IF I WERE A PARENT
(Comic strip titled 'Dream' - source/credit: http://explosm.net and Rob DenBleyker)
IF I WERE A PARENT
By Amit Mehra
“Children are like clay…you can mold them the way you like.” I have heard this expression many times from parents. I am not one. Except for Snoopy and Chewbacca, I have not had the opportunity of parenting a human child. I have never been a teacher either; professionally or in broader sense of the word.
However, I do believe that Children are not like clay. I believe that because I know it is true. I know that because I was a child once. Yes, they do show certain characteristics of clay but not a lot more than any of one us adults do. The one big difference between Children and Clay is that Clay does not have a brain. It does not have a heart either. Children do.
So then how can a parent mold or rather shape his or her child? I think the first lesson here would be to accept that we can not really do that. Not with any long lasting impact. What we can do is become one of the most important contributors in physical, psychological and emotional engines that will propel their actions and shape their lives. How can we do that? How do we know that what we are feeding them will become an important part of their system, their lives if we don’t control them? Simple short answer is – we don’t.
What we do know is that if we contribute to anyone’s life without malice, expectations or any other self-serving reasons, chances are we will always be special to them. Our contributions will always be the most precious, most cherished and most valuable. It is fair to say, they will also be most important. We may not see it as a certificate of validation but we will see it in their actions. This is true for almost all human beings. Even strangers. Now imagine if we do that with our own children, there is little chance that we will not become an important contributor to the engines that will run their lives.
How do we do that? To begin with, by simply contributing the importance of contributing, of being a contributor.
We are told to train, teach our children of being leaders or winners. While that is not entirely bad, it is a big hindrance in them actually becoming one. No leader in any field can sustain leadership without first being a contributor.
When you look at yourself as a contributor, you detach an element of ego, power from the equation and invoke values that are more productive like knowledge seeking, skills, humility and cooperation. You look at it as a team exercise towards a common objective. Like all team exercises, it too has a healthy tone of competitiveness but not for personal glory or ego but just so that you as a team player make the most valuable contribution that you can. At the same time, you have the team spirit intact to let others contribute where they can do best. The common objective is to make it the best it can be. "It" being whatever you are working on – sports, job assignment, business presentation, academics or a person, a child.
This also results in the contributors working a lot harder on their contributions because they know that they are not the only ones but they want to be the most important ones. It makes them carefully scrutinize their contribution and make it richer, more valuable.
A parent here has the same role as the teacher. You contribute and you moderate.
The child by striving to be a contributor in his or her environment develops his mind, body and soul to be successful. And by environment I don't mean just academics and sports but all other facets of life - civic sense, environment, arts, relationships, skills, love, pain, health, loss, etc. Academics is just one part of the education that a child needs. Education is a much wider term. In fact a better way to look at academics is as research for your child to eventually be a contributor in areas of his or her interest. A rich 360 degrees education will enable the child to be a more significant contributor beyond his own grade cards. When you contribute equal importance to all aspects, your child will in turn strive to balance his or her interests, explorations, acceptability and learning to become a richer contributor impacting wider areas of his environment.
As a moderator if you see that the child’s contributions are making an important and wider impact than an average contributor then you can contribute in their natural progression as a leader. However, that choice of accepting leadership role should always be theirs to make. You just contribute as a parent to the engine that will enable the child to execute his or her choices, whatever they may be. Just like you, a child knows his or herself the best. When you as a parent choose to trust your child's instincts and choices, you activate the next level of child's maturity. This leads to child making better and more responsible choices and you are on your way to a healthy trusting relationship.
Evaluating leadership in a child should not be based on performance alone of him or her as a contributor. A child can perform well based on multitude of reasons, none of them being his or her organic desire to be a leader. In fact, this is true of any choice the child makes or will make. A child can perform brilliantly in science and it could be for reasons other than his or her interest. Peer or parental pressure, validation, fear, anxiety or just because the child has better science teachers than of other discipline. The fact might be that the same child actually has great interest in arts and what he or she really wants to be is an artist. Now to steer the child, contribute in his or her life towards science when what the child really yearns for is art will be counter productive and frankly a complete waste of time.
However, no knowledge is ever wasted, no matter what or where your interest lies. So a better plan would be to identify the right areas which interest your child and then contribute perspective to enable the child to see the importance of everything he or she is learning in relation to what the child really desires to eventually do or become. For example, a great artist needs to know about the anatomy of human body if he or she wants to draw one. You get that knowledge from science.
Imagine if the child’s mind is a hard disk. Would you like to fill it with all the downloads that you have curated over the years or would you let the child have the freedom to make up his or her own library? In fact even if we were to fill all the child’s hard disk with our data, it would again be a complete waste of time on our part. The reason being that the child’s mind is not a hard disk. It is a living organism with it’s own processor and own program. It will accept some of your data, reject some of it and convert some of it to something entirely new and different. It may also accept some of it now and reject or convert it later. So, all kinds of possibilities exist that you as a parent will have no control over.
A better idea would be to be a modest yet important contributor. Say, cap your contributions to 10 percent of your child’s disk space at any given time. Let the rest of the space be free for your child to curate, create his or her own library of thoughts, ideas, values, vision. Trust me, if your 10 percent is well thought out and contributed without any self serving reason, it will be the best spring board for your child to build a healthy library in his or her hard disk of a brain.
Your child will be a sum total of what you and others have contributed and what he or she has created. But your child will also be a sum total of what he or she has rejected. This is the tricky part. Many times, we are not defined by what we do but what we choose not to do. It is important that as a parent, you are careful and cautious of your contributions. Just like a responsible team player. Even the best player has to face his ideas or contributions getting shot down and that is fine, it is part of life, growing process. However, if you are unmindful of this fact, and the child rejects many of your contributions, then both of you get impacted negatively. You immediately at being rejected but your child will always bear the burden of rejecting a contribution to his or her life by his own creators. That is not an easy thing to live with. It keeps coming back to haunt the child. The reason being that children want the most important contributor in their lives to be their parent. This is immense power in the hands of parents but it is also a great responsibility.
Your contributions getting rejected will eventually become insignificant for you as your children grow up and you go back to minding your own life. However, the significance of your contributions getting rejected by the child starts becoming greater for the child as he or she starts growing. In my opinion, this is where the mind starts playing tricks and the child may get confused and start accepting contributions, which may or may not be helpful in his or her growth.
Think of your 10 percent contribution in your child’s life as a set of building blocks or bricks that you will use to lay the foundation of a home. Each brick, should be carefully chosen, a lot of thought should go into when and where it should be placed and finally it must sit well with the rest of the bricks. The foundation is the key, we know that but we don’t treat it with as much respect as we should.
Construction of a Foundation is not mass building exercise done in a rush. It is a careful process of precision with equal measure of science, art, logic and concentration.
A child cries. We give her a chocolate. That is an unmindful act of foundation building. You are contributing to your child in more ways than you may know. You have to be mindful that the child is observing, receptive and may accept a contribution that you casually pitched at him or her without you intending it to be a serious building block. This could create complications when you try to operate her hard disk to delete that. In the very least the uninstallation will derail your objectives, waste your time and confuse the child. In worst case scenario, the child may never delete that contribution.
The most important and the most long lasting amongst all your contributions will be the ones you have accepted yourself. It is easier for children to understand contributions that their parents have accepted in their own lives. So if you are going to be rude to your domestic help but expect your child to accept “respect for all” contribution from you…well chances are that is not going to happen.
The last but not the least – never confuse love with score card of your contributions in your child’s life. A child can grow to be the most far removed from what your contributions were but he or she will love you as much or as little based on factors that have nothing to do with your contributions.
The child will love you because you made him or her part of your life, part of you. The child will love you because you gave him or her a name, a place, a family, a heart to belong to. The child will love you because you love the child. The child will love you because you are the only people he or she can call Mom and Dad. The child will love you because you gave her or him the life he or she loves.
You will love the child because you made that child, because he or she is part of you, not because he or she is you or molded by you. You will love the child because the child is a person, a living being, not a block of clay.
So If I were a parent, would I follow this, be a contributing parent in the true sense of the word? Well I don't know…It is a hypothetical question, answer to which I may never know. That being said, if I were a parent, this would be my plan. And even when I am not, this is still my plan because I don't need to be a parent to contribute to the progress of wonderful children I come across in my life.
(This post is dedicated to some wonderful parents I have observed, been observing, starting from my own parents, my sister and my brother in law, my wife, my greater family including my in laws, cousins, nephews, nieces, my classmates, friends, colleagues and even social media connections who are all doing such a great job as parents in arguably the toughest times to bring up a child)