There was a thread on Twitter some months ago on “What your parents did that was important for your development”. It had very interesting and eye opening responses. You can find it here on this link.
It was very enlightening and made me think about how my husband and I were raised, and how it has affected the way we are raising our children. There is no perfect manual on doing this. Sure, numerous resources are available, but when it comes to the real nitty gritty, all those tips may not be that handy when you put them into practice.
When we had our first born, I had downloaded all the baby apps with high ratings, bought all the best books and baby stuff we could afford. She was the quintessential ‘perfect’ baby; didn’t fuss or cry much, fed well, napped two hours as per the app, met her milestones as per the apps and books perfectly. When the second baby came, my assumption that he would be like his sister was thrown out the window! The boy cried, was restless, fussy…. everything his sister was not. I needed grace. A lot of it…And at that time I could not understand what was wrong with him. My husband has always been very supportive and handled it very well. I did not. When I look back, I see how mistaken I was in assuming they could be the same. They are not. They are two different human beings, with two different personalities. Sure, they have the same parents but that does not in any way mean they are the same. There was nothing wrong with my son. He was absolutely fine.
A lot of us were brought up by authoritarian parents, where their word was law, and kids were basically to be seen and not heard. With time, education, and various social and technological advancements, we have come to understand human behaviour better- we have come to learn of different parenting styles, our personality traits, how to face our childhood trauma, stress, both mental and relationship based etc… and how they all affect children’s development.
Nevertheless, the fact that we are now better informed than those before us does not mean we have become better parents. Being a good parent has to be intentional and it is tough for us. It is upon us to keep in mind how our actions and words affect our children. This is not easy.
We are raising our children in a world that is bombarded with all kinds of information ALL the time. We have to filter what gets through to them and teach them how to navigate this world, as we balance our careers, educational advancements, demands of our relationships, friendships and societal expectations.
Traditionally, the village set up where relatives were close by and the community brought up the children together helped a lot in raising kids, hence the term, “It takes a village.” Presently the nuclear family is the common unit for raising children, and even this has changed definition as not all children are being raised by both parents in the same household. We now have same sex parents, single parent households, grandparents raising grandchildren, etc. Times have truly changed, but the basics of wanting to bring our children up the right way have not changed.
We have different personalities, and so do our children. This is important to understand as it affects how we communicate with them and impart our values in a way that they can understand. How are our temparaments? Children mimic a lot what they see us do, even when we say the opposite. How they watch and observe us do different things and treat others is how they will behave most, if not all the time.
We should never assume that children cannot sense when we are stressed. They do, even if they may not understand it, they can sense our agitation and tension. And they will react to it.
Parenting is not just paying the bills, providing for your children and expecting them to “pay back” in good grades and exemplary behaviour. Parenting means wholly supporting their mental, emotional, physical, social, intellectual and spiritual development from the time we hold them in our arms as newborns till they time they reach adulthood.
Communication with children is so underrated despite its importance to their development. We can support them in talking to them, discussing with them and listening to them.
Do we ask them what they want? Do we bless them with our words? Do we listen to them? Do we answer their questions or dismiss them? Do we believe they have something valuable to say? Do we make them feel welcome in the family? Simple things like having a meal together with the tv off and no phones on the table is one of the ways your children will have a discussion with you on various things in a relaxed manner.
Relaxing in the garden, on a picnic, the drive to and from school, chatting on a long road trip or when running errands are some other opportune moments to catch up with them. I love listening to their conversations even when just talking to each other, as I get to catch a glimpse of their school life and how they relate to their friends.
Family meetings are another way to help in this. Yes, family meetings. Set aside 20 or so minutes where all the family members sit and discuss different issues that may have arisen in the family. Every one is equal in the meeting, free to express themselves and give feedback and everyone gets a chance to speak freely.
It is an interesting but effective way to improve on our communication skills as family members. It has taught us how to compromise, boosted the children’s self confidence and self esteem and made them feel seen, heard and valued as a family member. (Let me tell you, it stings when your kids call you out on not matching your talk, but it is worth it). Keep it respectable and non- judgemental too.
As we all know, kids learn more by actions than words. How do we instil our values in them? How do we get them to have a sense of morality? How do we teach them the difference between right and wrong? Do we teach them our cultural values too?
Do we tell them not to lie, then go ahead and lie to their faces? Do we tell them not to litter, then go ahead and throw trash out of the window with them in the car? Do we take them to nice private schools (for the discipline, or so we claim), breaking traffic rules as we speed there as they watch on? Do we give traffic police officers bribes in their presence? Do we trash talks others in our children’s presence? Do we bad mouth our relatives, their teachers and other adults as they listen? Do we mistreat our house helps and workers as they look on? Are we rude to waiters and security guards, insulting them and talking down to them as our children watch, listen and learn? Even now with the pandemic, how and why do we expect our older children to keep their masks on, sanitize and maintain social distance when we are doing the exact opposite?
We have to strive to be good role models to our children.
Our social economic status also influences our parenting. This includes what we expose our children to and what material things we are able to buy them, their healthcare, education and even social interactions. It is every parent’s wish to be able to provide the best for their children but that is not always possible. How do we communicate to them when we are unable to provide some of these things? Do we make them feel like they are a burden to us? Do we make them feel privileged to have what we have provided for them?
This is a tricky one but the reality is the social economic status of parents does affect how they parent. Some studies have found that the higher the socio economic status, the parenting will lean towards the permissive style and vice versa. Key to note though, is we all want the best for our children, despite our circumstances.
How we set boundaries for our children is also determined by our style of parenting. How and why should we discipline our children? Are you an advocate of “spare the rod and spoil the child?” or do you believe in talking things through? Do you adopt the “time out” method or do you withdraw privileges for a certain amount of time? Discipline is important as children need to learn the difference between right and wrong, and choose the right. They need to know that actions have consequences too, learn integrity, honesty and know that one cannot always have their way.
No matter which way you choose, children do need a firm hand and direction otherwise they will have no self control, no respect for authority, be prone to abuse others (bullying), and no social skills. Both parents, if present, also need to be on the same page when it comes to discipline, otherwise the children will sense and can take advantage of one parent’s “apparent” weakness on the same.
We also need to be flexible in how we discipline our children. What works for one child doesn’t mean it will work for the other, and it also depends on the wrong that has been done.
A disciplined child is a responsible child, self assured, is good company to be around and is accountable for their actions. Once again, this is easier said and done, but we as the parents have to do the work, if we want to raise self assured, responsible members of society.
There is a lot more we can do as parents. What is important for me as a mother is to ensure I am a good role model for my children. Nobody is perfect, and they need to know that, but key for me is for them to learn that in spite of our imperfections as humans; we can be kind, humane, considerate and responsible. My goal for them is to have a strong sense of morality but be open minded too. The world we live in is very different from the one I was raised in, and so will the world they will live in as adults.
My dream for them is to be accommodating of how different we are as humans, be respectful to others and the environment and also have the discernment to make the right decisions in life. To be people of integrity, be self confident but not proud, work hard and smart and be successful in all they seek to do. Is this not what all parents want of their children?
As we strive to do right by our children, let’s not delude ourselves that it will work. We may do the best we can and our children turn out contrary to our expectations. Will it mean we have failed as parents? We have high expectations of ourselves and our children and tend to be hard on ourselves if it doesn’t end well. How prepared are we to cope with that?
Being a parent is involving and requires full commitment. There is no caveat to quit on the job. Because of this, it is important to know we are not alone. Making friends with other parents will help us as we share challenges and solutions on how to best raise our kids. It is ok to seek help, let us not suffer alone and in silence.
To my dear fellow parents, what influences your parenting? What can we do to ensure we are raising our children the right way?
PS: You can read more on my thoughts on parenting here – https://mykampalanotebook.wordpress.com/2020/10/02/it-takes-a-village/