A lesson that has kept rearing its head time and again in my journey of motherhood, of which I am going to complete 10 years in a couple of months, is something that I refused to learn till the very recent times. It is a lesson that my mother wanted me to adopt as soon as my daughter started to talk, walk, and defy. In short, being an independent child.
Today, it is this lesson that I wish I had the sense to adopt the first time my mother said it out loud to me. But then who would I be if not a common-sense-defying rebel! Or on the other hand maybe this is what makes motherhood such an adventure ride- the ability to gain sense and discover things which only experience can shower upon you.
The lesson that I am talking about has been worded by so many smart and intelligent people over the ages, that I can fill up pages with their quotes, but I am going to give you two of my favourites that spell it out the best for me.
"Don't worry that the children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you."
Robert Fulghum, American author
"Children are educated by what the grown up is and not by his talk."
Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist
Children are great at observing and assimilating. We, the parents, especially the first timers, are such naive things that we neither know this nor understand its implications.
Eventually with time and, if luck is on your side, some kind soul points you in its direction and you begin to see the immense truth in statements like these.
When my daughter was about three, I was so over the joys of motherhood (read losing my first born, becoming a first-time parent and staying alone in a city with a busy husband and no friends- virtual or real) that I began to treat her as a grown up individual. When she turned four and started school in a new city, I expected her to go to school in a rickshaw all by herself after waving me a cheerful good bye at the gate. As she grew a little more, I began to expect her to take full charge of her homework and then school tests, maintaining her notebooks and finishing her syllabus. I was willing to help her with the preparation bit but I wanted the realisation that her work is her responsibility to dawn on her. This, goes without saying, failed miserably.
It led to a great deal of frustrating and emotionally sapping times. My mother by then had repeated a mantra, that today I swear by, at least a hundred times to me. Every time, in front of her, when I asked my daughter to brush her teeth or pack her bag for the next day, my mother would tell me to get up, take my child's hand and do the thing (task) with her.
I fumed at her and told her that the child needs to know it is her job to finish packing her bag for the next day or to know how important it is to brush her teeth. Initially, my mother would try to reason with me, telling me she is but a child and that is what children do. She soon gave up and just shrugged her shoulders. Maybe my utter boneheaded-ness had gotten to her or maybe she had deposited our cause to higher powers.
Gradually, all I was doing was yelling at my one-and-only child. Because I refused to get off my backside and lead her to finishing chores, I was getting frustrated with time running out on us. Be it morning, noon or night, nothing was getting done. My child was unhappy. Her school performances began to falter and I found myself in a constant bad mood. One because nothing was getting done and secondly because then I would go on a huge guilt trip for being a bad mother who only always shouted at her child.
It was as if both of us were stuck in a bubble together but wanted to go in different directions. I was looking for excuses to be away from my child and this could not continue.
So one day, tired of all the shouting, defeated by all the heartache and spurred by maternal instincts, I did not ask her to do something that needed doing. Instead I took her hand and went with her to do it. I do not remember what it was that needed to be done but I do remember that both of us were surprised by the amount of time it took to finish the job at hand; and that there was laughter bouncing off of the walls of the house soon after that.
It made me realise that motherhood, just like childhood, is a journey. Also, that you lose your way often in this journey of discoveries. I also realised that no two days are the same. Nothing happens by chance. It takes concrete effort to teach children anything that you want them to adapt for life and the shortest way to accomplish that is to lead by example.
If you want the child to get up early, you will have to get up ahead of them. Similarly, if you want them to turn in early, you will have to give up the lures of fantastic articles, videos and jokes online and go to bed in time.
Cribbing about giving up your previous life doesn't help. Nobody tells you this when you plan or have a baby, but being a parent and, at that, being a mother is tough. So buckle up and do the needful, I say, you signed up for this. Willingly or not, it is not a consideration (concession?) that parenthood offers!!
Children do not need to be told what to do. They need to be shown. From seeing us, their parents, their elders, they learn faster, and better. This method also involves less heartache for all the parties involved and that is a precious something which I have learnt in 10 years of being a mother.
(An edited version of this article appeared in National Herald on August 27, 2017)