It is tough to be a parent. The thought of shouldering the huge responsibility of parenthood can be daunting. For many parents, meeting the material needs of their children — home, clothes, nutritious food, medical care and schooling — can be challenging. But beyond these, there is also a deep-rooted worry of failing as a parent.
Several questions haunt a parent. Will my child be able to live up to the genetic potential with which she or he is born? Will I be able to instil the values that I hold dear? Will my child learn to differentiate the good from the bad and follow the right path? Will he/she be a good human being, caring and kind? Will my child get along with people? Will he/she be successful and a responsible citizen? Will my child value family relationships, make a mark in his/her profession and leave the world a better place?
The list of questions is limitless. But, there is one underlying sentiment: Will I be able to discharge my duty as a parent to prepare my child to face the world?
How does one prepare a child to face the world? Talking to one’s child about the good and bad is one way. But most conversations end up being perceived as sermons. How does one communicate with a generation that just does not have the time to hear, leave alone listen?
Children, especially teenagers, just don’t want to talk to their parents. Give a child some excellent books, and hope and pray that they will be read. A lot of prayers are needed, as data shows that children don’t like to very much read any more. As a parent, sharing your experience so that your child doesn’t make the same mistakes is another way. Each one of us has so many stories to tell, so many incidents that we can relate to and so many lessons that we have learnt through experience, but one must remember Charles Wordsworth’s words: ‘By the time a man realises that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s wrong.’
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I have seen in recent times a breakdown of the parent–child relationship, the most beautiful relationship that God created. Poor communication is the root cause of this breakdown. This prompted me to write a book, ‘Is Your Child Ready to Face the World?’ (Penguin). In the book, I have described a technique to communicate with children that I developed based on my experience as a pediatrician and father over two decades.
* Talk to your child about the good and the bad
* Give your child some excellent books that they can learn from
* Make it a point to get 15 minutes of undivided attention from your child
* Initiate a meaningful conversation with your child, but make him think he’s leading the way
I always made it a point to try to get 15 minutes of undivided attention from our son. I would try to get this time with him when he wanted to; that was the challenge I took on. It would not be a fixed day every week or every other week. This would then have become a formal activity, and that’s something children and teenagers dislike; the very purpose would have been defeated.
It could not be a sermon. It had to be a two-way conversation with me nudging him to talk about some recent incident. I would then dip into my limited repertoire of stories and incidents, and find an example that would fit in with the mood. Each story, was structured in a way that touched upon a value I believed was important. Thankfully, the Internet was at hand to provide details that I needed. Often, he and I would together search the Web for more information, with him leading the way. Sometimes, we would spend an hour or even more. The moment he felt he wanted to stop, we would halt. After all, it had to be an activity that he felt he was driving.
I tried to use my own experience frugally, as I was reminded of Mark Twain’s words, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years”.
The values I have touched upon include gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, giving, integrity, humility among others. I have tried to relate to virtues by giving examples from the lives of great men and women. For example, Mahatma Gandhi and change, Nelson Mandela and forgiveness, Mother Teresa and compassion and Arthur Ashe and gratitude.