Baggage-Free Parenting

From the pages of a mother’s diary

It’s never easy for a mother to confess to her child that she has found herself lacking. Nevertheless we all know that acceptance of a situation allows insight and wisdom to change and evolve.

I used to be an investment banker, a trainer and a teacher before my son’s birth. Of all these vocations, teaching seemed to bring the maximum joy. When he arrived I vowed to be a good mother. Motherhood joined hands with my outer-world pursuits. Over time, I began realizing some things.

I had always been inspired and energized by my MBA students. My interactions with them seemed to have creativity, encouragement and the giving of space. When talking to them, I would stretch my thinking to meet their perspectives. I stayed alert to their changing moods and allowed their feedback to shape my inputs for them. Most importantly, I never dreamt of burdening them with my expectations.

Here’s the irony: Why did I then find it difficult to maintain the same approach with my son? Why did my attitude change? With him, my mind seemed to live in a rigid skin of “ought-to” and “ought not to”. I often foolishly persisted with my original plans, even when he seemed to indicate a need for change of pace or approach – a misapplied lesson in persistence.

Other mothers assured me it was natural to want the child to work towards excellence. As a professor, I also wanted each of my students to work towards excellence. So why the schism?

I remember the times he would sit to colour; What he wanted to do and what I thought was “right” would usually be diametrically opposite to each other! When he chose to sit down to create yet another unique vehicle using Lego blocks, and I would wonder why he wasn’t out and about with friends in the playground? In retrospect, it seems so silly that I allowed his choices and decisions to baffle me. I thought like a mom, not like a teacher. As a teacher, I was geared up towards a much wider spectrum of acceptance. I was happy to use creativity and patience to deal with differences of thought. As a mom, this approach was not always there.

When he invariably followed his own heart (for which I thank the Lord!), I would bite down on my impatience and also wonder – was I being a “good enough mother”?

It took me a long while to realize that this state of mind was a manifestation of my ego: A “my child” syndrome. I learned to see him as a complete person even if he was still in the single digits. When faced with yet another situation where his will came up against mine, I started asking myself: What if he were my student and not my son? How would I handle the situation then?

I reminded myself that he is one of my biggest teachers, and that part of the mandate he has, is to be seemingly contrary to my expectations! For that is how he has given me insights into a “nishkaam karma”, the principle of detached involvement; learning to keep aside expectations of particular outcomes and focusing instead on the best that one can do.

Long ago, I read the words of Kahlil Gibran;

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.”

Most parents would nod their heads sagely on reading these lines. Yet most of us are also guilty of falling into the trap that he cautions us against. We unwittingly treat children as our possessions and therefore foist a more rigid set of expectations on them. Mothers, particularly Indian ones, are often guilty of allowing emotions to colour almost all decisions, to the point where the child is emotionally blackmailed into toeing the line with the phrase: “After all the sacrifices I’ve made for you…”

Maybe I, and other mothers like me should remind ourselves from that the Universe has entrusted us with the sacred responsibility of helping our children discover their own potential, and work towards fulfilling it in their own unique manner. We can’t walk the path for them, or stop the pain of the falls along the way. We ought to not hand out our own “How to” guides for their journey, unless they clearly need it or ask for it. We are there to cheer their progress, to guide, and to boost their courage in the rare moments of self-doubt.

Does that mean that wise parenting is a cold, bloodless affair? Most certainly not. After all these years, I am discovering that it as a sublime blend of intense commitment, coupled with love and affection; and an equally dispassionate calm. The ability to see one’s child as much more than one’s child seems to be the trick to baggage-free parenting. I hope and pray that over the years this becomes one of my best gifts to my son, the space to be who he truly is!