Many people have said, jokingly as well as seriously, that there ought to be some sort of training period and a license to become parents. While that may be a bit too drastic and draconian a concept, there certainly are some attributes that make us better parents. While these attributes are an asset to anyone wanting to live a rich and self-actualised life, they are essential when it comes to becoming good “parent material”.
Being true to yourself – nothing less, and nothing more – is an essential life skill if we are to bring up emotionally anchored and socially well-adjusted kids. Fake emotions, promises that you know you can’t keep, shallow compliments, false assurances, superficial and merely “convenient” relationships… all these behaviours are a sign of inauthentic living. While many people try not to be this way with their own kids, they feel free to be phoney with the outer world. This is bound to rub off on kids. Most kids have well-tuned radars for fakeness – at first they catch their parents out… but later, and which is much worse, they catch this kind of behaviour themselves, and lose contact with their inner core. To become more genuine, we need to bring some of our actions out in the light. Check how many times a day you tell little lies that make you feel better about yourself or make the other person feel good; check how many things you do just to appear warm, friendly, helpful, pious, generous, successful… the list is endless.
A consistent parent comes across as a reliable parent because, being consistent also means a steady and committed presence in your child’s life. Consistency from parents helps children learn and accept boundaries and limits. Though children may sometimes protest wildly, a parent’s consistent response actually helps children feel safe. Parents keep changing their attitudes, moods, and the rules, and end up confusing the child. Having parents who are consistent in their thinking also helps kids learn cause-and-effect thinking, accountability and consequences, and a sense of continuity. However, consistency should never mean being rigid and unbending. Flexibility, though it may sound like its opposite, is an equally important aspect of being consistent. It means that you do have a firm and clear view of things, but are willing to listen, re-consider and change your view if needed. Being consistent is sometimes hard work – as a parent and as a person. It is a skill we have to keep investing in.
To be interested and involved with your children, but not be anxiously caught up in their lives, is a fine balance. For this, it is important that a parent has his or her own life, pursuits, commitments and relationships – in short, to have your own internal resources. Too many of us tend to over focus on our children to the exclusion of everything else, as if they are our life’s “projects”. Not only does this put an uncomfortable and unreal pressure on a child [it’s like living under a microscope for her or him], it ultimately prompts children to find ways to avoid your constant gaze. Moreover, parents – especially mothers – who give up not just careers, but outside interests, friends, relationships, to become full-time parents and nothing else, end up having unrealistic demands of their children. Sometimes, it is un-stated and sometimes they come right out and say it: “I sacrificed so much for you, and look how ungrateful you are.” One of the biggest benefits of being your own person first, and then a parent, is that you are then able to guide your children and not pressure them as they grow. You will then continue to be a non-intrusive, but supportive presence even when they are all grown up.
People who have a sense of enthusiasm and joy in whatever the world has to offer are quite naturally able to transfer this sense of wonderment to their children. This is the deepest source from which flows creativity as well as simple day-to-day happiness. An ability to marvel at all of creation – nature, human relationships, discoveries, simple man-made conveniences and pleasures… all of this is possibly the best insurance against boredom, cynicism, depression and the kind of overall dissatisfaction that we see around us. Children of people who are filled with wonderment and a sense of curiosity themselves develop a sense of joy and involvement that is quite unaffected by whether there is money or not, whether there is “entertainment” or not, and whether there is applause or not. They are able to draw pleasure and fulfilment from the smallest things, and are then able to make creative, imaginative, dynamic and positive choices at every level.
Compassionate people are not just those who give to this or that charity regularly – they are people who live in a zone of awareness about the other. They are thoughtful and considerate and are able to put themselves in another’s shoes. While this is a vital life-skill for us, why is it an important parent value? For several reasons. A compassionate parent is an empathetic one. He or she is able to discipline a child and “wield authority” – something that is required of a parent often – in a wise and appropriate way. He is also able to transfer to his child the ability to respect and love the world beyond its own self – to grow in a way to be able to “be there” for oneself as well as for others. From compassion flows empathy and from empathy flows a well-developed EQ [emotional quotient]. And most important, it teaches children to become part of the larger interconnectedness of life.
All of, these parenting values may exist in us from before – we may have grown up around parents and other adults who were rich in these attributes, and took the time and energy to transfer them to us; while some of us may have not had such good fortune. However, all these values can most definitely be imbibed, learnt, developed and honed in the process of preparing for parenthood.