOUR special “Dad-and-Kid” or “Mom-and-Kid” time, and each kid gets equal amounts of time each week.

2. Praise each child to his and her face – Let him know what you like about him. Tell her what you like about her. Approving of something is a great way of reinforcing it, so let them know every day what they did ‘right’. Corollary: Don’t compare them. It’s alright if he’s a neatnik at 3 and she’s a slob at 8. Each child has many praise-worthy qualities – focus on those.

3. Never tell ANYONE which child you love more, even though one child is probably dearer to you than the other(s) – I’ve committed sacrilege by bringing into the open this deeply buried, barely acknowledged, never admitted secret of parents; but you know it’s true. The notion that each parent loves all his/her children equally is just that – a notion. (Your guilt about this fact drives you to say and do all kinds of things to make life more difficult for yourself and your children.)

Write and tell me how it goes. 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Know Your NO-s

Alright, let’s be the loving, logical, practical adults we want everyone to believe we are.

You want the best for your child, and you want your child to be the best – in at least one area of achievement. You’d like to help her take the correct path and avoid obstacles. This means a formidable list of Do-s and Don’t-s (creative grammar, I know 🙂 ).

What if you got just one option – your child can go with either the Do-s or the Don’t-s? Hmmm.

Lots of parents would choose the Don’t-s. For instance, if you’re talking about food and nutrition, it is probably easier (and definitely more valuable!) to say “Don’t do drugs, don’t smoke, don’t have more than 2 pegs of alcohol a day (if this is what you want to say)” than it is to say “Be sure to eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables (these should include all color families…, eat both raw and cooked vegetables except for … which should not be cooked and … which should not be eaten raw, remember tomato is technically a fruit, avocados can’t be included in greens, and…), 3 servings of dairy,…”.

You know your child won’t remember a tenth of what you’re going to tell him. Might as well make it short, so you decide to stick with the Don’t-s.

Great! Why don’t you begin making a list right now?

If you’re anything like me, you’d probably have 50 things on your list in less than 10 minutes.

My daughter would faint if she read the above sentence. She’d faint, because she and all her friends believe I am one of the most easy-going parents around. I agree with her (and them). 🙂 I can make the list, but I’m also very good at editing this list down to one or two things.

These one or two things are my NO-s. I have them down pat, and every time I’m tempted to say NO (or “Don’t!”), I go back to my list and cross-check:

–          Has been eating sugar through the meal, and is looking to overdose on chocolate for dessert. Asking for permission. Say NO? (Does it go against my NO?) No. “Sure – go ahead!”

“Oh, Mom, you’re the best!” (I’m rolling my eyes.)

–          Has gone ballistic over some ridiculous detail. Screaming so loudly I can’t hear myself think. Follows me so she can vent fully (and I can’t get away!). Give her a piece of my mind? No point – she ain’t listening anyway. So I duck till the storm has passed. In a bit, she’ll calm down, come over and apologize. And I’ll tell her she doesn’t need to be sorry.

I really think she doesn’t need to apologize, and here’s why I think it:

1. I’m her mom – if she can’t acknowledge and give in to how she’s feeling even when she’s with me, what’s the point of being family? If I don’t give her the space and time to vent, where will she get it? This time and space is what makes a bunch of people in a house a family.

2. Venting is good for health – she’s letting it all out safely and she will feel better after having done so. Suppressing how you really feel creates all kinds of physical and mental problems – simply not worth it. And if I’m listening, I’ll get a chance to understand what she’s thinking and feeling.

3. She learns – each time she blows something out of proportion, I am matter-of-fact about it. I don’t ask her to stop throwing a tantrum, I don’t yell back at her… As a result, when she cools down, she herself thinks about what happened and why it happened. We might talk about it or not. And the next time around, she has more perspective. The result is delightful and twofold: if she freaks about the same thing, the intensity is lower than it was earlier; and she freaks about bigger, more important things. Either way, she’s growing, and growing well. Oh, joy! 🙂

4. Love in action – It’s easy to be loving and accepting when things are going well. If you can be loving and accepting even when your instinct is to run screaming from him, he’s experiencing love in action. He will notice this. And it will give him the confidence to be who he is – assured that he is no less worthy of love because he is not all ‘good’. He will be less vulnerable to manipulation by people and circumstances. That’s what I want for my child. I’m sure that is precisely what you want for your child.

5. Someday, somewhere, it will out – If your child doesn’t vent at home, he will vent somewhere with someone. Who knows what might come of this?

6. Risk avoidance – I have seen so many children – and adults – leading heavily controlled lives: always making the right noises, having the right reaction in the right proportion, doing what is expected of them. Till one day, the smallest trigger completely derails them, and then it takes a good long while for them to get back on track – if at all they do. Better by far to let off steam as one goes along, and chug along the track of your own choice.  

So she doesn’t need to apologize for losing her temper. For the longest time, she didn’t believe me when I said it. But over the years, as we’ve lived the reality of it, she’s beginning to get it.

I gain in innumerable ways from having very little on my NO list:

I. The list is easy to remember – and abide by! 🙂

II. She shares freely with me – her thoughts, ideas and what goes on in her life, because she doesn’t need to worry about which NOs she has transgressed. Our communication is based in reality.  

III. When I say NO, she listens – no, not obeys, but it’s enough that she listens! 🙂 (She must make her own mistakes and learn from them – one of the hardest lessons for a parent.)

IV. We share a great relationship – both of us actively choosing to spend time with each other. And we enjoy ourselves!  

V. I can go up in smoke too! 🙂 And I do.

Well, what are you waiting for? Make your list of NO-s, edit it, communicate it, and then sit back and be a carefree parent…

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Teaching Your Child Equality

In theory, you believe in the equality of all people. And you’d like your child to believe it too.

Deep down, you know people aren’t equal, and it is not possible to treat everyone the same way, but you’d still like to treat whoever you meet, wherever you meet them, with a minimum level of decency, courtesy – call it what you will. And you want your child to do this too.

I believe the best way to ‘teach’ your child anything is to let her experience the thing you want her to learn.  

You’re showing her how to join Lego blocks to build a house. She interrupts you to say something, but you tell her, “I know how to do this, so you let me tell you how to build the house. Listen to me.” She hears you out, but continues to disagree. She is an architect in her own right and wants to build her kind of house, not your kind of house. She’s listened to you right to the end. Now, she wants to tell you how to build her kind of house. Time to practice equality. Stop flapping your gums and listen with all your might. At the end, you might still disagree with her house design. No matter. Let her build her kind of house, and you build your kind of house. That’s equality!

You’re teaching him to write the letter ‘K’. You demonstrate by first drawing the vertical line from top to bottom, then the top diagonal, then the bottom diagonal. Your son takes the pencil and draws first the vertical line from bottom to top, then the bottom diagonal, and finally, the top diagonal. At least look at the letter he’s written before you snatch the pencil from him and correct the way he’s writing! If he’s written a passable ‘K’, let him write it his own way. That’s equality.

This doesn’t mean you let your child run wild and do everything just the way he or she wants. (Children are great imitators, and will tend at first to do everything the way you do it. Later, they want to try doing everything the opposite way to how you do it! Both are just phases, and you can ride them out by staying cool, and being true to what you think.)

But let him first try it his way. If it doesn’t work, your child will drop the idea. If it works, how bad can it be? And you can always introduce a new way of doing something, or looking at something, or thinking about something. But he’ll be open to listening to your way only if you’ve been open to ‘listen’ to his way.

Even if he listens, it doesn’t mean he’ll do as you say. He might still choose to do it some other way. That’s fine! You continue to do it your way. That’s equality.

When my daughter was a toddler, lunch was usually rice with dal (lentil gravy), raw sliced cucumber and tomato, and a couple of cooked vegetables – say potatoes with cauliflower, and cabbage with peas. She would eat everything on her plate item by item. If she wanted the cucumber first, she’d eat all the cucumber, then pick all the peas out and eat them, then move on to the dal, spooning it into her mouth, and so on. As a result, she usually ate just plain boiled rice. Which appalled everyone but me.

“Mix some dal with the rice,” people would say. “At least add some vegetables to the rice. Even poor people add some flavor, some pickle or vegetable or dal – nobody eats just plain boiled rice. And how can you break up the cabbage-peas into cabbage and peas?”

She’d look enquiringly at me, and I’d say, “You eat the way you want.”

Today, for many years now, she mixes everything on her plate into one big pile.

“How can you taste anything in that mess? Mix rice with dal, then try rice with potato curry, then try some chicken without anything else. Eat things separately so you can get the flavor,” people tell her.

She doesn’t look at me for direction any longer (she knows everything, you see! 🙂 ), but if she did, my response would be the same as it was earlier.

You are a concerned parent, so you feel free to voice your concern (yes, your child calls it “nagging”, but only because he doesn’t know the depth of your love for him! 🙂 ). You may be blessed with a ‘concerned’ child! He may be concerned that he’s going to be late for wherever you are going to, and he may voice his concern over and over again till you get there. This may happen every time you go out – whether to drop him to school, for an activity, a party, whatever. If you’re practicing equality, he should have the right to voice his concern the same way you have the right to voice yours. (This time, you’ll be the one calling it “nagging”! 🙂 )

Especially in Asian cultures, parents are given a semi-god-like status, at least traditionally. Good manners dictate that you do not argue with your parents, you can’t imagine yelling at them (what to speak of actually doing so!), and in all matters, you seek to please them. You could try being this kind of parent, I guess, but you’d have to find another world in which to raise your child; because nowhere around him does he see such a parent-child relationship at work.

Maybe in the Ramayana or Mahabharata (Indian mythological epics), but he sees them as stories. And such stories are counteracted by innumerable other stories. Besides, you’re nothing like the parents in the Indian mythological tales, so it’s foolish to expect your children to be like the kids in those tales!

So if you shout at your kids and tell them what they’ve done wrong, and still want to ‘teach’ them about equality, be prepared to let them shout at you, and point out in excruciating detail what you’ve done wrong.

Of course, there’s a flip side. If you’re willing to listen, so will they be. If you give them some leeway, some space and love and acceptance to vent, they will reciprocate more than you can imagine. If you do things for them because doing those things gives you joy, they will do things for you – and find pleasure doing them!

It’s equality, after all; it cuts both ways! 🙂

P.S. As I scramble to post this, my daughter’s saying, “Why don’t you organize yourself better so you’re ready with things and not rushing till the last minute?” I think she’s echoing something I told her a couple of hours ago! 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Strategies to Calm Your Child

How many times in a day do you feel the need to calm to your child?

He doesn’t have to cry or kick his heels on the floor in a tantrum. Maybe he’s out-of-control angry, and you want to calm him. Maybe she’s so excited about something that she’s becoming hysterical, or refusing to go to sleep. It could be fear holding your child in its grip. Or laughter – sometimes, you can laugh so hard you’re struggling to breathe!

Whatever the emotion, beyond a point, it needs to be managed.  

Here are some ideas:

1. Declare “Quiet Time” – I have used this successfully with lots of children. It works under 2 conditions: firstly, your parenting style must involve your doing something with your child. It could be giving her a bath, reading him a story, gardening, shooting hoops – whatever.

You’re solving a jigsaw puzzle with your son. When you finish you might say, “Now we’ll have some “Quiet Time”. He’ll ask, “What’s that?” You answer: “We both sit quietly, doing nothing. We don’t speak, don’t do any work, don’t watch TV or read a book or play or put things away or listen to music. We just sit quietly, doing nothing. We don’t even hug or hold hands.”

Sit yourselves down in front of a clock with a second hand, if need be, and tell your child: it’s “Quiet Time” (QT) for 1 minute. If he can’t tell the time, tell him that 1 minute means the second hand will move once around the clock from 12 to 12, and then QT is finished. By the way, you might want to start with 2 minutes or more. Also, it’s not your child who will get fidgety; it’s you who won’t be able to handle ‘doing nothing’!

He might think it’s weird, but he won’t question it, because he’s used to doing things with you – this will be just another thing you do together. You will definitely think it’s weird, but try and stick with it, because it works. Gradually, increase the time to 2 minutes, 3 minutes and so on, till you are up to 5 or 10 minutes.

Make sure you have at least 1 QT session a day, if not more. Initially, declare QT at arbitrary times of the day – when you are both peacefully engaged in whatever you’re doing, not when you are trying to calm him.

When he (and you! 🙂 ) get used to QT, you can begin to introduce it when he needs calming. It’s an activity he knows well by now, so it’ll work. But keep doing QT even at no-need-for-calming times, or he’ll get wise to your strategy, and won’t ‘play’ QT any longer! 🙂

QT works if you do things with your kids, and if you introduce them and get them used to the idea during regular times.

I’ve seen a 7-year old struggle with learning to tie her shoelaces, and declare QT to her dad when she became too frustrated! 🙂

 2. Offer a glass of water – Most of us could do with more water in our bodies. Children are no different. When hysteria is ruling the roost, offer your child a full glass of water, and ask that she drink it. If you start this when she is young, it will work for her right through life.

Drinking a full glass of water requires time, which gives your child a break from the extreme emotion. It hydrates the body, thereby reducing stress and lowering her heart rate.  Invariably, she will be calmer.

I am such a great believer in this, that if a child comes to me saying, “I’m bored. What should I do?” one of my top 3 responses is “drink a glass of water”. (The other 2 are “I don’t know” and “Take all your clothes off and stand outside the house”! 🙂  No, really! My logic for giving the last suggestion is “you’ll never be bored for the rest of your life!” 🙂 )

3. Go outside for a walk – with your clothes on! 😉 We spend too much time boxed up indoors. Just being outdoors, seeing space around us is healing. Even if you live in a concrete jungle, even if you don’t have very good air quality, even if it’s noisy – go outside. Take your child out of the house, and walk together.

Walk aimlessly. If you use the walk to pick up groceries, visit a friend, or get some work done, it will be much less effective as a calming strategy. As you use going-outside-the-house-and-walking, your child will begin to relate the aimless walk with calming down; he will begin to ‘get’ it.

Keep conversation to a minimum. Conversation fans emotion. Just be silent and walk. If he wants to say or ask anything, respond normally. For instance, when you’ve been walking for a few minutes, he might say, “Are you angry with me?” Speak long enough to reassure him that you’re not; you’re just in a quiet mood and want to be with him. Say no more.

As you both walk and he calms down, you might strike up a conversation, and that is fine. In fact, it’s great! But let it be his decision to speak or not.

 4. Hold your child – Young children accept being held by their parents. As they grow, first boys and then girls, begin to shrug off your cuddles, caresses and hugs. The accepted physical expressions become an arm around a shoulder, a pat on the back, a head leant on a shoulder, a squeeze of the arm or hand, a moment’s hand-holding, a touch, and eventually, maybe just silence. As your child grows from one stage to another, and depending upon the specific emotion she is going through, different things will work. But they all centre around holding your child.

 Croon something soothing, if you wish; or just hold her quietly. Keep holding her long past what you believe is necessary. Even if you believe she is in an uncomfortable position, don’t pull away. Ask her if she’d like to be more comfortable. If she does, she’ll move herself, but stay in your arms. You keep holding her, till she pulls away.

Do let me know your experience with these strategies, if and when you try any of them!

P.S. There’s another benefit to the first 3 – they work for you as well! 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Deconstructing Good Grades

Let’s deconstruct Good Grades. There are two words here: Good, and Grade.

What is a Grade? It is an indication of comparative performance. A grade indicates that on a given day, amongst a specific bunch of people, somebody thought that your child deserved a particular grade.

Change any of the italicized words above, and your child’s grade will be different.

If the individuals in the group change, your child’s grade will change. If there is a different evaluator, your child’s grade will change. And the same child will perform differently on different days at different times.

Your brilliant child may have a headache, and get third rank in the class, as opposed to being at the top. The opposite may also happen!

Some years ago, I’d been trying to force my daughter to learn how to play chess. With her usual grace (our children are almost always graceful, till they decide they’ve had enough, and if they don’t put their foot down, we’ll end up trampling all over them! And I agree with them. 🙂 ), she agreed to take chess classes.

After a month or so, her chess coach suggested she participate in chess competitions and tournaments so she’d play against others and hone her skills. She agreed. At this point, she was making a lot of unforced errors, so both the coach and I expected that a competition would merely expose her to playing matches with real people, rather than solving chess puzzles from books, which is what she’d been doing till then. (No, I didn’t play chess with her – I was busy doing my own thing! 🙂 )

There were brilliant players participating in her age group; they’d already been winning inter-city tournaments for a few years, and were representing their schools in national competitions.

My daughter registers, and needs to play against – I think it was 5 people. One didn’t show up, so she got a walkover. And she drew 1 and defeated the other 3!

She was delighted, and I was in shock (happy too, but that was a very faraway second reaction). As for the coach, he took me aside and said, “What have you been giving her for the past few days?” (!)

Like I said, any child, on a given day, amongst a particular bunch of kids, can achieve (or fail to achieve) anything.

But you choose to ignore this. You like to think you can control results by managing actions. You reason this way: if you can ‘make’ your child study hard enough, she will be well prepared. She will get all the answers right. She will score the maximum grade possible.

And when she doesn’t get the grade you’d like her to get, you lose it.   

Let’s move on to the second word: Good. What is a ‘good’ grade? The grade you’d like your child to get! 🙂

Suppose he does get a ‘good’ grade! 🙂  What then?

Here is the sad truth: you are happy, but only for a bit. Dissatisfaction rears its ugly head soon enough, sometimes as early as a minute after learning about your child’s wonderful grade.

My daughter’s classmate topped the math exam, with 6 marks less than the maximum marks. This is a very competitive child, under constant pressure to top the class, which doesn’t usually happen, so I was very pleased to learn that she’d topped the exam. The next person was as far as another 6 marks below the topper.

When my daughter told me this child had topped, I exclaimed, “How lovely!”

My daughter replied, “Yes, and guess what? She got scolded for getting 6 marks less than the maximum! I tell you, her parents are dictators!”

I didn’t know whether to be shocked or to laugh.

Here’s your child achieving something you’ve been pushing her to do, and when she does it, you chew her out? How long do you think she’s going to try and give it her best before she just gets tired of a goalpost that is constantly shifting farther away?

I’ve had 5-year olds tell me in all seriousness, “You know, if I make a mistake in a test, Mummy hits me with her slipper.”

Parents of primary school kids boast of sending their children for after-school coaching for Math, Science, and languages.  

No wonder your child is burnt out by the time he reaches middle school. When is he going to live his life? When is he going to do it his way?

He’s toed the line (your line!) so long, he’s tired. In addition, adolescence is a hard-to-deny siren that’s pulling him away from your ‘guidance’, and he’s sick of ‘being serious’ about his studies and his sports and his co-curricular activities.

Isn’t there anything you can do? (This is the all-powerful parent ego at work.)

Sure you can! You can be quiet.

Your best strategy is silence. Not a sullen, angry, disappointed, I’ve-done-so-much-for-you-and-I’m-still-killing-myself-to-give-you-a-good-future-but-you-don’t-care-you-can’t-even-do-a-simple-thing-like-study-well-and-get-good-grades silence, but a calm, aloof, it’s-your-choice-my-dear silence.

Bite your tongue. It really will be okay.

Back off. Give him some breathing room. If he doesn’t study, let him be. No action on your part will make him change his ways. Some day he will look around. He will find his peers working towards a career. That itself will spur him on to find his focus.

Instead of getting after him, be available to him so he feels comfortable talking to you about any doubts, confusion or indecision he faces.

Being grade oriented is a foolproof way to hand over your emotions to factors completely outside your control. (You are an intelligent adult, and can see this is not smart.) It is also one of the surefire ways to negatively affect your relationship with your child.

If you have to speak, tell him to do his best, and accept it as his best effort – at that time. Don’t draw conclusions about his career, life, success and happiness because of a grade he got – or didn’t get.  

Try acceptance. You might just be surprised at the result you’ll get.

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂