At the outset, let me say this, in our home, ParentingFromTheSamePage is still a work in progress. My husband and I are polar opposites you see. He is the calm, quiet planned organised types and I am the spontaneous, chatterbox, emotional mess types. To add to this mix, my darling daughter the older one, brilliant and feisty, smart lipped and well read is growing up to be fairly invincible with her clear strong logic. The younger one, mischievous twinkling eyes and a heart overflowing with innocence and love, I remain dumbfounded on how to handle his dreamy wandering ways or an absolutely senseless need to create disaster!
We started out easy, I realise now.. being in the US at that time, my husband had the benefit of time and he pitched in his fair share..doing the drops the day care, taking kids out while I cooked , taking turns for special play date and all. Then we moved back to India. And things changed. I barely saw my husband with the Bombay traffic and 9 to 9 work days. With the kids growing up, discipline, good eating habits, health and exercise and the most important value system all came to the fore front. There were annual days, PTMs, birthday parties, random activity classes and managing the calendars and disappearing maids..was hard even with my part time work.
We argued high and low about so many things: Why it was really important to come for that Class Project Demo; Why I needed to drive across town for a one hour birthday party to make sure he made it to his friend’s birthday party so he was not excluded from future class socials; Why my daughter should go to a Bollywood dance class? When was it ok to let my kids walk alone to the bus stop? Should we give money for chores or as an incentive when stars were not working?
So before we knew it, my four year old could roll his eyes and yelled “This is too much. I can’t handle this” and my older one had all the makes of a full fledged drama queen. …We then knew some ground rules had to be made… as parents and as a family
Here is list of our parenting/family rules .. a need of the day.. many coined from having learnt it the hard way..
1) The whole family is one team : We are one family. A family sticks together.
· If your brother created fuss on the bus, you took care of him there and came home and then could punish him if need be.
· As parents, no blaming your spouse or anyone else in the family and attributing your kids behaviour to that.
· And don’t take it personally either.. You are NOT a bad parent just because your kid was the only one who thought of wandering away in the museum or decided to have a meltdown in the middle of his own birthday party. Yes it looks bad and we just need to work on fixing it in future, so our team can get some accolades next time.
2) Acknowledge your mistakes and Respect each other:
· Anger happens. Losing control, screaming, over reacting are all parts of my mommy’s meltdown ever so often. But post that, say “Sorry, I went crazy. I should not have done that. I hope you saw how mad I looked”. No excuses.. that I had a bad day/ I am tired etc.
· You can have a different point of view but always express it in a respectful way. So now my son’s teacher tells me he just told her “I agree to disagree with you on this”..I know its working!
3) Go out of your comfort zone and set an example: I hate exercise. I have a major sweet tooth. But to set an example for my bookworm of a daughter, I have started a workout schedule. We also laughed together at how terrible I was at running. (Humour is a must to be a parent). My husband “tries” to dance with the kids to music. You get the drift..
4) Consciously step away from Gender stereotypes: In these tumultuous times of rapes of 4 year old and violence against women, it is an important job as parents to make sure we raise human beings first.
· So yes my 6 year old boy will cry, ask for hugs and be assigned chores of cleaning the table and helping me fold clothes. My husband voices his concern that I am raising the next Bruce Jenner, but I rather raise a kind son than add another burly brute.
· My daughter is a rebel anyway, but yes at the cost of people telling me she needs to be disciplined a bit, I have let her keep her bold, unfazed questioning irrespective of authority. Intentionally, I let her go out for errands around 8 pm.. I follow her hidden. In spite of my tendency of conservative dressing, I take a deep breath and let her wear what she want..the judging criteria only being does it suit where you are going and what you are doing?.
· So early in her life, she is aware that is dark-skinned .. thanks to those dumb fair and beautiful kind of ads. Thankfully, she still says “mama you are so pretty.. and so I can say.. and you look just like me.. so what if we are brown? And read our recent favourite book “Brown like Dosa, Samosa or sticky chikki”
5) Family Time together: The concept of “Quality Time” is a tricky one. My husband works hard at his job to make sure we have a comfortable life. I on the other hand have taken multiple breaks and certainly have no career of sorts.
· But I have constantly and consciously pointed out that. “I am missing my time at my job, your dad is missing spending time with you. Both of us have made a CHOICE not a sacrifice”
· So while I will be at every parents meet and annual day, and dad just may not be able to make it.. its up to me not to make a big deal about it, so it doesn’t become a big deal for the kids. Anyways in today’s era of whats app, he has seen the video and commented with multiple smileys before we reach home and the kids are happy!
· And when he is at home, I will gladly vanish for a nice afternoon out, while the kids and he can go crazy without my interference.
6) Education: School is a preparation for the journey of life. We have chosen an off the beaten track school Shishuvan for our kids. Grades are for self improvement and your only competition is only yourself. Dad was quite cool on this but it took a lot of control from my own end to not be an over stressed, competitive mom constantly dithering between “Am I giving them enough exposure ?” to “Am I pushing them too hard in to too many things?”. As usual, the questions were complex and answers were actually quite simple.. As long as they got enough time for free play and reading their favourite books and I was not driving myself crazy trying to be in two places at once..they had their whole lives to explore the world.
7) Talk! Talk! Talk! Or Find a Book: Given the rapid pace at which our children are growing up and the stuff they are seeing around them and the vast resources available, one thing we both agreed upon and practice is talking to our kids almost as if they were our friends or equals. I tend to talk about people and their character while my husband takes on the global topics like the refugees. It may mean some questions we are uncomfortable with.. but if you don’t want them to hide their stories, we better be ready to be open minded. If it’s hard to explain, get a child friendly book and then just linger around as they read it . My daughter is 9 and it was time . I got her this and then we talked about periods and breasts and armpit hair. Certainly made it easier.
We believe Honesty and kindness is something kids have at this age and given the freedom and encouragement they will hopefully make the right choices. We talk about the newspaper headlines, be it the Indrani case or the drunken driving or Nirbhaya ,and use it to subtly underline our value system. We talk about the movie characters and their decisions… even in Disney movies. (“May be if the parents in Frozen had told her to explore her power or accept it, she wouldn’t have run away?” ) We talk about mythology and the Power of Now. And Instead of asking “So how was school?”.. we ask..”So did you help anyone today?”.. or “Did you see/read anything weird today?”..or “Did you meet any new uncle today?”
Phew.. that’s the serious stuff. But last but not the least, we have lightened up to just enjoy the experience of being together consciously. We take night walks and listen to the sounds, peer at the silvery trails left by the snails on the path and spend a lot of vacation time collecting shells or piney cones or whatever catches their fancy. Time passes really fast. So sometimes#parentingfromthesamepage means we don’t discipline and just laugh at their innocent mischief, listen to their long drawn stories with “then you know what..”.. even if I need to finish dinner and just sing ..We are family!