Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012 – Do

Do things with your child.

I don’t mean that you don’t already do things with your child. I know you do. You help her read and do homework, you do chores together, you drive her to school sports activities parties…

But the things I’m talking about doing with your child are the things that your child wants to do – that you probably don’t want to do.

Like when your 2-year old wants to play ball, and all you have energy for is sinking into bed. Or when you have a deadline looming and your child is determined to lay out all her dolls and have an elaborate fashion show.

If I were faced with either of the above situations, I would beg to be excused. “I’m too tired / tense, so it wouldn’t be much good my playing with you right now, but I will definitely play with you …” (I’d mention a specific time).

And then, I’d make sure to do what I said I’d do.

Whenever your child asks you to do something with him, you may be willing and able to do it – or not, but know this: what your child will remember is how often you put him off. So you need to make a conscious decision each time your child asks you to do something – will this be yet another instance that he ‘remembers’, or will you both have a great time doing something together?

But maybe only your child has a great time doing the thing – you don’t!

When she was little, my daughter loved imagining stories with dozens of characters, each of whom she named. She described each character’s traits in detail, and if the name didn’t match the character sketch, it was changed. As a result, a 2-hour marathon session of ‘playing’ could result in a hundred-odd characters which were related to each other in some way, whose names and personalities were defined, but no story had been finalized – there was no sequence of events.

And every time we began the game, we played it from the beginning; or at least so close to the beginning, that we never really got the story off the ground. I love imagining games too, but it was a terrible strain trying to remember what the fifth daughter’s smallest doll was called, and how she looked! 🙂

My daughter would accuse me of not being interested, of having a bad memory, and of not ‘playing’ properly. I told her I simply couldn’t remember so much detail, especially since some of it changed every now and then. And what was the point of going on about all these people (and animals – but there I still tremble to go! 🙂 ) when the story just didn’t move forward?

But she was adamant. “You don’t play properly. And if you don’t play properly, I’ll be very angry with you and when I grow up, I won’t let you come to my house to visit me.” I was being threatened by a 2.5-foot high piece! 🙂

She loved the game and I didn’t. From my point of view, I was being the loving parent, sacrificing so much time and mind space towards utter banalities, indulging her, and she was threatening me because she didn’t appreciate what I was doing for her. Impasse.

This is a trap most parents tend to fall into. We do things ‘for’ our children, things we would rather not do if left to ourselves, and then we resent it when our kids don’t appreciate that we’re doing all this ‘for’ them.

Hmmm – time to introspect. I stepped away and told her I needed a few days of not playing the game to see what we could do to make things better.

I realized that my daughter didn’t care two hoots about my playing the game with her. What she really wanted was that I should ‘enjoy’ the game as much as she did. My playing the game was no good unless I got into the spirit of it. She didn’t want a martyr-type attitude from me – which is what she was getting.

I, on the other hand, wanted to put in the least possible effort towards playing the game to get the maximum parental mileage out of it: “My mom plays with me all the time! We have a great time!” And it wasn’t happening.

So which was more important to me?

I decided on a compromise. I told her I’d love to play the game “properly”, but I couldn’t play it as often as she wanted me to. So I could either play “not properly” 4 times a week, or “properly” twice a week. The ball was back in her court.

She chose (predictably) “properly” twice a week. And so, I put my best foot forward and really got into the spirit of the game. She was delighted, and I was thrilled too – because my ‘doing’ things with her was finally getting me the brownie points I wanted as a parent.  

The lessons I learnt about ‘doing’ things with your child?

1. Do what your child wants – This is his game. Let him set the rules (but not change them to his convenience if he’s losing! 🙂 ). Let him decide what kind of game it will be. Let him be in the driver’s seat. Don’t tell him how to play; it is his game – you’re just playing it.

2. Concentrate on enjoying yourself – Unless you are clearly enjoying yourself, your child doesn’t register your ‘doing’. Get into the spirit of the game. Just as eating requires that you chew every mouthful to get the maximum flavor, apply yourself to every move, concentrate on every roll of the die, deliberate on every swing of the bat… Discuss the game afterwards – this is a big one. Usually, you only discuss things afterwards if you’ve had ‘fun’ doing them. 🙂

3. Ignore winning and losing – Do not play to win, but don’t play to lose either. The first is competitive, and remember, you’re ‘doing’ because you’re trying to make parenting easier on yourself and your child. The second smacks of ‘lying’, and though your child may appreciate your effort in the beginning, in the long run, the falsity of what you are doing will far outweigh any potential (if at all) benefits of such ‘playing’.

4. Go with the flow – As your child grows older and his interests change, the game may change rules, players, or it may be a completely different game. The little girl who only wanted to play with dolls may be fixated on chess now. And then it might be video games. Whatever it is, do it.

5. Let your child teach you – This is perhaps the most difficult thing for parents to do. I don’t know anything about dance, and my daughter lives, breathes, eats and sleeps dance (and a few other things). She’s always telling me about the new moves they learnt in class or exercises they do that will help me get fit or asking me to watch dance movies and videos with her.

So much of the joy we get is from sharing the things we love with the people we love. Even if it is not your ‘thing’, let your child tell you about how to animate a character, or play golf, or play a tune, or write a software program. When we refuse to participate, when we turn our face away, we deprive ourselves of shared joy and love; we extinguish the spark in our children.  

You’ve spent your life showing and teaching him things. Let him experience what it feels like to be in your shoes, and let yourself be the one taught. Go ahead and let him teach you about the things that excite him. Learn actively, eagerly from him. If you pay attention, it will open up a whole new world of communication and connection with him. 🙂 

Do write back and share your experience as you try out these parenting basics – I’m sure you’ll find you’ve put the zing back into your life with your child. Happy carefree parenting! 🙂

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


How to Get Along with Your Child – Like, not Love

LIKE – such a lukewarm word, so tame; not strong, like LOVE.

You love your child; more precisely, you LOVE your child. Love comes naturally to a parent. Nature ensures it – your helpless infant needs you! He depends on you for everything – he can’t make it without you. And you (we all) love to be needed (there’s that ‘love’ word again!) – it makes you feel special.

Besides, after a short while, the helpless infant begins to respond, to engage with you, to smile and laugh and play with you, to connect with you. Love for your child comes easily to you as a parent, and once it comes, it stays right through your life.

But do you LIKE your child?

“Umm – what kind of question is that? I mean, I love my child – that is the main thing, right? What do you mean ‘like’ my child? Like is unimportant, it’s a small word. People like all kinds of things and people, but they love (LOVE) only a few things and people, and I’m telling you, I LOVE my child,” you say.

I agree – Love is the big one. But I believe LIKE is far more important, especially if you want to live happily with your child.

Think of your friends – people you want to spend time with. Chances are, you don’t love them; but you most certainly like them. Being with them, around them makes you feel good. Maybe because they are amusing, or agreeable, or ‘nice’, or warm, or friendly, or sympathetic – whatever the reason(s), being with them is something you look forward to.

It is very likely that the people you like like you right back. (Not on facebook – in real life. 🙂 ) For at least a couple of reasons. First, who doesn’t like to be liked? If you know that someone likes you, you tend to like them. Second, you are more agreeable, more amenable, more open to people you like than you are with those you may not like as much. This makes you more likeable.  

Essentially, you get along well with people you like. Of course there are differences of opinion – but the very fact of your liking each other gives each of you the space to air those differences without shaking the foundations of your friendship.

Back to your child. You LOVE your child, but most of the time, your love gets in the way of your getting along with your child. You have your own agenda “for the ‘good’ of your child”. 🙂 ! And your child has her own agenda (who knows what that is?), and love is buried deep, if not thrown by the wayside, as both your wills clash from morning to night.

Ah, but if you LIKE your child – what a difference that makes! Here’s a person you enjoy being with – never mind that she is your child. You like her for who she is, for the way she looks at the world, the way she speaks thinks feels. You appreciate many qualities about her – you forget that she is your child – you meet her and spend time with her as you would with anyone else that you like.

Of course your child loves you! He has no choice – children know no other way to be than to love their parents. It is we – the parents – who teach our children non-loving ways of relating to us. But does your child like you? (Does this sound like blasphemy? I bet this question hasn’t struck you before! 🙂 )

If you find things to LIKE about your child, your child will be able to like you right back! He will accept you as you are – he will appreciate many things about you – things he may or may not have in common with you.

He will talk to you and you will listen, because you enjoy spending time with him. You will speak and he will pay attention, because he enjoys being with you. You will find things to do that you both enjoy. And you will also agree to disagree on many issues without your making heavy weather of them (in the sense of pulling rank: “I’m your Mom/Dad and I say so, therefore you have to…”). You will look forward to spending time together.

You will get along with each other – and be able to live in relative happiness from one day to the next.

Figure out what you like about your child. Identify the qualities you appreciate and enjoy no matter who you find them in. You like honest people? People who make you laugh? People who are enthusiastic? People who are creative? People who are active? Well, your child has some of these qualities too! Forget that he is your child. Focus on the qualities that you like in him.

If you don’t LIKE your child already, teach yourself to do so. And as you begin to like your child, you will find that life goes much more smoothly for you. Here’s to carefree parenting – by you! 🙂

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