One of the biggest debates that go on inside a mother’s mind is where to draw the line between being a friend to her child and being a mother. The line between being a friend and mother can get very blurry and to the point of no return. Many think that children have friends for a reason and mothers aren’t meant to be one of them. It is extremely easy to lose sight of the teaching and guiding we are supposed to be doing as mothers, when we focus more on being a friend. I know I was one of those people who thought that, but before I became a mother myself. Now, I am the biggest advocate of trying to strike a balance between being a mother and friend to your child.
This is something that I feel is important as well as necessary. A relationship between a mother and child is the only relationship in the world that is selfless and represents pure love. Being a mother, can mean being that one person your child can talk about anything to and at the same time be the person who sets the rules, expectations, and boundaries for behaviour. It is not necessary for a mother to be defined as ‘cool’ because then you start to lose sight of what your role really is as a mother. When the friend aspect overshadows the mother, rules become a thing of the past with a lack of any sort of consistency to your child’s life leading to comfort and safety. Striking and maintaining that balance between being a mother and friend to your child is key. This can change the way your child approaches life and lives his/her life.
From the time my elder son could talk, I have always made it a point to practice kindness and honesty with him. I think kindness goes hand in hand with almost every other quality that we hope our children will possess. By honesty, I mean honesty with me. As he grows and even at this young age of 4, I am trying with all my might to ensure that he knows he can come with me to any problem big or small. When they are young, their big problems seem small to us but what they feel is what matters. I know it is asking for a lot but I want my both my sons to think of me as the first person they want to run to when they have a problem or something is disturbing them and they are unclear how to deal with it. Events around the world including India have had a traumatic effect on parents everywhere. The most recent Florida high school shooting has left not only America stunned but the rest of the world as well. This is one among the countless shootings that have taken place in the last few years. Sitting in India, we cannot put our hands up and say, “school shootings will never take place in India”. Whether that may be true or not, every country has its’ shocking events. The root cause of every violent event with a child or a teenager at the helm, boils down to how our children have been raised, the relationship with their mother and their morals and values. The violent behaviour stems from unexpressed feelings, insecurity and a lack of connection with family and friends.
Encouraging an open relationship with our children where they see us as part friend, gives us a direct line of sight into their life. It is crucial for us as mothers to know their ups and downs in school, arguments with friends, any attachments to peers and so on; and this even at a very young age. People say it is impossible to know what your children are always doing but that is a big problem right there and the line between being a friend and a mother becomes blurred. There are always ways to know who they are with, what they are doing and where they are going. There are always ways to know what their interests are, their fears, their worries. Practising transparency with them goes a long way. So, my point here – THERE ARE ALWAYS WAYS TO KNOW.
It is crucial for mothers to bridge the mother-child relationship with friendship. I have seen houses where mothers rule their households with firm discipline, strict rules and have the inability to create any form of friendship with their children. No third person can judge what takes place in another person’s home but often, children from those houses fall into bad situations as a result of facing difficult decisions alone without any guidance. I am not saying to disregard discipline, but it is surely a whole lot easier if it is done as a friend and mother. Friends have mutual respect. One of the many things we as mothers don’t realise is that if we want our children to respect us, we must show them respect. We are so quick to demand respect from them but then we are equally quick to dismiss many things they want to talk to us about.
So whatever age your children may be, being a mother and a friend is the best way to go. It is important to establish that you will always be a mother first and then a friend, but they are both not mutually exclusive. I have always believed that being a mother isn’t about doing what is easy, but about what is best for your child.
I remember being in complete awe of my niece’s school in Manhattan, New York. A few years ago, while I was visiting New York, she had asked me to accompany her to school on Special friend’s day which is a day for grandparents and other family members to visit and interact with the children during the class sessions. This was a time much before my elder son was even thought of so schools, teaching methods, learning styles etc. were not even remotely present in my mind-space, however I knew they were details that would arise soon. My visit to this private school was my first exposure to a very different kind of education than the one I had grown up with. Needless to say it was one of the most fascinating and enlightening experiences I have ever had. It was refreshing to able to string the words happy, fun and learning in the same sentence. I left the school with one thought – “When the time comes, I somehow need to try and give my children a similar educational experience.”
The very first thing I noticed as soon as I entered my niece’s classroom was the exceedingly stimulating environment. The class room was covered with the work done by the children and teachers were focused on finding exciting new ways to encourage thinking and learning. The level of interaction and engagement with the students was something I had never seen before and I was astounded by the speed with which the children were learning. Math integration was being done through games and problems solved collaboratively as well as independently. The children were encouraged to ask questions along with each thought they had being used as a learning opportunity. I noticed that the teaching method was targeted less towards the children memorizing and more towards application, where they were taught to develop the skills and self-discipline they will need for a life-time of learning. I wondered at that point whether there would ever be a similar style of education in India. Sure enough, a few years later I heard about the IB (International Baccalaureate) board and I had a replenished sense of hope that maybe I could after all provide a similar educational experience for my children.
My school years were the best years of my life. I was lucky enough to attend a school which focused on all round development. It was a school with a larger than life campus, a big field and playground area, clean classrooms, well-trained teachers in that board of education, exceptional extra-curricular activities and so on. The friends I made in school are still some of my best friends today. No complaints. The academic curriculum was a rigorous one and the school had a reputation for creating top level achievers with students getting into colleges of their choice in the blink of an eye. While for many of my fellow alums the memory of school now includes good grades, mine does not. At that time as my parents nor I knew any different, my school years flew by with above average grades. It wasn’t until much later when I started looking at options for schools for my elder son, did I realise that it wasn’t the lack of focused studying leading to average grades, but while the knowledge had been present, the application was absent. I realised that for many people memorising doesn’t automatically mean understanding and I had been one of those people. That was the problem right there.
So here is one of the main reasons I chose to expose my elder son to an IB board right from pre-school. It was not about my likes and dislikes for each board, but rather about what kind of an environment I believed my son would thrive in. It was about the International standards and style of education that I wanted him to have the opportunity to experience. In the beginning like most parents, IB was an alien system to me and I had a million questions. I was not comfortable with my son attending a school which followed a board I had zero knowledge about. However, as my husband and I both had really liked the pre-school that my son is in now, we made the decision to take a chance and wait and watch the preliminary effects of the IB board. In a very short period of time, we were astonished with the progress. This pushed me to dig deeper into the underlying aspects of the IB board.
What each parent wants in a school differs. For me, the teaching method and learning style that the board utilized was at the top of the priority list because that is the sole factor that would determine the way my son would tackle life. This was followed by details about the school itself like safety, cleanliness, expansion plans and so on. It was very important to me that my child be taught in a way that would boost his imagination, creativity & curiosity. This is the definition of the IB board right there. From what I have seen, the IB board keeps up with present times. It creates a strong foundation by helping children build on not only their physical skills but also emotional, social and cognitive. It encourages children to understand who they are in relation to the world around them. Learner Profiles which are at the heart of the IB board puts the child at the centre and are attributes (Example- Risk-takers, Reflective, Knowledgeable, Inquirers etc.) which help children understand who they are. Teaching is done using age appropriate developmental activities. Rarely will you see a child being pushed to do something he/she is not ready for. The letters of the alphabet are carefully introduced using jolly phonics, an approach which motivates kids to want to learn more. Even before reaching the Lower Kindergarten level, children are familiar with most if not all the letters of the alphabet and how to write them. Numbers are taught using a child-centric approach. Some even start reading. Concepts are demonstrated and reviewed through various forms of arts & crafts. The assessment of whether a child has understood the concept is done through work books. Learning through play is encouraged. We often are under the impression that when a child is playing, he/she rarely learns anything concrete and of use. I have learned over time that exactly the opposite is true. As I always say, HOW they learn is far more important than WHAT they learn. What I love now more than the fact that my son can put letters together to create words and write them, is the way he applies what he was taught in school. For example, we will be passing by in the car and he will see the sign board of a shop with letters he recognises. While waiting at the traffic light, he starts to apply jolly phonics and puts the word together one letter at a time. No memorising, only recollection of the concept taught paired with his understanding.
While the decision to try out the IB board for my elder son was purely based on what I wanted for him, the decision for him to continue with this educational system was based on him. He is the type of child who needs to see, touch, feel and play to understand something. I saw that his imagination, creativity and curiosity was being nurtured every single day and this was an especially crucial factor for me, since a large part of the brain development happens during the first five years.
The IB board makes learning fun at the same time preparing our children for the real world. So, to all the parents out there who are searching for that one board of education which will be a good fit for your child, take time out to sit in the classrooms of an IB school. I promise you it will be well worth it. At least you know that the decision that you need to make eventually, will be an informed one.
Do you ever close your eyes, lean back in your chair and wonder what life would be like if you were not a mother and had chosen a different path in life? Do you sometimes silently listen to someone making brunch plans or trying to schedule a meeting without having to think twice about what time they need to be home to take their little ones to a class? I think it’s safe to assume that 9 out of 10 mothers have thought about this at one point or another. This is a common thought running through the mind of any new mother who is trying to come to terms with the fact that in terms of priority she now comes behind her child. It is even a passing thought in the minds of veteran mothers. How many times in frustration and anger have you wished that you were not responsible for anyone and could just pack your bags and go on a long holiday? Nostalgia takes over and you reminisce about the good old days when you could live a care-free life. I know I did many times during the first few gruelling months of motherhood but now when I think about what life would be like without my two boys who are my everything – my mind draws a blank.
This Children’s Day, I would like to dedicate my post to all our incredible children who have changed our lives and surround us with the purest form of love every single day!
Sometimes my elder son catches me staring at him and he asks me why. At that point, I am very often imagining a sliding doors situation. For those of you who don’t know what that means, ‘Sliding Doors’ is a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and the story line splits into two, presented as parallel universes in which different events take place. I keep comparing my life now as a mother with a life devoid of bedtime stories or a little person clutching my hand trying to stand for the first time or a wide-eyed 6-month-old eating solid food for the first time, and the life I end up imagining is a very dull and uneventful one.
Not everyone is meant to be a mother or even wants to be one for that matter. Each person’s hopes and dreams are different and for many women, becoming a mother is not one of them. We all make certain decisions in life which affect the path we take and which determine our future. To survive life in general, evolution is important regardless of which path we end up taking. I think like me, every woman who is a mother has evolved in many ways that they never thought they would. Most of the changes in me can be attributed to my children who teach me something new every day and help me be a better version of myself. Now, four years and two children later, when I close my eyes and lean back in my chair, I cannot envision life without:
Each moment has taught me a lesson along the way. I have learned that there is joy in being an adult, from them. I have learned to slow down and play, from them. I have learned unconditional love, from them. Motherhood is far more difficult than anyone ever anticipates but what keeps us chugging along with perseverance, are the smiling faces of our little ones that we see every morning.
We are brought face to face with true love each day.
This post originally appeared on Kidsstoppress
There are times when I wish that having a glass of wine at 8 am was considered normal. How about a shot of something smooth? Just a quick one to calm the nerves. As a mother of two boys - a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old, I have come very close to talking myself into that one glass of wine in the morning before starting a day where I knew a difficult or emotionally challenging situation would arise. I am sure many of you moms are quietly admitting to yourselves that you have thought the same now and then.
Just another day in a mom's life:
Let me explain how and why this thought entered my head in the first place. My best friend and I were venting to each other a few days ago, about how emotionally draining it is to watch our kids scream and cry during their first days of school. My 3-year-old who has been going to school since he was 9 months, old thinks of school as his second home. Of course, there was the initial period when he started going alone where it took two teachers and akkas (helpers) to pick him up and take him inside. But then it got better and school became a part of him.
The only thing he talked about when he came home from school without taking a breath, was school. As most schools do, it recently shut for a 2-week break before commencing Term 2. As the break came to end, I was excited for him to get back to routine. Little did I know what was in store. The “I don’t want to go to school” and crying began again and I realized the 2-week break with him being at home with me more than usual had set him back a step. His familiarity and love for the school did not seem to make a difference. However, once inside the classroom, the crying stopped and he was back to his usual self. Hearing this, I was relieved.
As a mother, my first instinct was to pacify him. Immediately, the “poor baby” and “I wonder what he must be feeling” emerged. I started to feel bad for him and tried thinking of all the reasons possible of why this could be happening. Maybe it wasn’t the 2 week break and it was something at school that was setting him off. But then I realized that he was fussing from Day 1 since school re-opened so it must be something else. If it was the separation anxiety kicking in again, how could I be so mean to send him off to school when he was crying to be with me? After a while of feeling this way and expressing my concerns to my mother, she was the one who finally put an end to the pity I was feeling for my son. She threw two simple words at me – “TOUGHEN UP!!!”
Why moms have to be emotionally strong:
What she said hit me and it hit me hard. I had always thought of myself as strong and tough and as someone who did not get affected by difficult situations very easily. However, it dawned on me that when it came to both my boys, I was faint-hearted.
I realized that if I wanted my elder one to toughen up and go to school without crying, then the toughening up needed to start with me first. I needed to throw him into the centre of the activity and walk away, no looking back.
It is also easier said than done. Whether it is a vaccination or the first day of school, we as mothers need to be emotionally strong. I remember refusing to stand and watch when my elder son was getting one of his first vaccinations after he was born. It occurred to me later, that the example I was setting for him was probably not a very good one, at the same time making me weaker as a mother.
My friends and I keep joking about how a glass of wine before an emotionally draining situation would be a saving grace, making it easier for us mothers to cope with the situation. It would most definitely result in less thinking, more confidence and a tougher heart. I have lost count of the number of times I have come home and cried after witnessing my son being taken into school weeping. In retrospect, it didn’t seem like a situation that warranted blood tears but at that time I had been close to breaking. The one thing I can say for sure is that kids are not for the faint-hearted!
The need to go beyond the comfort zone:
Kids are more resilient than we think. We tend to forget that sometimes. The need for over-protecting arises more than we could have ever imagined but the key is to condition our minds to remember that pushing them in certain situations to go beyond their comfort zone is for the best. We need to judge depending on the circumstances if pushing them to do something they don’t want to do is the right thing or not. In the cases where it is the right thing, we as mothers need to put up a tough exterior, however hard it may be. Our minds and hearts will probably tell us two very different things.
Today, I am a work in progress. The sight of my son crying when he doesn’t want to do something, does not make me go weak at the knees but instead empowers me to help him adapt and adjust to the situation. In a blog post I read recently on Babycenter, the author Stephanie Metz talks about how modern parents need to get real. She says and very rightly so that “the younger generations of today are being taught that they shouldn’t have to ever put up with anything that doesn’t make their hearts feel like rainbow coloured unicorns are running around pooping skittles onto piles of marshmallows.”
Something for all us moms to think about.
If you had asked a mom-to-be a few decades ago what her biggest fear was about becoming a mother, the answer would have been related to sleepless nights, breastfeeding or cleaning poop. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Who isn’t concerned about whether they will be able to get a full night’s sleep till their child turns 18? Fast-forward a few decades to the world we live in today and if we ask a mom-to-be the same question, chances of her biggest fear being related to her child’s safety will probably be very high.
What is our role as a parent in ensuring the safety of our children? Safety begins at home; I am sure this is something that we can all agree on. There is only so much that we can expect other caregivers, schools etc. to take responsibility for. The primary responsibility of their safety is very much under our control. There are situations where sometimes their safety is not under our control but we need to do the best we can. We are all aware of the various incidents that have taken place in schools across India, the most recent being at a school in Delhi where a Class 2 boy was the victim. I don’t think I need to go into the details because they were splashed all over the news and internet. However morbid and outrageous these crimes may be, each one teaches us a lesson.
One of the first things I looked at while selecting a school for my elder son was the safety aspect. For me, a good education and other factors play second fiddle. Most schools have CCTV cameras to monitor the halls and classrooms. However, is that enough? It is important to also evaluate how vigilant the faculty members and helpers are. I am sure all schools have safety guidelines or laws by which they are supposed to abide by. For example, my elder son’s school insists on only the parents coming to pick up the children when school lets out. In the event of another family member or caregiver picking up the child, one of the parents is expected to send an email the day before with the name and photograph of the person. Without any confirmation from the parents, the teachers do not let the child out of the gate with anyone. This was something that immediately made me realise that my child would be in excellent and more importantly, safe hands. I have personally seen this precaution be put into practice. I was also comforted by the fact that I did not see many men entering and leaving the school building. Whether your child is a boy or a girl, the safety precautions to be taken remain the same. Gone are the days where boys were believed to be safer than girls; recent incidents in schools have proven that. Now where does our role come in?
Growing up, there wasn’t a day when my parents sent my sisters or me to school with the driver alone or with a caregiver who hadn’t worked with us long. There were a few months where we were sent to school in the school bus. I remember my mother doing a full background check on the bus driver before we even set foot in the bus. Did it take time? Yes. Was it a tedious process? Of course. But it was ultimately worth it. A parent’s worry and concern can never be questioned because it is in the best interest of the child. Trust is a funny thing. You may trust a person to do many things for you but no one other than immediate family or a baby-sitter who is considered family, will ever be good enough to take care of your child. That is just how parents are wired. Not everyone has the privilege of having immediate family in the same city to take care of their children, so they turn to others. I attended a Child Abuse Awareness workshop in Chennai recently which opened my eyes to so many issues that I had never deemed important. The speaker talked about establishing certain ‘trusted people’ for our children. They can be grandparents, baby-sitters, aunts, uncles and so on but the list should not be an endless one. A good idea would be to have these trusted people drop and pick-up your child from school if you are unable to. This is not to say that every person who is not a part of the ‘trusted people’ list is set out to harm your child. Someone once told me that you can never trust anyone but yourself whole-heartedly. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to live life without considering others as trust-worthy. However, we need to pick and choose the people we trust our children with. Problems arise when young children are sent to school with drivers alone and no other supervision. Drivers often do not make the trusted people list. My belief has always been to avoid an unfavourable situation completely rather than trying to salvage it once it occurs.
You know what they say – reality is a b****. I am not being an alarmist and trying to scare you all but we do have to be pragmatic. We always think “it could never happen to us.” I know I always did. But each passing year has made me not only older but wiser. As my elder son is only 3 years old, I prefer to drop or pick him up myself or else have an immediate family member do it. I also wait and watch to make sure he enters the school building before I walk away. My son is a car buff so it is very easy for him to turn around and get into anyone’s car if they try tempting him with candy. After all, which child doesn't love candy! So, we have cautioned him not to get into any stranger’s car unless his parents are with him. Direct questioning never works with young children so during his and my playtime, I try and get some information out of him about how school was that day. The replies often give you a good sense of whether your child had a good day and more importantly a safe day. Feelings of insecurity and fear become evident in the way your child plays and in his/her actions.
Every parent has their own set of measures to ensure their child's safety; you have now read some of mine. I would love to hear from you all on what yours are.
This post originally appeared on Kidsstoppress
Parenthood comes with a wide range of expectations and responsibilities. Having someone depend on you 100% for all their wants and needs is probably the biggest responsibility a person can undertake. When it comes to raising our children, we face moral dilemmas daily. We question ourselves every second of the day, wondering if anything we have said or done has been detrimental to them.
As parents, we all hope for and want our children to excel at everything they take on in life; be it academics, sports, theatre, art and so on. Moreover, we crave for happiness for our children. We try to give them the freedom to learn and discover who they are for themselves and teach them to be passionate about whatever they decide to pursue. These days so many contrasting and interesting methods of learning are being utilized, and therefore school for most children has become a place of self-discovery. Sometimes during this process of self-discovery is when many parents detect certain learning disabilities in their child.
It is often confusing for parents of children with learning disabilities. Many times, the signs are extremely subtle and difficult to identify which is why we sometimes see the learning disability being identified when the child is much older. It can be hard for parents to know whether things are normal or not, especially if it is your first child. Some of the familiar learning disabilities children experience today are ADHD and Dyslexia.
Dealing with the truth that your child has a learning disability is often a very emotionally draining process.
Denial is one of the most frequently used defense mechanisms. It can only temporarily repress the situation but not erase it completely. In this case, denial of a learning disability in your child can be tricky. I remember a case where a mother was slowly realizing that her child was not developing speech as per his age mandated. At the age of four, he was still speaking single words and not in full sentences. Following her gut instinct, she concluded that something needed to be done. She lived in a joint family along with her husband and son. When she mentioned this to her mother-in-law, her belief that her son may have a learning disability was instantly quashed. She was told that she was being fussy and over-thinking the situation. This was a case of the child’s grandparents not being able to accept the truth. Her husband was neutral. However, the mother still had her doubts so she went independently to consult with a speech therapist who then confirmed that her son did, in fact, require language therapy. The next step was to engage the entire family in counseling with the speech therapist.
The role of schools
Schools face a colossal amount of backlash from many parents for suggesting that the child may have a specific learning disability. There is an increased amount of awareness and engagement from schools today regarding learning disabilities and the symptoms. Earlier, unmotivated children who did not show any interest in school work were pulled aside and termed as having a learning disability, when in fact they just needed to be pushed a little. Many children are often referred first to doctors and psychiatrists to see if the learning disability can be ‘treated’ with medication. It is challenging to distinguish between a child who cannot learn and do something from a child who will not learn and do something. However now teachers are trained to spot any form of learning disability early on, alert the parents and work with them on a special and structured routine for the child.
Children with learning disabilities are as smart and talented as their peers; they are not ‘different’ in any way, contrary to popular theory. They are just not able to accomplish the task at hand at the same speed and with the same method as their peers. So, parents work with professionals like special educators to help their child stay on track and on par with their peers. They are taught that many people are successful in overcoming difficulties and that they will soon be among those people.
A learning disability is not the result of any form of negligence from the parents. This is something that parents need to chant to themselves repeatedly. The most you can do is keep your eyes open for signs of difficulties your child may be facing in school or even at home when one on one time is spent with them in educational activities. Support from the parents is crucial and focusing on optimistic outcomes can make a world of difference to the child’s progress. As Ignacio Estrada said, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
This post originally appeared on Her View From Home
There are certain things that make my heart skip a beat. When I was young and restless, it was if a guy I liked smiled at me or if I was expecting some exciting news. How life has changed. My heart now does a double take every time my sons smile at me – one with his bugs bunny teeth and the other with his toothless smile. But yesterday when my elder son told me he was happy, my heart melted.
There was no preceding event based on which he said it. He just came up to me, put his head on my lap and said “I’m happy”; this from an almost 3-year-old. As a mother, those three words are the most sought after ones. Happiness is what we aim for, among other things.
But is it only happiness we want for our children? I think aside from this, what most mothers want for their children, is success. Wanting success has become an obsession. To achieve this, mothers are now going that extra mile to cultivate their children to survive in the constantly changing world. We are preparing them to survive in a world which we can’t even imagine so we enrol them in all kinds of classes– language, sports, music, drama and more. There is, of course, always an upside and downside to everything in life. The upside to this is that children in today’s generation are brilliant and incredibly talented. Gone are the days when only academics mattered. The downside? All this focus on “training” children is causing anxiety and exhaustion in them and in us, leading to various degrees of unhappiness. This is something many mothers do not want to admit. The competition today among children is brutal, resulting in them losing out on
their childhood – a childhood meant to be filled with freedom. Structure, stability and various degrees of freedom make happy children.
I have always questioned myself in my role as a mother. I think that this self-doubt is an ongoing process with most mothers, always questioning ourselves every step of the way and wondering if what we are doing is good for our children or hurting them in any way. We are always in doubt about whether or not our children are emotionally happy. We search and ache for some sort of validation for our actions concerning our children. This is normal and human. No mother knows it all and some self-examination and re-evaluation is sometimes good for the soul. This is how we as mothers incorporate change and take motherhood in our stride. Motherhood is a continuously evolving process, forcing mothers to change with it. However, I have learned that the biggest validation does not come from family or friends, but from our children themselves.
Happiness is an emotional state which needs to be developed. The Law of Cause and Effect is something I try to practice as a mother. I have learned from my own experiences that when you direct positive words, actions and energy (positive energy) at someone, the same positive energy gets thrown back at you. The quality of your thoughts controls your actions. We want our children to be healthy, happy and free. Simple as that. For them to be so, their mothers need to be healthy, happy and free individuals. I truly believe mothers are responsible for the energy that is received by their children and we all want to nudge positive energy in their direction. If we are able to do that, based on Newton’s law of motion, this energy will bounce right back to us.
Lasting happiness is complicated, but rewarding. It is a habit. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product”, a quote which rings true and one which would serve all us mothers out there, well.
I remember my elder son’s first day of school. After a year of Mom & Me classes, the day had finally come when he would be attending school on his own. It would probably be the most emotional day for me as the mother, having realized that the time had finally come for my son to spread his wings. Choosing a pre-school for my son had not been a difficult task. My husband and I were always very clear on the kind of school we want for our children; a school that would focus on letting them live, make learning fun and focus on helping them experience their childhood. We were lucky enough to find a school whose philosophies matched ours. But this is now.
A video called 'The Kindergarten' by Innovative Global Education was sent to me recently and talks about Friedrich Froebel's (who laid the foundation for modern education) Children's Garden and about the US education system. The content of that video made an incredible impact on me and got me thinking about our children. Times are changing and the way children are being taught is contrasting compared to a few decades ago when the teaching methods were traditional and text book based. We as parents along with the schools are now focusing on changing what we want our children to grow up learning. The focus is less on WHAT they learn but rather on HOW they learn.
“I want my daughter to go to IIT when she grows up”, “I want my son to study Medicine and become a famous Doctor when he grows up”, “Why are you playing with a Chef’s hat and frying pan? You need to be sitting and doing a page from your workbook and not wasting time playing”, “Unless you can sit in this chair for a half hour and write the numbers 1-50, you are not getting up”. I think these and similar statements are ones that we are all too familiar with as parents; we have either said it ourselves at one point or another or have over- heard another parent say it. These statements are also nothing out of the ordinary. But if we dig a little deeper, are they conducive to helping our children grow? We all have ambitions for our children. It is natural to want to check off pre-defined milestones at each age of development. I am sure most parents when asked “what do you want your child to be when he/she grows up?” will answer “anything, if he/she is happy doing it.” It is also human to know from the day your child is born, which college he/she will attend, or have specific ambitions for your child – Doctor, Lawyer, Scientist and so on. Having said this, how do we make sure that we do not pressure our children very early on to meet certain expectations that we have set for them?
It is not an uncommon sight to see a childhood be taken over by homework, hours of practice workbooks, tuition and tests. For many, this is the best way for their child to learn and become successful in life. Often the discussion here is whether we are limiting the child’s overall growth by doing this. Children thrive when imagination and creativity is nurtured. They are built to learn by experiencing various touches, smells, sounds, sights and tastes. But sitting for hours in a classroom learning only from a text book does not achieve this. Evaluating children based on how long they can sit still in a chair without standing up, how long they can keep quiet and how they perform on tests, paints only half a picture of the child’s potential. The strengths are over-looked and sometimes take a back seat. We end up imposing a glass ceiling, which is an invisible barrier on their growth, not realising the long-term impact that this ceiling will create. We end up limiting their capabilities.
Learning was a rocky journey for me growing up. I was never a good test-taker and reading and studying from text books was something I never related to. Even at the pre-school level, I would find myself looking for someone to come up with creative ways to teach me a concept so that I could understand it better. Later however, the level of understanding was judged on material that was taught only one way and on test scores. There were never-ending parent-teacher conferences where my mother was told that I needed to get better grades and that I needed extra help with certain things. In my head, there was a voice screaming “I know my stuff!” but unfortunately it was a silent voice which would never be heard.
After having children of my own, I knew immediately that I wanted the world for them. I wanted to give them the opportunity to feel the sand slip through their fingers every day at the same time learning about different textures, watch centipedes inching along in the grass at the same time learning about how many legs it has, splash with all their might in a splash pool at the same time learning what floats and sinks in water. I was clear that as a parent, my energy, time and resources needed to be placed in the right places. Even though my elder son is only 3 years old right now, I have quickly come to realise that the best gift I have probably given him is free time, enabling him to discover himself and his passions.
We need to take a step back and put into perspective what it is that we really want for our children. Parents often have similar hopes and dreams for their children. As I always say, there is no right and wrong parenting style; it’s each to their own. Whatever pattern of learning each of us follow, I hope we can help our children unleash their utmost potential. I hope that we can help them rise above the expectations we have set for them, thereby breaking the glass ceiling.
When I was pregnant with my elder son, I used to often sit and wonder what values I would want to teach my children and ponder over the kind of human beings I would want them to grow up to be. Of course, every mother wants her child to be gentle, kind, caring, compassionate, strong and so on. But if I had to dig deep down and really think about not only the values they need to integrate into their character, but also the values they display in their everyday behavior, I know I want my children to be honest, forgiving, respectful, charitable, believe in themselves, committed and courageous. Frankly, I could go on and on! Not only do I hope they imbibe all these values but that they also use these values to make a difference in the world. But above all, I want them to exhibit equality in every aspect of their lives.
Whether you have boys or girls, the world we live in today demands that they are treated the same and taught the same things. Let me explain. Living in India, the question of equality is always a question mark. When I talk about equality here, I am referring to the equality between men and women or should I say the inequality. This issue of gender equality is long-standing and one where the progress is extremely slow, bordering on non-existent. The almost ‘inferior’ status of women even today is one of the many reasons for the rise in crimes against women. But is that the only reason why there is an upward trend in crimes against women, especially rapes, dowry deaths and honor killings? My answer is no. The safety of women in India has been at stake for a long time now and no law put down by the people running the country will ever make a difference. One of the main reasons that men even in the year 2017 feel like they have the power and the right to hold women back and mistreat them, is because growing up, they have not been taught otherwise. Now is the time to teach our sons to act respectfully instead of telling our daughters to be careful.
Let’s talk about what we as mothers as part of our parenting philosophy should be teaching our sons. Lessons in gender equality should begin early and be repeated often. It is never too early to start. But there is something else we as mothers need to focus on even before addressing equality with our sons. Boys are always taught to be assertive and aggressive. Rarely do you hear anyone telling their sons to be gentle, kind and sensitive. There is a popular ad by VogueEmpower with Madhuri Dixit which deals with domestic violence and how boys don’t cry. This ad rubbed many people the wrong way, but I think it clearly portrayed a big part of what is wrong with the world today and the changes that we as parents need to make to our parenting philosophy.
As a mother to two boys, I try every day to refrain from saying ‘don’t cry’. Ever. Of course, it does come out at times, but it is a work in progress. As I mentioned earlier, it is never too late to start. If my son shuts the door on his hand by mistake and cries, I say “let it out”. If he falls in the playground, I don’t say “be a big boy, stop crying”. There is no rule against boys crying and there never has been. It is a social norm that has been put into place by us. My elder son loves walking around in other people’s shoes (men’s and women’s). He also loves parading around with my handbag slung over his shoulder. I take pictures when he does that. He loves Pink. So, if he likes a toy or a shirt in pink, I buy it for him. He is also obsessed with cars and repairing them. He loves Tennis and Golf. Who took charge and said Blue is for boys and Pink is for girls? Holding back our sons from exploring their more gentle and sensitive side is what gives them the idea that girls are supposed to be gentle and sensitive, while boys should be anything but. There starts the gender inequality. I have heard of mothers saying “’boys will be boys” when the topic of their sons bullying others in class comes up. When gender is often used to excuse a certain type of behavior, a dangerous message is sent. It is time to stop attributing behavior to gender and help our children understand that everyone is the same. If we can spend some time at home educating our sons on this, we can help the world be a safer and better place.
We need to step back and think about the messages we send our children every day. The bottom line is that we cannot control what our children see and learn in the world out there but we can control what they are taught at home. We can encourage them to be their own unique selves despite what society tells them is appropriate according to their gender. We can empower them to knock down barriers created by gender differences, leading to an overall safer world around them.
Every mother has her own struggle with motherhood. From an identity crisis and a fear of the unknown to balancing motherhood with work, a social life and so on, the challenges we face as mothers never end. The entire journey from the time we conceive is filled with endless moments of happiness, joy, panic and fear. However, the one common fear among most mothers is the ability of others to care for their child.
As humans, we are programmed to question and over-think everything. As mothers, we probably do this more than anyone else. It would be impossible not to. Every decision from the brand of diapers to schools is scrutinized ten times over. But those decisions do not hold a candle to the decision of leaving your child with family or other caretakers.
Trust is a funny thing and doesn’t come easily to people. Our experiences determine how easily we can trust another person; it simply requires faith in human nature. In this case, however you can have the utmost faith and trust in a family member or the nanny to care for your child for a few hours maybe, but it can be daunting to leave them in the care of others for an extended period. Not everyone shares the same childcare philosophies and that is perhaps the biggest cause of concern for most mothers.
There is a first time for everything and of course many people have starting problems. It requires a deep conditioning of the mind to be comfortable with leaving your child and going on a 2-day vacation for example. It goes without saying that the dynamics of a vacation with children and without children are significantly different. I am and always have been a ‘travel-without-your-child’ kind of mother. Being able to re-charge, helps me be a better mother. The first time my husband and I left our elder son and went on a 3-day beach vacation, I was bombarded with feelings of sadness and guilt. I felt like the worst mother to walk the earth and wondered what must be running through my son’s mind just then. Would he think that his parents have abandoned him and would never return? Would the nanny forget to give him his milk? How will everyone at home manage if he catches a cold or has a fever? Will they be able to give the correct dosage of medication? Suddenly in my mind, everyone seemed incompetent and inefficient when they were anything but. I had this mental picture of my son standing near the gate howling and waiting for us to come back. Exactly like a movie, right? Well, little did I know that he was doing anything but that! When we spoke on Face-time, I realised he had sort of forgotten that his parents weren’t even around and he was very happily playing with the people around him at home.
Travelling without children is the best therapy in the world. We don’t have to feel guilty about saying so or not say it all thinking others will judge. After I made peace with the fact that my son was happy and content even without us near him, the vacation started doing its’ job. It was a long-forgotten but refreshing feeling to know that there was no one else to take care of for a few days other than myself. I could feel my mind slowly begin to unclog itself. I recently went to Amsterdam with my three best friends, after I had my second son. Everyone had their own reasons for wanting to take a break from life and what a break it was. We did things we would never have had time to do back home. We spoke about things that we would never have gotten around to talking about amidst our chaotic lives. Was it an excruciatingly difficult task to make the decision to leave my 2 month for almost a whole week? Yes of course! But the outcome of making that decision outweighed the difficulty I had with making it in the first place. I came back with renewed energy and a much happier person, ready to resume my responsibilities as a mother.
I know many people who believe that with help at home, motherhood should be a cakewalk. No one with family at home and nannies to care for their child should ever complain about the struggles of motherhood. There is nothing I disagree with more. You don’t have to be changing every single diaper, giving every feed and spending every half hour putting your child to sleep without any time for yourself, to know how hard motherhood can be. A mother’s mind-space is clouded with child related details most of the time. Whether we are physically with our children or not, they are mentally always with us. Even if there is nothing to worry about, we worry. It takes a lot to be able to finally say “as long as my child is eating and sleeping properly while in the care if others, I have nothing to worry about”.
Everyone needs a time-out from motherhood to try and reconnect with the pre-motherhood version of themselves; it is so easy to forget. So, go ahead and travel to your hearts content. Who came up with the rule that travelling is off the table when you have small children at home? Maybe the same people who came up with the rule that you can forget about sleep for the next 18 years once you have a baby. None of these rules are set in stone. Stepping out of your comfort zone is always hard and takes some getting used to but in the end, it is rewarding. Do whatever is good for your soul.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – Neale Donald Walsch
Hi! I'm Antara and I was once a 'let's get the party started, consume a bottle of Rose Champagne on the weekend' kind of girl. Now at 33 and a mom of a teddy bear looking 2 year old boy (with another little bundle on the way), I am still that 'let's get the party started, consume a bottle of Rose Champagne on the weekend kind of girl.'