Wednesday, March 10, 2010

When they are sleeping soundly...

There are those days. Very often, there are those days, when I feel I am doing everything wrong as a parent. The days when I find myself constantly yelling at the kids for not doing things the way I think is right. The more I yell, the more they continue doing what I am yelling at them for yelling, and that only makes me yell more, which only makes them ........ you get the picture. I end up uttering threats I have no intention or ability to keep, they get confused and upset. And we all end up in a story silence, or loud wails which eventually end up with a group hug and lots of recriminations and sorries.
Those are the days when I tell myself I was never cut out for parenting. Days when I wonder why I ever decided to have kids when I am tempramentally unsuited to the task. Those are the days when I wish I were someone else - someone with the maturity to deal with kids. Someone who knows how to smile through crisises without losing the upper hand. Someone like a school teacher, or a child psychologist.

A colleague's wife is the Founder and Principle of a reputed school in Bombay. She's logged more hours of practicing child psychology than I have on Excel spreadsheets. She's also the mother of two teen daughters who look the epitome of stability. She is the kind of mother I would love to be.
On Monday, when I asked my collegue how his weekend was, he told me that he'd spent it in hospital. His daughter had consumed a bottle of toilet cleaner after an altercation with the mother, and had to be rushed to hospital to have her stomach pumped. She'd been kept under observation in the ICU for a few hours, before being shifted to a private room where the police met her to record her statement about the suicide attempt.
"But why?" was all I could say to my collegue.
Turns out the mother had pulled her kid up for her falling grades, and the kid decided either to end her life, or to scare her parents by pretending to do so.

Over the last few months, a not as good as expected academic performance has resulted in a spate of suicides among students in the city, but those are kids of other people. People who put pressure on their kids to perform beyond their ability. People who attempt to relive their life through their kids.
They are not the kids of enlightened parents who don't place unrealistic expectations on their kids. They are not the kids of parents who are trained to deal with kids and help them reach their full potential. They are definiltey not the kids of mothers who I thought were perfect.

When I think about it, a shudder runs up my spine. All we want is the best for our kids, but do we have any way of knowing what is going on in the minds of our kids? I will shout less, and love more. I will try to lead by example instead of telling my kids to do things. I will tone done my aspirations.

But, as parents, don't we also have the responsibility to lead our kids towards achieving their full potential? Isn't it also our duty to get them to do their best? We can't abdicate that duty, can we?

How then do we achieve that balance? Can we ever know what is going on in their minds when they seem to be sleeping soundly at night?
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Jan Morrison said...

no, we can't. I was just at my kid's 40th birthday and I'm still wondering. My stepson and his father came home in a state about twenty minutes ago - his dad is never angry but he was angry (something about having to drive in and out of town three times because step-son didn't phone.) Now he is out (it is almost ten on a school night). ARGGHH! My grandson, who's birthday it was yesterday was a total fiend tonight -driving his dear little brother nuts. I am so looking forward to next week when it is just me and the man! Sorry, I know you don't have those vacations but that is the life of the split family. Perhaps it should always be three parents in order to have kids - then one could have a break.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Jan - three parents so one can take a break is such a fantastic idea!!! In my case, I am virtually single parent, because the father keeps such long hours, they kids are in bed by the time he comes home on weekdays.
I always believed that if you lived your life right, and taught kids the right values, you had done your bit, but clearly that is just not enough.....

Al said...

Love them,
model what you want them to be,
never belittle them,
praise effort as well as success,
give them time to play and explore,
encourage them to think for themselves and to ask questions.
Then I am sure they will turn out alright.

Who knows what pressure was put on that poor young woman behind closed doors.
Expectations can be high, but they must also be realistic.

Patricia Stoltey said...

My "boys" are in their 40s now, and my stepson and stepdaughter are 30ish. Oddly enough, they survived all of my faults and unreasonable, inept parenting and are doing just fine. We just have to do the best we can...

Anonymous said...

We all go through those phases of shouting at our kids when we shouldn't. It's human nature.

But to drink toilet cleaner because your parents scold you for failing grades is something else. It's not something you do because your parents scold you once or twice - sounds to me as if the kid has been under constant pressure and stress for a long time.

Of course we want our kids to do their best, but I wonder if this can really be measured by grades.

I believe our greatest gift to our kids is to let them become the best person they can become:kind, generous, compassionate - and to let them know we love them for who they are and not according to how well they do at school.

Ann Elle Altman said...

I thought it was my duty until my son came home with ulcers. I'm doing a job I love and I want my son to do a job he loves... I don't want him to get ulcers in the mean time. I think it's true education is important, especially for those in lands where pay is very low. However, I see many young ones struggling at university only to work at taco stands. My son is and will excel at whatever he puts his mind to so I've step back and decided to support. I hope it works.


Doli said...

hmm true! how does one know what is balanced? my mom was the best! she definitely did push me to study harder and do the best in school.. i always had pressure to perform better than most kids.. but I feel that was justified and if she hadn't done that, I would have been lazy and done nothing.. so how does one know what is a balance with today's kids? makes me scared to get married and have kids!

dipali said...

It's a question to which we never know the answers, I guess. Most of us muddle through as best we can, hoping to be able to give love and forgiveness to our children and to receive love and forgiveness from them.

The Old Silly said...

My parenting days are long since gone by, and I can tell you there is no one perfect answer to your question. Sometimes you intuitively find that synchronistic space wherein there is harmony and an unspoken understanding between parent and child, especially in those years before they can express themselves verbally - other times you can only guess, wonder, and give it your best shot.

Excellent must today, Rayna. Hey is that new pic of you up top right? What a nice smile and glow you have. My bet is you are an excellent mother. Got a feeling. ;)

Marvin D Wilson

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Al - if that is is your mantra for successful parenting, then I guess I am not doing too badly. My kids know that the effort they put in impresses me more than results, and I try not to tell them to do what I will not do myself. I guess all one can do is hope for the best.

@ Patricia - you always come across as a very sensible mother, so naturally your kids would do well.

@ Fiona - that's just what I have been thinking too. Nobody decides to end her life because her mother yelled at her a couple of times. It must have been building up for a long time. But in a lot of ways, that is even more scary. If a person trained to deal with children (and successfully too - she is one of the better known educators in the city) goes so wrong, is there any hope for us?
And you are right, who you are matters a lot more than what you are. And if my kids grow up to be as kind and compassionate as they now are, I will award myself a medal for parenting.

@ Ann - so true. Education is important, but only if you get something out of it. Forget working in a taco stand. If you land a job that pays you a huge salary and you fly business class from the day you join, but you are not happy doing the job, does any of it have any value.

@ Doli - my mother pushed me too- she was the sort of person who would ask me where I had lost two marks if I got 98/100 in Hindi. But at some stage, we mutually decided that she would leave me to my own devices, and I think I managed fine. But in my case, there was never any conflict, because I always measured up. Wonder how it would have been if I hadn't.
And yes, parenting is challenging, and rewarding, but it is also very scary, specially because there are no right answers.

@ Dipali - that is so true. We can only do our best and hope for the best.

@ Marvin - yes, that is a picture of me. It is cropped out from one where I have a kid pulling my hair and another making faces at the camera. I guess I photograph best when I am with my kids. And than you for the vote of confidence.


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