Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012 – Be

Be who you are.

I can almost see you wrinkle your forehead in perplexity. “Be who you are?” What could I possibly mean by that? I mean, who else could you be but yourself?

But there are so many times when you don’t let yourself be who you are. Here’s what I mean:

1. You hide your real emotions – Maybe you are feeling upset because of something your child did or did not do (forget to wish you for an important date, ignore your request that she keep quiet because you are unwell, say hurtful things to get back at you for not being ‘nice’…). Do you hide that you are upset? When your child asks you if you’re okay, do you manufacture and flash a false smile at her to signify you’re alright?

Or do you tell her you’re not feeling so good and need a little time and space to recover? (This is very different from telling her: “I’m upset because you misbehaved with me.” When you say this, you are telling her that she is responsible for how you are feeling. She will learn not to be responsible for her own feelings. You are also trying to influence her behavior, which will encourage her to manipulate others and be manipulated by them.  But letting her know that you are feeling not-so-good is neither manipulative nor false.)

2. You are afraid that you will not live up to the image of the ideal parent – If you have an image in your head of how an ideal parent should behave, you try to be as close to that image in real life as possible. But you are not that image – and so, you end up being who you are not.

You may believe you are not attractive, not attentive, not loving, not educated, not rich, not talented, not smart – in short, you may believe that in some way or other you are not a ‘good’ parent. To reduce the pain of not being ‘good enough’, you deny your natural instincts, ruthlessly suppress your nature and personality, and set out to be the image of what you believe is the ‘perfect’ parent.

A friend of mine had an obsessive-compulsive mother. If a single t-shirt in her closet was out of place in the pile, the mom would pull out everything from the closet. No, I’m not exaggerating. At the end of a few minutes, the closet would be empty, and everything in it would be strewn all over the floor. My friend would then be asked to rearrange every single article of clothing back into the closet, making sure to get it right with no folds or creases, no clothes folded ‘out of line’, and all folded clothes arranged in perfectly ordered piles.

When she told me this, I smiled and remarked that she must have spent a lot of her childhood (re)arranging closets. She said she’d sworn then that her kids could be as messy as they liked and she wouldn’t utter one word of reproach. I stayed with her a few years ago. Her son was then a boisterous 7, and I was impressed to see how clean his room was. As he showed me his new toy and replaced it before going out to play, my friend called out to him: “Come and put your car back properly in the pile of toys. The way you’ve done it now, the box is tilting off the pile.” 🙂

I reminded her of her childhood decision (it had almost been in the nature of a vow) to let her kids be messy. “Oh! I’m nothing like my mom. When my son sits on the bed and the sheets get creased, I don’t throw down the bedclothes and ask him to make the bed again. He keeps sitting or reading or playing. All I ask is that when he gets up, he should straighten the bedclothes. But I have to ask him to keep the closet neat, or how will he find his toys?” There wasn’t any point telling her that the difference she was trying to point out was so negligible as to hardly exist.

Over the weekend that I stayed with her, I watched her seesaw between letting her child ‘be messy’ (!) and straighten up obsessively after him. As for the boy, he was afraid to move a muscle in his own house lest he disarrange something. What a terrible way to live!

So – whenever you next catch yourself living up to some ‘good’ or ‘approved of’ or ‘ideal’ notion, do yourself and your child a favor. Drop it. Flawed as you are (and we are all flawed 🙂 ), you are of infinitely greater value just as you are, than pretending to be someone you are not. Your pretence will increase your anxiety and confusion, bewilder your child, and encourage her to be who she is not. Why perpetuate the misery?

Set yourself – and your child – free. Free to be who you are. This is the only way you will ever have a real and meaningful relationship with your child.

You may be convinced that you are not ‘good’, but the truth is that you are ‘good enough’. And that’s enough. Now all you need to do is believe it and carry on from there.

***

As Ingrid Bergman said, “Be yourself. The world worships the original.”

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


The Loving Parent, the Nice Parent, and the Difference Between Them

You love your child. (Duh! 🙂 )  That makes you a loving parent. Most of the time, you try to be a nice parent as well. You put in a lot of effort to make your child happy, give him what he wants, and generally keep things as pleasant as possible between you both.

You are shooting yourself in the foot.

It took me years to realize that there is a big difference between being a loving parent and a nice parent. In fact, there are 5 big differences.

1. As a loving parent, you work from your beliefs and convictions and stay true to them. If you change your belief, it is for a good, solid reason. A nice parent works to get approval from the child.

As a loving parent, you might frown on your child breaking the curfew rules. As a nice parent, you might relent ‘this one time’, because you want your child to think you are nice. Or because you think you are being nice.

2. If you are a loving parent, you are consistent. You make rules, decisions and choices that follow a particular line of thinking, and your child finds it easy to understand what you are all about – what you expect from her, what she can expect from you, what you would approve and disapprove of, what you value and what you don’t, and so on.

To be a nice parent, you need to be an acrobat, swinging from one end to the other of a perpetually shifting circus ground. Since ‘nice’ is a response from your child, her response will depend upon her mood. When she is feeling good and you refuse her a request, you may continue to be a nice parent. When she is feeling crotchety, and you deny her a second helping of dessert, you may suddenly stop being ‘nice’. You’re not really sure of your ground.

Your child is unsure too – of himself and of you. He doesn’t really know what behavior is okay and what is not, since so much seems to depend on your reaction at a particular moment. And that is always unpredictable.

3. As a loving parent, you are in it for the long haul. This is why you may choose to withhold approval even when it is due – maybe because your child is getting addicted to approval, maybe because he needs to learn to appreciate rewards other than your approval, maybe because he needs to look beyond approval…

A nice parent responds with what feels good at the moment. If you are being nice, you may respond to your child’s tantrums by pleading or cajoling or yelling or giving in (this is the last time!) or holding your ground… – with whatever you think will make the tantrum stop soonest. The tantrums continue, because your child is not sure when he might get lucky and get away with it.

4. You may seem unnecessarily stern, even harsh, if you are being a loving parent. You may choose to stand back and see your child fall, let her face problems, without doing anything to help her. She may wonder if you really love her. (“If you love me, you will help me, take my troubles away, make it easy for me…”). That doesn’t bother you, because you are in the business of being a loving parent, not a nice one, and you go about your business as usual.

If you want to be a nice parent, you will always step in to ease things for her, till one day, circumstances will make it impossible for you to ‘make the troubles go away’. I don’t know what you’ll come up with at that time, but you might be able to swing something.

5. As a loving parent, you aren’t always nice. But then you don’t really care about being nice.

As a nice parent, I’m not so sure you’re a loving parent. But you want to be one! “I’m sure it’s possible to be both – loving and nice, isn’t it?” you ask.

Sure it’s possible to be both loving and nice – but only occasionally. Most of the time, you can only pick one.

So which do you want to be: a loving parent or a nice one?

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


Talking to Children about Death

Some parents have written to me asking for suggestions on how they could explain the concept of death to their children.

There are 2 aspects to explaining death to children (or to anyone else). One is to help them be less afraid of death. This in itself is a tall order. How many of us can claim to have come to terms with the fact that with each passing moment, we are closer to death? Have we even begun to examine our own attitude towards death, our own fear of it? The answer is probably “no”. And still we want to help our children overcome the fear of death? Parents are a strange breed indeed!

The other aspect of death that you might want to address with your child is how to deal with the death of a loved one.

In the first case, the child himself will be gone. In the second, a dear one is gone, and the child needs to deal with the loss, the grief, perhaps the guilt, and maybe even an increased fear of his own death.

Today I’ll tell you some ways in which I have explained death – not only to my child, but to other children as well. In the next post, I’ll give you ideas on how you could help a child deal with the loss of a loved one.

“Where did I come from?” This is one of the questions that most fascinates children. As they grow, they learn about puppies and kittens and calves, they learn about birds hatching eggs, they see seeds grow into plants and trees, and they ask, “Where did I come from?”

Depending on your beliefs and your style of parenting, you come up with some answer to the question. But as your child grows, she wants more detail. (“How did I get into Mom’s tummy?” – a question you might have been dreading! 🙂  More on answering this in a subsequent post.) Given that your child will repeat this question innumerable times over the years, and ask for different kinds of information each time she asks “Where did I come from?”, I hope you are giving / have given some thought to what you’ll say.

I won’t tell you what to say. There are innumerable books, websites, movies out there which will give you ideas. You also have your memory of your own childhood as a resource, as well as ideas, suggestions and the experience of friends and family. For sure you’ll come up with something.

What is important is that you believe in whatever you come up with, that you are comfortable with the point of view, the level of detail, the language and the explanation. That is the only way your child will accept your answer. No matter how far out or how contrary to accepted belief, as long as you believe in the ‘truth’ of your version, your explanation will work.

In case you’re want to remind me that I’ve gone off-track (you’re supposed to be explaining death to a child, not how she was born), rest assured. I’m still with the program. 🙂 

Ever since she was little, one of my daughter’s favorite ‘stories’ has been the story of how she was born. Of course, now that she’s a happening, know-it-all teen, the ‘wonder’ has gone out of the story, though it probably still has some nostalgic value. 🙂 

I don’t even remember when I first spoke to my daughter about death, but we had definitely had a few conversations about it by the time she was 2 years old.

For each of the ideas below, I repeat: use them with caution, only after you have thought each one through and are convinced about the statement. Each ‘answer’ you provide might raise a host of further questions, and unless you’re sure of your beliefs, it would be better not to use the answer. Also, different answers will work at different times with different children. You know yourself and your child, so pick what you think will work, or  use these as inspiration to come up with your own ideas. Do share in the comments – your ideas, experience, and feedback.

Ideas of how you could explain death to your child:

1. It’s like going to sleep: “When you are asleep, you don’t know what is happening around you. I might enter the room, or change your diaper, or pick you up, and you wouldn’t know it. Do you remember how you fell asleep in the car that day, after we’d gone to the zoo? When you woke up, you were in your bed. You don’t remember what happened in between, but many things happened. Death is a bit like that. Things go on, but the dead person is not a part of it.”

Then, extend the logic. “If you’re not part of it, you don’t miss it. So there is nothing to be afraid of.”

2. It’s like going away: “When you go to the park to play, you are not at home. You’ve gone away from home. Dying is like that – people who die go away. (We don’t know where they go.) When you are away from the house, it’s not necessary that you are sad or lonely or frightened. You may be enjoying yourself enormously with your friends. I keep calling you to get home and do your homework, but you’re having so much fun that you don’t want to come back; you want to keep playing outside. So if death is like going away, it doesn’t mean it has to hurt or be painful or sad or lonely. When you’ve gone away to the park, you could be happy or sad, having fun or fighting with your friends – anything could be happening. But that is true of life at home too! You could be happy or sad, having fun or fighting at home as well. It’s all happening in a different place – that’s all.”

3. You have died before, only you don’t remember – This is my favorite explanation! 🙂  “When you were a little baby inside Mom’s / my tummy, you only knew darkness. Everything around you was soft and wet, all the sounds that reached you were muted. Nobody ever touched you, you only felt vibrations – like when a heavy truck goes past and you feel its movement in your body. You were safe and comfortable. That was your life inside the tummy. But nature does not allow babies to live inside the mom’s tummy forever. So you had to come out. You came out into bright light, into a cold dry room, with strange voices talking loudly, plastic gloves touching you. I’m sure you must have hated it!

We (your parents) welcomed you with joy. ‘Our baby is born!’ we said, delighted. We couldn’t stop smiling. But for you, for the little baby, it was like a death. The place you were in, the way you lived earlier (inside the tummy) was your life. And that life ended – it changed. You went away to another world – that is, you came into this world. So the death you think of as the end of this life is not necessarily bad – the more you think about it, the more anxious you will get, but that anxiety will not change anything. Everyone has to die, but dying out of this life may mean being born in another place. And guess what? You actually celebrate the day you died inside the tummy – you celebrate it with cake and candles and gifts as your birthday! 🙂 🙂 

4. What if nobody died? – This is a great way of getting children to see why death in the abstract is desirable. Ask your child this open-ended question, and keep asking questions to each of her responses. It will lead to the realization that it is important that living things should die. A hypothetical conversation:

You: What if nobody ever died?

Your child: Then people would live forever! Nobody would have to go away.

You: Where would these people live? We complain already of so much traffic on the roads, so many people without jobs, too many children trying to secure admission in too few ‘good’ schools, too many people dying of hunger, too many people without homes. If nobody ever died, where would all these people live? Where would they find enough food?

Your child: (Some answer.)

You: And what would these people do with their time?

Your child: They would play/watch movies/have fun/shop (whatever is your child’s “fun thing” at the moment).

You: For how long? You like playing, but can you imagine Granddad playing for hours in the park? When you go for a walk with him, you complain that he walks too slowly. What would you do if you lived to be that age and you lived forever? Even as a child, you come home tired after playing for a few hours. How would you like to just keep playing all through the day every single day? Believe it or not, you’ll be bored.

“Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not.”  

Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC)

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


Motivating Your Child

Motivate (verb): to provide with a motive or motives; incite; impel.

I’d agreed to conduct a few sessions on Fun with English as part of an Integrated Summer Workshop. One day we explored Creative Writing. The next day, a Grade 8 girl’s mother came to meet me.

“I really liked that you made them write something yesterday. My daughter writes quite well. Have you seen what she wrote?”

I told the lady that I hadn’t yet looked at what the children had written.

She continued, “I keep telling her she should write something – if not every day, at least every week. But you know how children are – they don’t listen to their parents. 🙂 I wish you would tell her to write something and show it to you. She enjoys your workshop – I’m sure she’ll be motivated by your telling her, and she’ll write something for you.” She looked hopefully at me.

Many years ago, I was convinced we could motivate our children. Give them enough inducement (enough ‘carrots’) and they would fall in line – with their parents’ wishes, of course. Even with my own child, I would keep trying to ‘motivate’ her to do different things – try skating, solve puzzles, write a journal… The three I mention here were dismal failures. Others had more satisfactory results, but I was beginning to tire of the whole bag of tricks.

It was such a lot of work for me! I had to keep on and on at it. Also, when I’d first start motivating her, it would seem to work. But after a bit, it would take enormous amounts of motivation to get her to make the slightest change.

There had to be a better way, I guessed. So, from being a convinced motivator, I graduated to just flirting with the idea of motivation. Sometimes, I’d just dig my heels in and NOT motivate her. Let’s see what happens, I’d think.

And I found what I’d have realized a long time back if only I’d stopped to think dispassionately about it. (Ah! But that’s the rub – it’s so difficult to be dispassionate about your children. :-)) Nothing happened! Nothing at all – neither good nor bad.

Say I’d been trying to get her to wear a T-shirt she disliked. When she was very young, what seemed to work was, “It’s so nice!” She’d eye it doubtfully, but give in. After a bit, I had to up the ante. “It’ll make me happy if you wear it.” (I know! I’m writing the blog from cold, hard experience! :-)). That didn’t work for too long!

One day, as I was looking through my closet for ‘something to wear’, she handed me a dress that had been hanging there forever. It was appropriate for the occasion, but I didn’t want to wear it. “But you’ve never worn this dress, and it’s been hanging here for months!” she said. Well, years actually, but – er…

I get a direct stare from her. “You should wear it. It’ll look nice on you. It’ll make me happy. I think you’ll look great in it. Think how much money you spent on the dress.” I was handed all my own arguments in one big bundle. I fumbled for a response.

Finally, I resorted to pulling rank. “Listen, I don’t want to wear it, and that’s that.” Obviously, I never again tried to get her to wear the tee (or anything else!) that she disliked.

So: motivation? I don’t know.

At the end of the day, people do what they feel like doing. That explains procrastination as well. You need to work on that report, but you don’t feel like it. You’ll find any number of ‘reasons’ why you couldn’t get to it, and then stress yourself out trying to do a good job and get it in on time.

Why should it be any different for your kids? They are complete human beings (except, with shorter life experiences) in their own right.

Your son draws great cartoons, and he’s doodling stuff all the time. You can appreciate what he draws. You can tell him you’d be willing to let him to take a class in cartooning if he wishes it. That’s about all you can do. Beyond that, it is his call.

Your daughter may be great at gymnastics. She’s so good she could go professional, the teacher at school tells you. You ‘motivate’ her to go to a class. Maybe she’s just not interested! Maybe she’s happy with gymnastics as just an activity.

But you’re so intent on ‘motivating’ her ‘for her own good’ that you keep pushing it at her. Besides, you are a ‘dedicated’ parent, and want to ‘help’ your child fulfill her potential and not ‘waste’ herself (a sentence full of ‘inverted commas’: a life lived inside inverted logic, actually.) You will both feel pressured and unhappy about it. However hard you try to ‘motivate’ her, your effort will end in grief.  

The bottom line is: no one can motivate anyone else. Not as a parent, not as a spouse, not as a friend – it simply ain’t happening. (Think about it: if we could be ‘motivated’ by others, we’d all be fit and super-successful at our jobs! 🙂 🙂 You may be inspired by someone, but motivation is a different ballgame.)

Motivation, the only kind that matters, comes from inside a person. No matter how much you ‘motivate’ him, beyond a point, your son won’t do something he doesn’t want to do. Besides, for how long will you go on motivating him? On the other hand, if he’s motivated, you’ll have to move heaven and earth to deflect him from his chosen path! 🙂

Know, as you try to ‘motivate’ your child, that you are systematically harming your relationship with him.

He will resent your inability to accept his choices – he will resent your inability to accept him. Like everyone else, he wants to be appreciated for who is he now, today – not be treated as a work-in-progress which will be fully appreciated once it is complete.

I told the parent at the workshop what I thought about ‘motivating’ children (or anyone, for that matter). “If her writing is to have any meaning, she must write for herself first – before she writes for anyone else.”

She wasn’t happy with what I’d said, but she saw the point. “But what should I do?”

“Let her be,” I said gently.

What you can do – all you can do – is to encourage your child in whatever he is motivated to do.

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


The Power of Expectation

A lot of people think I’m crazy. Well, it’s a free world, and people can think what they want, is my response to that. What’s interesting is why they think I’m crazy.

One of the reasons people think I’m loco is that I talk – to children – even those who are just a few months or weeks or days old. And I talk to dogs, but that’s not who we’re trying to parent here (not that there’s much difference, if you ask me, and that includes toilet training! ;-)).

If I have to quiet a squalling baby, I will pick him up, and talk to him. I’ll tell him to quiet down. I’ll keep talking to him till he’s quiet. Sometimes, the baby will yell even more loudly when I pick him up. In which case, I’ll put him back down, and – yes, you’ve got it – I’ll talk to him. I’ll tell him to quiet down, and keep talking to him till he’s quiet.

Obviously, this is not how to deal with a baby who’s crying because it’s hungry, or needs a diaper change. But this is true for all the other times that babies yell.

And every single time, the baby quiets down. Some kids take a few seconds, while others take a few minutes, but never has any child taken more than ten minutes. There’s nothing magical or special about me. It’s just that I expect the child to understand what I’m saying. So I talk to the child as if it really does comprehend every word.  I don’t have the slightest doubt in my mind about this. So, whether the child has heard the words or not (heck, whether the child has heard the language or not!), I talk to it expecting it to understand what I’m saying. And the baby does understand. Simple.

I’ve shared this with lots of people who know me in real life (as opposed to digital life, via the blog). They’ve gone back happy and excited to have finally found a way to manage their kids’ crying jags – “especially when she’s so little that she can’t understand what I’m saying”.

Uh – you can guess what happens next, can’t you? They come back telling me I’m crazy. They’ve tried it with their kid and it doesn’t work. “Maybe it’s you – you just sort of ESP them or hypnotize them or something, but it doesn’t work when I do it.”

They take the idea of talking to the child and want to use it like a magic pill. Pop it in the open, wailing mouth, so that blessed peace is restored. It don’t work that way, honey.

You’ve got to believe that she can understand you. If you can get yourself to believe it (maybe make-believe the noise emanating from the pint-sized piece is annoying background music as you try to speak with the mature adult facing you!), your voice, your pitch, your tone, your eyes, your body, everything will be geared towards communicating that the baby should be quiet. And you will expect to be understood. You will expect her to understand what you are saying. And if you believe that she can, she will understand what you are saying.

This is why some people seem to have no trouble getting through to others. (Using the power of expectation is only one of the reasons, so let’s not blow this out of proportion.)  

You’ve been hearing complaints about your daughter’s disruptive behavior in class for years now, and as you drag yourself to her school for another meeting with the teachers, you’re prepared to hear more of the same. As you shuffle apologetically up to the teacher’s table, you’re taken aback by the beaming smile she gives you. ‘Must have mistaken me for someone else’, you think, as you sit down. You introduce yourself. The teacher is using words you don’t quite seem to understand: “wonderful – intelligent – lively – pleasure -”. Suddenly, your brain clicks on – she’s talking to you! About your daughter! But how?!

An amazed and disbelieving you, first speechless and then stammering with joy, gets up from that table looking surreptitiously for the broomstick the teacher sits on. You get home and confront your kid. “Your teacher praised you to the skies! What have you been doing all these years to get such bad reports about your behavior? What is different about her? What is different about you with her?”

Your daughter, in her typical communicative style, shrugs. “Oh! She’s alright. Fun sometimes, actually.”

“How does she do it?” you wonder. Well, I just told you! She expects that children will understand her instructions – whether they are about class work or acceptable behavior. And because she expects it as normal and natural, the children consider it normal and natural too, and so they deliver. They live up to her expectations.

Yup – expectations – they lift people UP – you’ve got to live UP to them – there’s no ‘down’ around here.

Think for a moment, of the opposite. You tell your son he has to help wash the car, expecting him to cheek you. Even as you tell him, you are defensive, preparing for his onslaught. Simultaneously, you are convinced about your moral right to ask him to help you wash the car. ‘Mom does lots of stuff for you. You’d better help me with this.’  No matter how stern, or how matter-of-fact or how authoritarian you might try to sound, a part of you is also preparing for him to defy you. That’s the part he cottons on to. Don’t ask me how he does it, but kids always know.

It might seem manipulative, getting kids to behave a certain way, but it’s not.

Because the power of expectation only works when you have reasonable expectations.

Your mind always knows when you’re coming from a place of ego, from a place of ‘I’m-your-parent-and-I-want-it-this-way-so-you’d-better-do-it-my-way’.  If you begin from this point, you might as well pack up and leave. It won’t work. However hard you try, you’re guaranteed to fail.

The power of expectation doesn’t take away your child’s right to make free choices. What it does do is help you create an atmosphere where such choices exist – because every moment is no longer a power struggle between you and your child.

Expect him to be reasonable about most things most of the time (don’t say “even though he’s a child?”! Children are almost the only reasonable human beings on the planet today ;-)) – expect it with all your faculties – and see him live up to your expectations. Enjoy a carefree parenting experience! 🙂

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


You Mean You Don’t Want to Save Lives?

I was at my daughter’s school for an event. The school was plastered with posters encouraging parents to participate in a blood donation camp being held at the same time.

As I was leaving the school, a student hailed me. “Ma’am, there’s a blood donation camp going on. Would you like to volunteer to give blood?”

I declined.

“It won’t take time, Ma’am, it’s very quick, and the organization doing it is one of national repute so you don’t need to worry about hygiene and safety.”

I refused.

“Do you have any disease, Ma’am? Anemia? Diabetes?”

I denied suffering from any disease.

“Then why don’t you want to give blood?”

I repeated that I didn’t.

“Ma’am, do you know, by giving blood today, you could be saving the lives of three people?”

I agreed that that might be so.

“So you’ll donate blood, Ma’am?”

I refused.

Disbelief. Incredulity. Shock. “You mean you don’t want to save lives?”

I said I didn’t want to give blood.

Her voice rose by many decibels. “Ma’am, you mean you really don’t care whether these people die?”

I smiled and told the student, “Those are your words. What I am saying is that I don’t want to give blood.”

And I walked away.

She didn’t draw blood. (Pun intended. :-))

But I was slightly uncomfortable. And that made me think.

If I, as a thinking adult, could be made uncomfortable by a child asking me questions from a script she’d been made to memorize, about an issue she had no clue about (except what had been taught to her), how would a child handle such manipulative tactics?

And why was I uncomfortable?

It was (and is!) my blood. I’m supposed to volunteer it, if at all I decide to do so. If I don’t, that’s my choice. So why the pressure? Why was I being forced to ‘volunteer’?

We all like to think of ourselves as ‘good’ people. And we are good. But we’re not ALL good. We know that. And that’s okay.

But when it comes to others, we want the world to think that we’re GOOD – we’re ALL good. There’s not a mean bone in our bodies. We’re sweetness and light and selflessness and …

Have you ever met a person who seemed to be all good? At least initially? If you have, then you’ll know that there can be just 2 opinions about such people.

They are annoying. And they are boring. That’s it.

If you haven’t met a person who is all good, thank your lucky stars you’ve been spared one of the more irritating experiences of life.

Knowing this, we persist in trying to make the world believe that we are ‘good’. Incredible! On top of that, we pride ourselves on being intelligent! How delusional can we be?

And our children? Manipulated every which way by everyone they meet till they don’t know whether they are on their head or on their heels.

The fact is that nobody’s thinking about you.

That student wasn’t thinking about me. Rather, she thought about me only because I didn’t do what she wanted of me. If I had agreed to ‘volunteer’, she’d have thanked me prettily, and dismissed me from her head immediately. Her sole concern was to get as many ‘volunteers’ to donate blood as she could. She used every means at her disposal to get me to do so – short of saying I killed three people (or would, in the future) because I refused to donate blood!

Every day, you come across different types of manipulation. People simulate admiration, awkwardness, anger, shame – the entire range of emotions to get specific reactions from you. Left to yourself, would you have acted the same way? Would you have responded the same way? Would you have made the same choice?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The more you get in touch with yourself, the more time you spend finding out what you believe, what is important to you, the easier it is to live happily.

Just imagine it! Here’s the world, trying to get you to do all kinds of things and you go your merry way. After a bit, they’ll drop the shocked reactions. They’ll realize you’re not playing their game.

Freedom! Unutterable joy! And as you wallow in this joy, you can share it and pass it on to your children. You can give them the ultimate gift – an unfettered life. Sure he’ll ask you lots of questions. “Why didn’t you give that beggar money? You say we should think of people less fortunate than us. Why didn’t you give her something? You ask me to share. Why didn’t you?”

Take the time to answer his questions. You might answer them over the course of many conversations over weeks. But the very fact that you are willing to engage in a discussion with him will reassure him. Your confidence will comfort him. The ease and poise in your eyes and voice and body will hearten him.

You see, he doesn’t care what others think. He cares what YOU think. And if you can show him that there is a method behind your ‘madness’, a reasoning behind your attitude, he will be at peace. Equally important, if you have taken the time to sort out how you feel about an issue, you will be clear. And you will be consistent in your response. Each time, your behavior will stem from the same logic. If you make an exception, you will consider it well before you do so. And you will make it a point to explain to your child why you have made an exception.

You believe in something. You live by it. Your child learns too, to believe in something (though you have to be prepared that it might be something different from what you believe in! 🙂 After all, he is his own person). He too, lives by it.

A sane, happy life. A carefree life. A fulfilling life.

The student asked me, “You mean you don’t want to save lives?”

I didn’t answer her, but I’ll share my thoughts with you. I believe I can make a difference. Everyone can. But saving a life?

My ego isn’t big enough to let me believe I’m so important I can save a life. Nobody is so important. Not even the super-specialist doctor. She can make a difference, but thinking that she’s saving a life is the beginning of a disease I pray I don’t fall prey to.


Introducing the Best Parent in the World: Part 1

Since I’m introducing the best parent in the world, it will take a bit of time, so this is Part 1 of the Introduction. Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to the best parent in the world. In fact, I’d like you to take a moment and meet this person.

YOU are the best parent in the world. For your children. Your children might not think so (! :-)), but it’s true. The best person to parent your children is you.

Your children may or may not believe this, but the real question is: do you believe it? Do you really believe you are the best parent in the world? In all probability, you don’t.  And you’re right not to believe it.

No, I’m not contradicting myself. Stay with me while I clarify what I mean.

Like I said at the beginning, I’d like you to take a moment and meet the best parent in the world. Take a moment to meet yourself.

When you tell your child “You shouldn’t lie”, where are you coming from? Do you truly believe that telling lies is undesirable? If you do, you probably don’t tell lies yourself. (I’d like to meet you and shake your hand!) But if you spout these homilies to your child because that is what a ‘good’ parent should do (teach “values” – a highly misused word), then you are coming from a false space.

Think for a bit. Why do you tell your child to tell the truth?

Is it so that you should look good to yourself? So that you should look good to others? When someone says “tell the truth”, your little one immediately pipes up and says, “That’s what my Dad and Mom always tell me.” And the listener will think, “Wow! What wonderful parents!” Come on – pull the other one!

Do you say it because you think you are being a ‘good’ parent by teaching ‘good’ values (there’s that word again!) to your child? Do you think it will help him to become a ‘good’ or ‘better’ person? Do you think it will help him be happier? More successful?

Just for a split second, let’s make believe that you really do believe that your child should tell the truth, and you drum it into his head all the time. Great! Your child is now telling the truth:

“Grandpa, I don’t like eating with you because your false teeth click as you eat and the sound makes me feel sick.”

“Aunty, Mom disliked your present so much that she threw it in the bin.”

“Mr. Policeman, Dad only drank a little bit today because he didn’t want you to catch him while we were driving home.”

How do you react to your child telling the truth?

Little children are literal. They see the entire world in black and white. They won’t understand the fine nuances of truth-telling that you mean to teach them.

What you probably want them to learn is that they should always tell YOU the truth, tell the truth to the world-at-large most of the time, agree verbally or tacitly when you lie (bowing to your superior knowledge of the situation), and keep shut  the rest of the time.

Ha! Fat chance! You know it doesn’t play out that way. At least, not when your child is little. With time and experience, and by watching you “tell the truth”, he will learn. But that comes later.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not for a moment suggesting that “telling the truth” is a bad idea. Nor am I endorsing lying.

The point is: What do you mean by the truth? Have you worked out for yourself what “telling the truth” means to you personally?

So meet yourself. What does the truth truly mean to you? Have you bought into some societal concept without believing in it? Are you spending your life trying to live up to beliefs that aren’t really yours? Beliefs that have been thrust on you by society? By your family? By your religion?

When we push ideas and beliefs that are not really ours onto our children – that is when we stop being the best parents in the world to them.

No matter what your belief, no matter how weird, no matter how contrary to popular ‘wisdom’, no matter how much it is against the ‘good values’ accepted by society, when you go against your own beliefs, you stop being the best parent in the world. Yes, I mean your OWN beliefs – the beliefs that you own.

We are all so anxious to look good to others, that we keep jumping through hoops without ever stopping to think if the criteria by which others are judging us mean anything at all to us.

Besides, people are capricious. They are as liable to praise you for an action as they are to criticize you for it. It’s not your action they’re responding to – it’s their mood, their day, how they think and feel at the time of the response that governs their response.

So you’re telling your child she should “tell the truth”. And then she sees you “not telling the truth”.

Are you really surprised when she starts giving you ‘trouble’? When she stops ‘listening’ (obeying is what you mean) to you? How could you be? Be reasonable. You’re an intelligent adult. If you don’t believe in what you say, if you’re not following through, why should she?

If your daughter asks you this question, you fob her off. “You won’t understand.” “It’s different for grown-ups.” “Don’t ask questions.” “Children should tell the truth.” “Good children tell the truth.” “You should tell the truth because I’m your parent and I say so.” “You must learn to tell the truth.” (Why? So she can un-learn it later?)

Of course your relationship with her is going down the tube! She’s lost and confused, and instead of helping her make sense of things, you’re pulling rank.

She’s your kid, and yours is the final word, but know that if there is enough discrepancy often enough between what you say and what you do, she will stop trusting you. And that is a road you’d rather not walk down.

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