“There are times when it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that my husband and I are blessed to have Abhishek as our child!” I recently said , to a close friend.
You might initially assume that these are the words of a proud parent and that the child is an achiever in the worldly sense of the term. Yes, every child is an achiever in their own way; but the special gifts that every child brings into the lives of their parents are much more meaningful than mere achievements.
The early years:
When Abhi was a toddler and composed tiny poems about Nature, we nick-named him “sunflower” to reflect the innocence and sheer joie de vivre that he expressed at every waking moment. We felt humbled and awed by the fact that this trusting little soul had chosen us to participate in his quest for meaning, to share his curiosity and to gaze at the world with eyes filled with wonder. When we were with him, we found it easy to brush away the dust of old “has-been’s” and “should be’s”. We shrugged off pre-judged notions of what things ought to be, what fun is supposed to look like, what work truly means. We learned to become child-like again. His easy take on life restored our hope in fellow human beings. His intense love for “all creatures big and small” reminded us about how truly interconnected we all are in the fabric of life. Most of all, his trust made us want to be the kind of people he would look up to.
“Practice, don’t preach” became a necessary rule to live by.
Over the years:
As the years rolled by, and the toddler grew into a tween and then a teen, we realized just how much we had learned, thanks to him. One kind of learning was the ability to see the world through his eyes – uncompromising, clear and yet optimistic about the future. The other, more subtle kind of learning was related to our role as parents; were we living the truth of everything that we asked him to be and do? We were not just messengers of a message, we WERE the message.
From the pages of the family album – Unbridled joy in the tiniest of things – who better than a child to teach an adult about this?
A debt to our children:
Could it be that as parents we owe a debt to our children, far greater than what is ever imagined or acknowledged? Our children teach us all about trust, faith, patience and pure, unsullied joy. If we are willing to learn, they teach us what unconditional love is all about. And through our interaction with them, we explore the boundaries of our physical, mental and emotional reserves; learning to stretch ourselves to meet the ever-changing challenges that they bring to our lives. From being self-contained adults, we move to a higher, more intense realm of thinking, feeling and being.
Parents – not just givers, but receivers too:
Perhaps parenting is looked upon as an almost overwhelming responsibility because the focus is frequently on the need to give, give…sigh… and give some more. Granted that the axis of one’s life changes forever when children arrive. One learns, perhaps for the first time, to put someone else first. When we pause to take stock of all that we receive; the joys, the learnings, the richness that imbues everyday moments and makes them into cherished memories, parenting seems like a special gift. A privilege granted by the universe. Hence it would not be incorrect to say: Our children make us into better people!
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!
It’s seldom admitted but true. Lots of working, married urban women fear the effect that a new child will have on their ability for juggling spreadsheets and power point presentations at the office. Or, look upon the baby as a desirable added dimension to their lives but want to keep other areas at status quo. Depending upon the duration of maternity leave, available support systems and the new mother’s ability to cope with sleepless nights, the infant is soon handed over to the care of the grandmother, resident care-giver or the friendly neighbourhood crèche.
Hence when I announced to the world at large my plans for quitting my job for Full Time Parenting (FTP), I was prepared for goggle-eyed reactions. What I didn’t expect was the constant need to justify this decision to friends, relatives and the third cousin of the neighbour’s aunt-in-law! Objections ranged from the mundane (“You will be thoroughly bored after a while) to doom’s-day prophecies (“This will be a professional suicide.). Interspersed were a few whacko ones (“It’s irresponsible to waste yourself”) and a few, exasperated, “let’s put some sense into her head” type of reactions.
What was everybody dreading on my behalf? The loss of the status of a “working woman”? The giving up of that tiny perch on the huge mountain of the corporate world, that announced to the world “This is who I am”?
No, it was about “liberation”, the kind that is often equated with a job, any job, at long as it pays. To female friends and colleagues, I was suddenly the betrayer of a system, a traitor to the cause of emancipation. Instead of becoming a new member in the circle of working moms, alternating between the adrenaline of economic independence and the niggling anxieties of part-time parenting, here I was, stubbornly choosing to go the whole hog with parenting.
Sour grapes? Nein…
Was the job no good? Au contraire, it was a dream job, won by sheer dint of hard work after a gruelling two-year MBA. Then why did I quit? Because, once having decided to bring in a little soul into the world, I wanted to be a 24/7 mother for a good, long while, living the roller-coaster ride of joys, hopes, worries and triumphs. Because for me, “a meaningful life” had always meant a basket of activities, pursuits and callings. Because what works for another may not suit me at all.
Because true liberation is about making those choices that bring happiness. Not about living up to other’s expectations of what a female, well-educated, working mother ought to be. And about respecting that inner voice that refuses to be shushed and is not afraid to walk off the beaten track.
Idealism can be practical too:
Because, like a child in a candy store, my wants know no limits – I want to be a woman, wife, mother, writer and professor, all at the same time. Because I want to shape my life exactly the way I likenot in a de facto, “patchwork quilt” manner dictated by an increasingly demanding corporate world. Because my curiosity and naïve optimism make me plunge thoroughly and completely into whatever I decide to do; there’s no holding back, no half-hearted measures. Because I am a foolish, idealistic woman in the era of plastic, recyclable ‘values’. Because I like to live out that hoary old adage: ”If anything is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well”
Office versus home:
At work, I revelled in the thrill of new challenges and the fancy designation. But this certainly wasn’t what I wanted to continue doing for the rest of my life. Then why use it as the ostensible reason for not changing priorities? I’d rather use my training of my corporate stint to reach and influence people differently, as I do now. The idea of doling out measured minutes of “quality time” to my child, after I reached home bone-tired from work every evening, never fully satisfied me. To my mind, quantity is also important. And I prefer family values to those of the paid-by-the-hour surrogates.
Yes, the pay cheques were initially slimme. But the grey cells are ticking, the mind and heart are raring to go, and it’s delightful being one’s own boss. On a particularly bad day, when my toddler drives me up the wall, I do get nostalgic about the super-charged office that I once inhabited. But then, it’s exhilarating to do one’s own thing. And the balance between work, creativity and family is oh so delightful! All things considered, I should probably thank the little tyke – he was the right reason at the right time.
“Ma, the candy floss got over too quickly!”
All about priorities:
Each mother has her own world view, her own list of priorities. And while every mother loves her child with all her heart, the manifestation of that love would be unique for each woman. Hence there can be no “one size fits all” kind of rule. What works for one might not do, for another. As long as we can remember to say, “To each, her own”, the world will be a teensier bit better!
What worked best for you as a mother?
This is an original post written by Piya Mukherjee for World Moms Blog.
Toy cars were no doubt invented as a sanity-restorative for frazzled mothers of demanding toddlers. No, I am not for the world suggesting that we turn material in our pursuits of family fun. But when the cabbage is being coaxed into softness and the aubergine threatens to burn, a 4.5 cm by 2 cm., inexpensive but dinky car can magically transform a wailing child into a cherub.
The droplets of tears begin to dry on the cheeks. The eyes are wide and unblinking while the tiny fingers explore each molded plastic bit of this new entity. Exploratory pushes are hugely successful and now, Abhi, my toddler-of-rainbow-moods, looks up at me with a huge grin, as if to say “thanks, Ma!” Soon, entertainment time gives way to education, as he decides he wants to see how this actually works. Initial tugs at the wheels yield very little. But gradually, the hapless thing succumbs to determined and surprisingly dexterous fingers. “Aha!” thinks Abhi. “Now I will learn more.” But the battered car is a silent sphinx, yielding no more secrets about its magic. With a sigh, Abhi pushes it away. Later, I will try to salvage the once-pristine car and get it in working order. Toddlers have thankfully short memories (or so we like to believe!) and I might put it away for now.
From toy cars onto the real thing. Travelling by car is fun-time for Abhi. He likes all those loud things that move next to his box on wheels, occasionally flashing bright red lights. His immediate response to the brake-lights of the car ahead is a triumphant “aao, aao!” (meaning “aalo”, which in Bengali language means light). He also enjoys fiddling with the louvers of the air-conditioning duct. But the activity that really brings a gleam into his eyes is playing with the gear stick.
Comfortably ensconced in Ma’s lap, he eyes it longingly for a long while, watching it change position under his father’s hands. He decides to try for himself. With a sudden lunge, he grabs the head. Almost. The ever alert Ma pulls him back. She wags an admonishing finger at him. Abhi is ensconced once again in a safe but unexciting lap. How utterly boring! What is life without the gear stick of a moving car? He kicks his legs up and down. Hopefully, these silly, white socks will fall out and off his feet. Why his parents insist on sheathing his feet in goody-goody socks, is yet a mystery to him.
At this point, Ma notices the socks seemingly growing past his toes and, with a chuckle, pulls them back in position. This is too much to take. Abhi’s dignity is definitely hurt. Only the gear stick can change that. He makes a brave attempt, bends forward to grab the tantalizing, black thing and almost succeeds, when…Ma promptly pulls him back. She makes it known in no uncertain terms that the object of desire will have to wait. For several years in fact.
He is indignant. They are doing this to him, their own little precious son?! The corners of his lips droop down and tremble. Ma refuses to be browbeaten and coolly gazes out of the window. He decides to withdraw into a hurt calmness. Gradually, his eyes down their shutters, halfway. What is life? Abhi ponders over this, cars, gear sticks and stubborn parents…
Another day, another time. Abhi is sure that the difference between “p” and “bh” is irrelevant. While gazing out of our tall windows, we spot a passing jeep. I point it out to him and in my best, “child-instruction voice” say “jeep”. Abhi grins at me with a “why are you trying to fool me?” look. He promptly sticks out his little, pink tongue and waggles it to show me what a ‘jeep’ is. Just to make sure I have got the point, he starts a “lo-lo-lo-lo…” chant with the said organ. At which point, I interrupt him to clarify, “This is your Jeebh(Hindi and Bengali for tongue) and that is a Jeep”.
By now, the vehicle in question has vanished. Abhi looks at where my finger is pointing. He sees nothing resembling his tongue, or a vehicle for that matter. He turns to look suspiciously at me. I hurry to retrieve his dog-eared book of vehicles and victoriously point to a picture of the object under dispute. Indisputably, a jeep. He looks surprised and exasperated, as if to ask,”How can you possibly give the same name to two things? Grown-ups, bah!” Catching my frustrated look, he switches to a serene “I know it happens to the best of us” smile and walks away saying “lo-lo-lo-lo…”
What has your child been fascinated with in his toddler-hood continuing into childhood?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Piya Mukherjee of Mumbai, India.
In this post, World Mom, Piya Mukherjee in India has shared an excerpt from her motherhood diary. Many of us have gone through this same experience with our children when they were small, but ever did we think a mom on the other side of the world was playing the same game?…
These days, I seem to be in the middle of an affair with scissors and cellotape (Scotch tape). Come rain or shine, be it noon or night, these two innocuous objects have inexplicably developed a strong attachment for me, and I, for them. Diapers, I can understand, baby oil and soap, quite naturally; and toys? – but of course. But cellotape and glue?
Actually, there is a simple explanation. Abhishek, my over-a-year-old-but-not-yet-two son, adores books. He loves to feel them, dribble on them and even chew the pages meditatively, if they seem interesting enough. He turns pages and stabs his tiny fore-finger below each picture, a cue for me to explain what it is (never mind that I had done just that an hour ago!). Once, he even subjected his book on animals to the indignity of a bath – in a warm puddle of his own making!
Given his proclivity towards books, it seems logical that pages will often tear under his enthusiastic but clumsy fingers.
And what happens to that poor little torn page? It is promptly placed in Mama’s hands, where, with immediate ministrations of glue, scissors and cellotape, the book becomes whole once more. Albeit in a battered sort of way.
Meanwhile, the guilty party shuffles on his feet and darts me repentant glances from beneath lowered lids. I launch into a lofty sermon on why books should be treated with care and respect. Next comes the message “This is definitely not on.” Finally, the tete-a-tete ends with a pat on his back and a “Be careful in future.”
Abhi gives me a smile of relief, which clearly says, ”Won’t happen again, Ma!” I grin back and hand over the pieced-together book. Grabbing it gleefully, he toddles off to his favourite corner. Soon, he happily retreats into a cozy, private cocoon of books, imaginary friends and one-sided babble. Sighing in relief, I turn back to my work. Feeling the contentment that comes from a job well done, a clear message given to a young, impressionable mind.
I laugh, remembering the time I caught him in the act of throwing a torn page into the waste-paper bin. To avoid the inevitable reprimand, he had decided to do away with the evidence! The crumpled picture of a bright green spinach was duly rescued and given its rightful place in its book – with the help of the omnipresent duo, of course.
I start dreaming of the day when Abhi will use his knowledge to make a positive difference to his world. Information will no longer be restricted to books. The ubiquitous computer will occupy prime space in his life.
But books are likely to be his loyal companions for a long time to come…Will he then remember his first books and their colourful pictures? That picture of boat with its sail under cellotape? And the gentle lamb in his book of Nursery Rhymes, its tail in tatters? Maybe he will…
The peace is abruptly broken by the sound of ripped paper. A curly-haired head is bent in contrition. Two little hands are guiltily fingering a torn bit of paper, as if to ask, “How on earth did this happen again?” Sigh! It’s time to reach for the cellotape and glue once more!
(The little reader finds shelter in his mom’s cupboard, after one episode too many of ripped pages.)
Have you ever wondered about all the mothers around the world facing the same day to day as you? Where are reading this from? Leave us a comment!
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Piya Mukherjee of Mumbai, India.