"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots; the other, wings.” - Hodding Carter
All parents want their children to develop into well adjusted adults, respected as much for the integrity of their character as for their professional skills. This doesn't just happen overnight. It takes years of patient guidance, consistent discipline and above all, an abundance of love that is tangible to the child even during the worst periods in their growing up - and believe me, there will be many of those, before you can sit back and say with relief, "My work is done".
Many people equate an abundance of love with spoiling their child. I think that perhaps they have not understood what the term LOVE means, especially as it relates to a child. Let us start with what it is not:
1) Love is not over-indulging your child, giving in to every whim of his/hers because you feel guilty, tired, afraid you would lose your temper or scared that your kid may not love you.
2) Love is not harshly disciplining your children for every little broken rule in the mistaken belief that you are doing it for their good and if you don't punish them often and hard, a life of turmoil and misery beckons.
3) Love is not protecting your kids from the natural heart aches that come with growing up - whether it is a friend's betrayal, loss of a pet or loved one, not getting something deeply longed for.
4) Love is not using emotional blackmail at any time or for any reason in order to control them and get them to do what you want them to do.
Love that is most beneficial to children is one that focuses on them and accepts them for the unique individuals that they are. To be a truly loving parent, we need to learn to be a bit dispassionate about our kids. Even the most well meaning of parents tend to forget this. Unbiased love for your children helps you to focus on the child, rather than the fact that he/she belongs to you. You then learn to accept the possibilities and limitations of each of your children and to marvel at their individual potential. If there are no pre-conceived expectations, there is less pressure on the child and there are no feelings of disappointment in the parent. When children sense that they are not being measured against their siblings or friends, their confidence grows, there are less disciplinary issues and above all, they feel valued for themselves. Learning to love our kids this way is one of the hardest lessons in parenting; it being so natural to think in terms of "My Children" with the emphasis on "My" rather than on "Children".
Good parenting is a skill honed through trial and error. Most parents are so concerned about being good parents that they tend to over compensate for their perceived inadequacies. They tend to overlook the fact that most kids prefer laughter, a home filled with warmth and understanding and parents whom they can trust and turn to in times of trouble rather than being inundated with designer clothes, shoes and toys. How often do we hear the complaint that kids now-a-days are too obsessed with material things. Perhaps it is time we, as parents, ask ourselves how much we have contributed to our children's obsessions. A lot of people seem to have lost faith in their ability to be good parents, mistakenly thinking that they should always be infallible. What we must never lose sight of is that for the most part, we do get it right and that our love for our children will guide our parental instincts. Problems arise only when we do not learn from our mistakes. Children seem to have an infinite capacity to forgive their parents if they know or feel that their mothers and/or fathers are trying to do their very best for them.
Parents are only human - a fact that is often ignored by our kids and even more so, by ourselves. It is alright to get angry or depressed, irritated or to just want some time to yourself. What is not alright is to let these feelings affect your behaviour towards your children. How you handle your emotions is a good indicator of how your kids will manage theirs when they grow up. Rather than pretend that everything is fine, it would be better if you explained to your kids that you are upset about something and that you need sometime to work through the problem. Not only will the children be relieved that they are not the reason for your turmoil, they will probably try hard not to upset you further. Explaining the rationale for your actions to your children in terms they can understand teaches them empathy, alleviates their concerns that they are the cause of your distress and shows them how negative emotions should be handled.
Most parents have a hard time trying to decide whether or not they should shield their young children from the harsh facts of life. War, famine, death - these are constantly in the news. Closer to home it might be the prolonged illness or death of a close relative, friend, or even a pet, the break up of a close friendship, divorce, losing a job or home. There is no guarantee that life will always be smooth sailing and the sooner children are taught to face such situations with equanimity, the more resilient they will be when, as adults, they have their own misfortunes to face.
Parenting can be stressful, it is often under valued and unglamorous yet it can be and very often is uplifting and provides some of our most precious memories. If we remember to relax and enjoy our kids, love them for who they are, try to inculcate a strong personal value system from a very early age, revel in their accomplishments and be a constant source of support for them, we can be sure of doing a pretty good job. There is, of course, the added bonus of our own self improvement as we try to be more like the person we want our children to emulate.
Naresh Belliyappa is a software engineer and a website developer with a keen interest in the marketing of digital products. His main areas of written expertise are Internet Marketing, parenting and health issues.
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