Sometimes it’s better to change yourself rather than try to change them
Ever notice how relationships can be the most difficult with the people we love the most? Let it not surprise us, for these are the people in whom we are most emotionally invested. When you care about someone as much as a parent loves a child (a force of nature no less powerful than the wind and sea), the situation can be ripe for conflict, given the intensity of emotions.
Often there is a clash between parents’ desires and how children behave. Somewhat ironically, the best way to deal with it may be by treating children as if they were grown-ups. Be careful about what you say to them, how you behave with them and what example you set for them. Don’t be hypocritical, allow for compromise and remember that children have lives of their own.
Here’s an example of a clash that’s not unusual nowadays (all names are changed and quotes are paraphrased): Deeplai is a 44-year-old single mother of a 17-year-old girl and runs a successful real-estate business. She would often tell me: ‘my daughter Maya and I are good friends. I’m grooming her to take over my business. She’s the best kid anyone could have. I’ve told her she has to concentrate on her career and not on guys.’ It was like a bolt out of the blue when a year later Maya told her she had been called for an interview for an airhostess’s job. ‘You applied for a job without telling me? Why? I’ve sweated to establish this business. How could you do this to me?’ said Deeplai. ‘It’s always been about you. I can’t remember you ever asking me what I want to do. I’m going,’ said Maya. She went to Mumbai and after training, on her second flight met up with a young pilot with whom she is now living. So there you have it; surprises, disappointments, unpleasantness and tension all round.
Here’sanother example of a challenging situation: ‘It’s difficult,’ says Ritu, a working mom. ‘The time we can share with our preteen boys is limited on week days, so we make up with quality time on week-ends, but many times we feel our children are deceiving us’. And they may well be, but to the children’s minds it’s often justified. Parents are told what they want to hear, but quite regularly children will be resentful and rebellious if they feel that parents are not being completely truthful themselves. ‘All this stuff about parents spending quality time is a load of poppycock’, says a sceptical 17-year-old Manish. ‘They think that taking me on expensive holidays and giving me gadgets makes up for timethat they don’t spend with me,’ he adds.
And here’s yet another: A child who has been restricted the use of cell phones or TV viewing, saying: ‘When my parents come home from work, the first thing they do is switch on the TV or talk with friends on the phone, so why can’t I?’ Likewise, a parent who smokes or drinks telling his children ‘It’s bad for you.’
Should it be a major surprise to see children ignoring such advice?
I met up with Dr.Neelprabha Telang, (Niloo) a practicing homeopath based in Porvorim, who started the ‘Progressive Parenting Forum’ two years ago, to discuss the issue.
She first explained the work of the Forum: “It started with my patients talking about their problems. Children disobeying them, revolting, being aggressive, not giving them enough respect, not striving for higher grades (though they had the capacity to achieve them), and so on. I started meeting with five couples in the age group of 30-50years, with 6-18 year old children. We met on the 2nd Sunday of amonth to address such issues.”
Here are some anecdotes and advice offered by Niloo which arose from the experience of those meetings:
– “First off, it’s not necessary that every child should score 90%.”
– “Parents have to set examples. If saying ‘white lies’ to friends comes naturally, yourchild will think it’s no big deal to fib.”
– “In the case of two young girls whose parents complained that they were becoming glued to their TV sets we decided to disallow a cable TV connection. However, they were to be allowed to watch DVDs. Initially, the parents encountered resistance from the girls, but over a period of time the family found they were spending more time together, the children were reading more and playing more outdoor games.”
– “It’s important that parents change their terminology. For example you may come home from work and say: ‘I’m tired.’ Your child may then ask: ‘Why are you working?’ Instead of saying: ‘It gives me pleasure, or it gives me independence’, a parent might say: ‘To take you on holidays, or to buy you things.’ There is too much emphasis on money. This instills a false sense of values.”
Niloo has separate sessions with the children in these families. They confided in her about smoking and drinking on the sly, parents nagging them excessively, being dated in their thinking, lying and not spending enough time with them. There were also complaints about parents who have disharmony in their marriages continuing to live together, ostensibly for the sake of the children. Instead of helping the situation, the feeling of the children was that this was more disturbing than a separation would have been.
The work of the Forum has apparently been beneficial; parents have changed their attitudes and aggressive children have settled down. The results have encouraged Niloo to suggest to parents who have benefitted that they set up sub-groupsin their own localities.
And so to some concluding advice for parents: Don’t bribe children in exchange for good conduct. Try to figure out why they are behaving badly. It could be to draw attention that they lack from you. Be receptive, not dismissive. Draw a line under the language that is used in conversation. Choose your words carefully when advising them. Don’t make it a sermon.Don’t compare them to other children. Observe, and if necessary change your own mindset. In short, be the change you want to see in your kids.