Have you ever played the game of passing the parcel? In this game, a circle is formed by the participants. Music is played in the background and the participants pass the parcel around until the music stops. Whoever is holding the pillow is asked to perform a charade and then leave the circle. The game continues. I view parenting to be much like this game. The parcel that we are passing around is our learnings, traditions, values, and beliefs. We pass them down from one generation to the next. A lot of times, we also land up passing on certain negatives like emotional and psychological issues, insecurities, burdens, and confusion.
For now, consider the music has stopped while you hold the parcel. It’s your turn to perform a task.
The task at hand is for you to look at what you are holding and which parts of it you want to pass on to the next generation. Is what you are about to pass on of service to them? Is it going to help them grow, or does it have the potential to stunt their growth?
Parenting is about making the parcel stop at you. It’s about pausing to reflect and asking some difficult questions. Difficult not because you don’t know the answer. But difficult because nobody ever showed you how to ask these questions or explore for answers. And when you do find the answers, what do you do with them?
Two factors make me consider myself blessed and fortunate as a parent. Firstly, I am a keen observer and do a lot of introspection by habit. This presents me with a unique opportunity to learn from my children, and listen intently to both – what they are saying and what they are not saying(but showing). Secondly, I learned a lot about how to perform my role as a parent through my coach training. The training brought me some enablers in the form of process, techniques and broader understanding that helps me enhance the experience I share with my children.
A coach can help a client better if he/ she is detached from the outcome. This gets me thinking. Can the parent help children reach their fullest potential by detaching themself from the outcome? A tough ask right? But why? What makes it so tough? Perhaps the fact that as parents we are naturally invested in seeing our children become successful and happy.
However, every tough task is an invitation to go within, assess oneself and see what there is to learn. Who said parenting is like being a coach to your children? If you ask me, parenting is first about self-coaching, then coaching your child. Finally, it involves teaching your child to coach themself. To demonstrate my point, I would like to share a few anecdotes from my journey as a mother.
Allowing Emotional Expression
My boy is learning to understand and express his emotions. His abundant expression is anger and rage. Every evening has become a ritual of picking a fight with his elder sister. Of course, the odds of him winning are low. She is a far more controlled and strong teenage girl. The saga always ends with them shouting out, me reprimanding them and putting them into two different rooms (Sometimes they storm into their rooms themselves.)
It happened again last night. After the usual process, Srijan shut himself in his bedroom. I could hear him throwing things around to ease his anger. I waited for him to finish his business and soothe his nerves.
As expected, Srijan came to me after he was done. This time, however, he declared that he broke something. I asked him why. He said, “I wanted to because I was angry”. I asked if breaking it made him feel better. He said, “No, it didn’t”. I calmly said, “Then, you should not have broken it or thrown stuff around”.
I still didn’t believe that he broke something as he generally just throws stuff on the floor, that too cautiously. I continued doing my work quietly as Srijan sat sulking beside me. A few minutes later, he nudged me to go into the bedroom and assess the damage.
When I went in, I found a small glass jar broken on the floor with pieces of glass splattered around. I cleaned up the mess and took it to Srijan. I told him, “Sriji, you broke a glass jar. You know it could have hurt you or someone else”. Through his sulking, I could see that he was already feeling the burden of his actions. He was well aware that what he did wasn’t right. My pointing it out, however, made him more outraged, this time perhaps on himself. He shut himself in the room again. I tried to open the door but then stopped. I just asked him, “Sriji, do you need some time alone?”. He said, “Yes”. I said, “OK, but promise me you will not throw or break anything”. He said, “OK”.
20 minutes later, Srijan came out perfectly alright. Not sulking, not angry, zero tantrums. He was his chirpy self again. I realized that thankfully, I did not trample over the little pride of this little man. No matter what our age, our social status, we all have an inherent pride or sense of self. This we protect from everyone – our dear ones, even ourselves. It is important to remember to respect other’s pride and sense of self. It is important to treat everyone with dignity.
A family, society or country that doesn’t allow this dignity, this little pride will create either rebels or spineless people. A strong-headed, independent, creative person needs dignity and pride. Perhaps that’s why even a little 6-year-old would guard it against his own mother.
Connecting, Not Just Educating
There is no book on parenting that can give you a one-glove-fits-all guide to raising your child. Every child is a unique person with abundant potential and you do not want to go wrong because it is not a test case, its life and every action has consequences. Besides, there are as many different experiences that everyone will share with you. But these are their life experiences and there can be conflicting information with different people. So, you keep your senses alive, observe, listen, think and take your chances.
One such milestone for parents is the onset of puberty. This time is marked by questions. When to talk to your child? What to say? How to handle their questions? How much information to share? Especially, when no one sat you down and educated you about the huge change this phase brings in our lives.
I thought a step by step intervention would be a good idea. My daughter is entering her pre-teens. This is a good time for me to start sharing with her. Not because she is showing any signs of changes, but because some of her friends might hit puberty before her. I want to be the one to share the correct information with her before she is subjected to myths or half-truths from a source that is as inexperienced as she is. I have to get her ready for what comes ahead.
I did some research and bought her a comic book called “Menstrupedia”. She read it on her own and she read it with me. She asked questions about my periods and how they felt. Why it happens and when it would happen to her. It wasn’t bad at all. Half my task was already done by the comic as it provided a structure to the discussion. I answered her question openly and she felt she could talk to me anytime about anything.
What happened post our discussion was a new learning for me about my daughter and the effect of our open conversation. I got my period and when I arrived home, tired and hurting my back and lower abdomen, Srishti noticed me. Just my telling her that my period started was enough for her to understand what I was going through. While I was freshening up, she arranged for sanitary napkins for me. Not just that, she made a hot potli (pouch) by heating rice grains in a pan and putting it into a handkerchief – all by herself. I never taught her that! (apparently, she learned it on Youtube life hacks)
My eyes welled up with joy and gratitude. The warmth of my child’s love and the warmth of the potli soothed my pain in no time.
The fact that she extended her learning on her own came to me as a pleasant surprise. Children are exposed to more information and many creative ways of educating themselves. Still, taking that opportunity to help her become capable of coping with change when it happens, did more than just educate her. It made her compassionate and sensitive to my life. Not just that, she went on sharing the book and our discussions with her cousin and her friends.
This taught me how bonds strengthen when parents participate in the child’s learning and do not shy away from sharing their own experiences. When you open a window for the child to peek into your inner thoughts, the child opens up multifold to connect to you, especially when it is a teen we are talking about.
Coaching One Out of Confusion
The other day, I entered the room to find a rather distressed Srishti. She has been trying to write a reflective piece on a book she read, as a part of her class assignment. And she declared, “Mom, I am so confused. What should I write? How should I even begin?” I have been busy with some work of mine and told her to leave the book aside and relax for a while. But, how can she relax when she is burdened under the pending assignment. We parents can sometimes undermine the stress our children go through for seemingly trivial tasks. But from their point of view, these are important. She looked desperate and wanted me to give her a start or an idea that she could use. Like many clients, she wanted an easy way out. So, I did what I do the best- I coached her.
I sat with her, appreciated her for being so sincere with her work. I acknowledged the time and effort she had put into reading the book especially since she’d much rather paint, or play on her guitar. This made her visibly relax. I then asked her a few questions.
“So, what is the story about?” She gave me a quick summary.
“What emotions does this story make you feel?” She immediately responded.
“What stands out to you from the story?” She knew it.
“What according to you is the lesson this story is bringing forth?” She thought a little and shared.
She already had everything in her mind. She must have gone over her thoughts in circles. The mind went into a state of confusion with so many threads jumbled up. Our conversation took less than 10 minutes leaving her with three clear directions in writing: what is the story, what she learned from it, and how she learned what she did.
When I went to check on her later, I found her engrossed in writing her piece quite peacefully.
The incident showed me how my roles as coach and mother intertwine so beautifully and effectively.
I still do not know if my being a mother made me a coach or my being a coach made me be the kind of mother that I am. Honestly, I don’t think it matters. This intertwining of the 2 is helping me stay a conscious and aware person. It helps me be present in a way that is required by my family, society, and world.