“This term Aashi does not seem to be her usual self”, Aashi’s teacher tells us in one of the monthly PTMs two years ago when Aashi was in kindergarten. She further elaborates, “Aashi sometimes seems lost in class and low in confidence unlike her normal chirpy self”. After a pause the teacher asks, “Is everything alright at home? Because nothing has changed in school, so I was wondering and thought of sharing this with the two of you”. Me and my husband look at each other and it instantly dawns on us “We have been out of town a lot lately for work”.
This incident stays with me and today as I look back I realize that it was the turning point of my relationship with my child. After that meeting, I began to think that maybe we weren’t taking parenting seriously. Not that we were bad parents or parents who were stressed or busy or negligent. But compared to the amount of effort I see other parents around us invest in terms of wanting their child to excel at everything – putting them in various hobby and sport classes, attending parenting workshops, meeting teachers more often, discussing with other parents during play time – it did make me wonder whether we were too casual as parents. We did not do most of these things. We both are working parents and I confess that back then we were workaholics too. Whenever Aashi needed us, each of us expected the other to compromise and work from home or take leave. We were getting frustrated and blaming each other. The effect on Aashi was evident. As her teacher observed, we could see it too. She had grown withdrawn and quiet. Until now Aashi had always been a child who was loved by all, she never disobeyed us or threw tantrums. We felt proud when she got complemented for good behavior. We knew that she was a shy and sensitive child. But we thought that she was doing just fine and hence never noticed her changing needs.
Now that she was growing up, Aashi was developing a thinking of her own and her inquisitiveness was expanding. She had started drawing comparisons between her friends and herself. Comparisons that were more materialistic and about what other parents allowed and we did not. Initially when she came to us with such comparisons our instinctive reaction was to get upset and admonish her to not do this. But this kind of response wasn’t helping her, in fact it was making her withdrawn.
I realized that while she was becoming more independent in doing her daily chores and needed less help from us in those areas, she did need a lot more time from us for addressing her ever growing questions and to be her go-to persons. We could no longer be the laid back parents. We had to be more thoughtful about dealing with her ever-growing inquisitiveness; the restrictions and liberties we set out for her; how much we probed her by questioning and to what extent we could let go.
To start with, I switched to a role in office which gave me more flexibility of work. My motto in the coming days and years became, “I have to be more available to Aashi”. Period. I learnt so much by doing this. I am thankful for this one decision even today. I started taking her out to play after I came home from office. I ensured that she and I talked a lot to one another. I shared my insecurities and my thoughts with her. It amazed me how well she could understand and have the right thing to say, which often even my husband struggles with. I listened to her more and with an open mind. I noticed that she is better at articulating things than I am. She started trusting me more and shared more openly. Instead of admonishing her, I was now sharing my point of view with her and I was open to hearing her views and making changes.
Once we accept that our children can teach us so much we become more humble. Most parents, I observe, want to prove to the world that their child is better than all others, but at the same time it is difficult for them to accept that the child can be better than themselves. We become control freaks that exert control on our children just to make ourselves feel important and valued. I am glad to have had an opportunity to change this behavior in myself and to learn from my child.
Doing the following changed my relationship with my child for the better:
- Setting aside daily a good amount of quality time for her
- Becoming my child’s friend by sharing, listening and valuing
- Being open to learning from her
By the way, 6 months after that meeting, it was heartening to hear from the same teacher that Aashi seems more open and confident now in terms of connecting with everyone and speaks proudly about her family. We both continue to learn from each other. It is just so beautiful to have a 7-year-old best friend by your side all the time.
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Note: The opinions expressed in this article are personal views of the author.