With due apologies to Mahatma Gandhi, for the title, let me share some of the incidences of my formative years.
It is not my intention to blame anyone, least of all my parents, or pass any value judgements. I state these incidences only for the purpose of demonstrating how some of the methods that we use in parenting our children could have an adverse effect in moulding their character.
Today, with reasonably sufficient experience on both side of the parenting, I can look at these incidences with a level of detachment and share it with others.
The Golden Chain:
I can still remember that four year old boy, in his half trousers with suspenders, vividly! One day morning, when he got up from his bed, he realised that he didn’t have his favourite golden chain on him. He frantically searched the bed and not finding it there, started crying. He went to his Mother and complained about the missing chain.
Mother just casually told to him that he must have lost it somewhere, while playing. He tried to remember as to where all he had played the previous day, in the vast coconut plantation that surrounded his grandparents’ house where he was staying with his Mother. He went around all those places and searched for, I don’t know how long. He was so sad and guilty to have lost that chain, which he loved a lot.
Mother called him back after some time and consoled him. He was sad, but then can children be burdened with sadness for long? He got busy with his friends and play and slowly forgotten his sorrow.
It was about 5 days later, that one evening his uncle brought a pair of golden ear studs for his Mother. He liked the studs a lot, but was shocked when he heard the elders talking about how much more money they had to spent for getting them, even after giving his golden chain!
He felt betrayed. He was not sure what made him sadder; the loss of chain or the feeling of being betrayed. But he was just a kid...right? With no right to question elders! But he had his way of getting back. He never again in his life used a gold ornament, except for the day of his marriage, decades later.
The Home Coming:
When the boy was in the last quarter of his final year in lower primary school, his mother and sister had moved to his father’s home. He remained in his grandparents’ house to complete the academic year. That was the first time he stayed away from his mother and that was probably an indication of the life to come.
Anyway, he was so thrilled to be back with his parents, as soon as the exams were over. He reached his new home and set out to meet his friends, many of whom were his cousins as well. While at that, he visited the house of one of his paternal uncles with whom his father was not in speaking terms due to some dispute. He played there with his cousins of the same age. When he came back his mother warned him not to visit that house anymore as it might make his father angry!
In the evening, his father came back from work and started the interrogation session. In a short while father was able to unearth most of the negatives in the Son. Father kept on warning the boy that no such indiscipline will be tolerated in this house, unlike the easy time the boy had in his grandparents’ place.
During the session, one of the questions was whether he visited the Uncle’s house. Being rebuked for many a crime and already pre-warned by the Mother, boy decided to make his Father happy by telling him he did not go there. Then the father asked him as to why he didn’t go there and how it was bad of him to have not visited them after coming home after so long! Boy was confused and then admitted that he indeed had gone there for a short while. That again infuriated the Father and he started another round of sermon about the virtue of speaking the truth always and how he will not tolerate any lies in future etc.
Did the Boy learn much of a lesson? I doubt!
Tables or Movie?
Another day, his Father asked the Boy to learn multiplication tables, much ahead of what he was supposed to learn at school. The learning process continued for many hours and finally to escape the ordeal, the Boy decided to tell a story to this Father. He complained about a stomach pain that was disturbing him and not letting him concentrate in learning the tables. He wanted to be excused for the day and promised to complete it by next day.
Father let him go, but after an hour or so called him and asked “I am thinking of going to a movie. Would u like to come with me?” The Boy was excited as he had seen only one movie before that. He said to his Father “Yes. I would love to come.”
Father said, as if an afterthought, that since the Boy had stomach pain it is better not to go for the movie. Innocently he replied “The pain has subsided now and we can go”. To his shock Father started rebuking him very harshly. Then he realised the movie proposal was only a trick!
I think the Boy did learn some lessons!
Stick to your words; no matter what:
Time flew and the boy reached Pre-Degree, the then equivalent of Higher Secondary. For the Boy, who was under the strict control of teachers at school and Father at home, the Pre-Degree days in a college were a great escape. Like most of the students of that age group, he enjoyed the new found freedom.
Bunking the classes and going for movies with friends was one of the fruits of the freedom. One day, he along with his friends went for a movie. It was his bad luck that his Father happened to be in the same town on some work and while passing through the area, he noticed the Boy walking along with some friends. At home in the evening, Father asked him about the classes of the day and he replied that he had attended all of them. Father then asked about seeing him in the town. His learning from the past made him stick to his story. He refused to change it even after hours of questioning. Finally, Father was not sure if he had made a mistake!
Far from the incidents, today I can say with conviction that it was not the spoken lessons but the unspoken ones that got the attention of the Boy.
He learned that it is necessary to tell lies, sometimes. He learned that there is no appreciation for being truthful at all times. Even as his parents spoke to him about the virtues of truth, he knew that they would not spare him for his mistakes merely because he as truthful. Truth may not save him from his punishments; but lies may, sometimes.
He learned that no matter what happens it is easier to stick to one’s story, irrespective of it being a lie and irrespective of he having to speak many more lies to cover it up! What lessons got imbibed in his tender mind were often diametrically opposite to what his parents wanted him to learn.
It took many more years of unlearning through reading and life’s experience for him to realise the real virtues of truth.
As a father himself, today he is struggling to make sure that he doesn’t let his children go through the same process. It is a tough task in this society of ours. Whether it is at school or at home, we still do not recognise the need to appreciate truth. If a child commits an error, it is most likely that child would not have the courage to come and inform her parents, because parents will only rebuke her for the error and not appreciate the fact that the child is being truthful in informing them, or support her to undo that error.
We parents have to learn not to be judgemental about the children; or at least not to use same yardsticks as applicable to us adults while judging them. We must encourage them to speak the truth, even if it is not very palatable to us. Effect of being too critical is that the children will stop confiding in us and will walk from error to error, without anyone having to really guide them.
We parents must learn to stop using our authority in parenting and start using logic and reason in trying to teach children. It is not right to teach the child a lesson by threatening her with violence. Instead, tell her why and how it is better for all of us to follow that lesson.
As the old story goes, when your child falls down don’t go and hit the ground where she fell down. You may be making her happy and stopping her crying, by that action, but you are teaching her to shift the blame to others whenever she is in trouble. It is important for a child to learn to own up responsibility for her own actions rather than blaming other people or things for the effects thereof.
Believe me, parenting is a really tough job. Parenting calls for lot of unlearning and change of attitude. Do not merely repeat what your parents did, but learn to understand the child and support her in her endeavours. Learn to say as much ‘Yes’ as possible and avoid as many ‘No’ as possible.
Of all the social duties of a human being, I think one of the most important duties is to teach one’s children the right lessons through deeds (and not mere words) so that tomorrow’s society is a better one than what we have today. One can purchase good education for a child but no money can get her a good character!