My friend Mridula was visibly upset. We were at our school reunion but she was hiding in the corner taking a call. I know her as a vibrant girl who brings life to every party, and seeing her upset made me ask, “Is everything alright?” She replied with a trembling voice, “Rubi (her teenage daughter) doesn’t listen to me. She thinks I am a control freak. It’s for her own good! She’ll understand when she has a daughter.”
As a parent, you want to be loving and caring, but your children do not appreciate that. We could blame the generation gap or lack of character in “kids these days, “but hardly any parent sits down to ask, “Am I doing anything wrong?” The honest answer is… yes! You are infected with the virus of selfishness, and you are passing that to your children unknowingly. Here are two ways you are injecting the selfishness virus:
1) Having unreasonable expectations
I was thrilled for Jeff and Pam as they had their first baby, Tim. During my congratulatory call, I casually asked Jeff, a millionaire businessman, “what is your plan as a new father?” He told me with excitement, “I am closing a deal with an apartment overlooking Central Park. I want Tim to study engineering at Columbia University, like me. It’s a family tradition.” I thought,” Poor Tim.” He has just arrived in this world, and his parents are planning for his future, 20 years ahead. Will they ask what he wants? What he enjoys? Does he even want to study in New York, let alone at Columbia? It is vital to think about the future, but that does not mean drowning your child with a burden of expectations.
2) Dreadful pampering
“Teen Inside, Beware!” is a door sticker you bought for your child. But this seemingly harmless decoration nurtures a belief in their mind that they are a unique snowflake. The more you shower them with overwhelming attention, the more concrete this thought becomes. And when their friends or others tell them something unpleasant that conflicts with this “reality”, they can’t handle it. In some cases, children end up in a psychiatry ward, failing to endure trolling on social media. Instead, why not tell your child,” We love you, but there are people who may not love you, who may say bad things about you. Be prepared. Remember: you know your worth better than anyone else”. This talk will help them stay calm when they are being bullied next time.
As you transfer your selfish virus into your children, two things happen. First, some become rebellious and vehemently oppose your guidance. Second, some become passive like vegetables; they shut out the world around them. You don’t want either scenario for your children. To prevent it, instill self-sufficiency in them from early childhood. The power of self-sufficiency not only strengthens your relationship but also better prepares them to combat all challenges life throws at them.
The vaccine of self-sufficiency is administered in two ways-
1) Stop giving lectures
I was at my uncle’s house to welcome home a cousin who was studying nutrition science. Her flight was six hours late, so she was tired and hungry when she arrived. She dropped her luggage, rushed to the kitchen, and opened a bag of chips. My uncle said, “What are you doing? Don’t you know junk food is terrible?” She retaliated with, “Dad, I just reached home, and you’re already starting!” She stormed out of the house in disgust.
I still can hear the door slam. A nutrition student of all people knows that chips are unhealthy; the lecture was unnecessary and detrimental to their relationship. It is necessary to guide your children about right and wrong. However, sitting on their heads morning, noon, and night drilling your guidance will backfire. This will only drive them to seek advice from their friends. Limit your guidance and keep your mouth shut if they don’t ask your opinion. Silence is a powerful tool for parenting that is often not used at all. Parenting is immense power; exercise it prudently.
2) Set an example
“There is just one way to bring up a child in the way he should go and that is to travel that way yourself.” — Abraham Lincoln
As a parent, you are a leader to your child. Imagine you sit down to dinner and steamed broccoli (which you loathe) is on the menu. “Aww hun, you know I don’t like it!” you gripe. And before dinner is done, little Patty is asking for french fries again. You and your wife join forces to extol the health benefits of these lovely greens, and threaten grounding, with you not seeing the hypocrisy blanketing the dinner table.
It’s a clear case of “do as I say, not as I do.” You could have turned the situation around by saying, “Oh, we have broccoli today. It’s not my favorite, but it’s great for my health!” What an excellent lesson for a child who watches your every move and ignores most of what you say.
Eminent philosopher A. Parthasarathy, in his book Governing Business & Relationships advised:
“The general trend in the world is that parents fail to set examples of right living but merely pester their children with ill-founded advices. To set the relationship right they will have to live the life they wish their young to follow and avoid giving them sermons.”
These two doses of self-sufficiency vaccine will make you a mindful parent if applied correctly. Let me share an example of my friend Lauren. She was an obsessive mom who had to know what her son John is doing 24/7 by sending him incessant texts like “Where are you?” and “You haven’t told me what you did 2 hours ago” or “When are you coming home? Let’s watch a movie together”. John was so disgusted that he saved Lauren’s name as “Don’t respond” on his phone. I shared these tips with her and requested that she apply them for a few months as a trial. It was challenging for her in the beginning not to contact John. However, after two months, John told her with a concerned voice, “Mom, what happened to you? You don’t text me anymore. I will come home early tonight, and we will watch a movie together”.
Next time you get frustrated with parenting, inject these anti-selfishness vaccines in your life, and you will be amazed to see the difference as Lauren did.
Lebanese-American poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran’s parenting advice sums up best:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself… You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow…”