Parenting

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Both on television and in the media, we increasingly witness little girls to be beauty queens before they learned to walk. Some parents have high ambitions for their children. Of course there is a risk that children's own abilities, interests and needs are undermined at the expense of parents' intentions and desires. In working with children and adolescents in the field of mental health, I often encounter children that obviously or implicitly run parental errands. They are in a sense designated as parental delegates, whose purpose is to realize what the parents themselves never achieved, but always dreamed of.

Sancia could sing – beautifully! Her parents and relatives and friends always said that she should be a performer. At the age of 3, Sancia who could barely speak a complete sentence, went on stage and lisped a song solo before a crowd of over a hundred people. Everyone was impressed. ‘Our daughter is going to be a star! Our daughter is going to be world famous!’ her parents spoke about their plans for Sancia. Her mother escorted her to and from myriad classes – music, voice modulation, meditation and piano – all after school hours.

By the time Sancia was 12, there was no doubt about her ability. She opted to participate in a nation-wide hunt for budding talent. It was a hugely successful television show and Sancia, who had won so many prizes, would surely be the chosen one. The competition was tough. For the first time, Sancia felt a flutter in her stomach before she went up on the stage. When she had been younger, it had been different. Her parents had just encouraged her to go and sing. This time, they seemed desperate and tense. Her mother had hugged and kissed her and sent her up with a loving ‘You’ll do it’.

She sang on stage effortlessly and wowed the audiences. But her name did not feature in the final list. Disappointed, Sancia could not stop the tears from streaming down her face. On the drive back home, her parents argued about the choice of dress, the choice of song and the fact that the whole thing could have been done better. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ her mother said as her husband shouted his blame. ‘But we lost the cash prize, see Sancia, we lost the money that could have helped us to make you a big star,’ her father reiterated.

Shattered dreamsTired and upset, Sancia went to her room even as her parents continued to fight. She slept soundly that night. She went to the kitchen to find her father alone. ‘Mummy’s left us,’ he announced quietly. ‘See, it was all her fault that you didn’t win yesterday. I’m going to be your manager now. I’m going to make you something. We don’t need her.’

But Sancia did. She loved her mother. Her mother was always nice to her, always there when things went wrong. Her father on the other hand was prone to shouting in the studio, on the stage, in fact, almost anywhere. Why even yesterday, her father had started to fight on the road.

Sancia was scared of her father, though. There was no way of knowing which way he would react. She sat quietly and absorbed the news. Deep within, she felt a huge lump in her throat, a lump that quickly transformed into a flood of tears. It was all her fault. She had not won that was why her mother had had to leave. Sancia’s father watched his daughter’s reaction and tried to explain that everything would be all right, but Sancia wasn’t listening.

Sancia’s mother returned after two days. Now Sancia no longer wanted to participate in singing competitions again. Her mother was disappointed but did not push her. The marriage was under strain and finally broke.

At the age of 20, Sancia was afraid, extremely so, of losing her mother. She was unable to form relationships with other people – they would leave her. Despite her mother’s return after the fight that night, Sancia alternated between hatred against her mother for making her go through the hell of that day and relief that she had returned. Her mother tried to encourage her to turn to playing an instrument for its own sake. She is sorry for the way things turned out after the disastrous television incident and wishes Sancia would put it behind her. But ever since the day she returned home so many years ago, Sancia has blamed herself and her talent for the breakdown of their family. The divorce was acrimonious with her father blaming Sancia for her failure to keep the family together. Sancia agreed with him – thereby making it all the more difficult to adjust to the new life after her father moved out. She is unable to see the inherent weakness of her father as a spouse, a parent and as a talent manager. He had accused Sancia’s mother of being an unwilling participant in developing her talent. An accusation her mother accepted with equanimity. Sancia felt cheated when she understood that her mother had not been keen on making Sancia take the quick ride to success.

Sancia still fears that her mother will disappear one day. She cannot bear to spend a day out of town without her mother. Worse still, she has stopped singing – singing brought bad luck. Her singing was the real cause of her parent’s marriage breaking up. Besides, she isn’t sure if her mother really believes in her talent at all. After all, she had not been keen on making Sancia famous. At times, she regrets the forced flowering of her musical capabilities and its unexpected and sudden demise but feels extremely insecure about getting it back to life again. She makes excuses and vague reasons in her mind to assuage the feelings of regret as they arise. She misses the stage and the applause but will never go back to the old misery; besides, her voice isn’t what it used to be. Sancia is confused about the many cues she has got from her parents. She believes her mother does not believe in her – which is untrue and she believes the accusations her father has leveled at her. Maturity must involve the development of perspective. In Sancia’s case, she has grown up with a sense of insecurity and distrust about the one person who really cares about her.

Talent and competition is a lethal combination. Often, parents see a child’s beauty or talent and decide that it should be put up on display without a thought about the effect of their decision on family dynamics and the child. Putting Sancia on stage without the active support of both parents was a recipe for disaster.

Children are extremely sensitive to their surroundings. Tension, anger, blame for failure, focus on the money that ensues with talent rather than the talent itself leads to misery for the young star and stifles growth of the talent. A singer who is unhappy cannot make her voice follow her command. Talent requires space, unfettered expression, nurturance to remain assured and molding to reach perfection. Parents of talented children would do well to dwell on their personal capacity to ‘manage’ their children’s careers. Some pointers would be:

  1. The child’s talent is not the source of the family’s earnings
  2. The ability to maintain equilibrium regardless of whether the child wins or loses
  3. Strong marital ties and a mutual acceptance that the child’s stars may or may not shine
  4. A search for viable alternatives if the talent does not get the standing it deserves
  5. Normalcy of life to be retained regardless of loss or gain
  6. Resolve possible conflicts about who carries out what role and acceptance of the mutual importance of each person in the family

 

Families must look within and discuss strategies if they wish to manage talent. The assumption that being a parent makes one a good manager is inherently flawed – the quality of parenting styles is palpable only after the child grows up and faces the world.

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Trust and distrust often represents a difficult dilemma. Trust fosters confidence, while distrust can ruin a good relationship, but we can`t always trust our children? The question is when can and should we actually trust our children and give them freedom and responsibility, and when should we act as mentors and provide guidelines and restrictions? The troubles of being a parent.

Parents often make the matter of fact comment, “I can’t trust my kid…” and expect that the object of their distrust will grow up with a sense of confidence and trust in the parent. This is a mistake. Depending on the stage of growth at which your child is, you must determine the points at which you can trust them to be independent and points at which you cannot trust them to take care of themselves.

Moments at which distrust, or more appropriately extra care, are required:

  • Leaving your child with a stranger or another family member
  • Letting your child cross the street alone
  • Leaving your child free in a zoo or a large fair

These are some situations in which your child may not be aware of the possible dangers and act wrongly. In these cases, you are not showing distrust to your child. You are assessing the situation holistically and combining your awareness of your child’s abilities before taking a decision. If the child is below five, you will not allow independence in the above situations whereas you may be open if your child is a pre-teen.

Moments at which you may leave a small child’s side:

  • Birthday party
  • Sending the child for a school picnic
  • Permitting an outing with friends and a parent

You may be wary if your child is very small and will allay your fears by ascertaining the arrangements for the care of children. Safety precautions and suitable care by adults help you to satisfy yourself towards an appropriate decision.

Often when parents make the statement about distrust, they are referring to the innocence of the child and the possible dangers the child would face. There must be a distinction between the fear of childish innocence and distrust. Keeping the channels of communication continuously open can mold childish innocence in a fruitful direction.

Distrust, on the other hand, is akin to suspicion and fosters a feeling that all people are to be regarded with suspicion. Distrust presupposes mala-fide intent on the part of the younger mind and draws conclusions on the basis of action instead of open communication. Distrusting your child does little by way of nurturing them or making them aware of the realities of the world outside of home. In fact, it reduces their sense of self and comes in the way of maturing and managing situations independently and effectively. Your distrust in them begets their distrust in you.

A parent who communicates expectations to the child and is consistent about the downside of not living up to expectations can expect that the communication will not be taken seriously. For instance, you may tell your child never to go to a friend’s house without informing you beforehand. Your communication also needs to cover what is expected in a situation of having to hurry to the friend’s home and difficulty in contacting you. It is possible the friend wants your child to go out to the store, tell your child what is expected. Your child is expected to inform you and take care to avoid certain things. In case of the real possibility of not being able to contact you in the face of an urgency of going elsewhere, what should be done? Who should be informed? Make sure your communication is clear so that even if your child is unable to call you, he or she is aware of what timely action to take. Since you have kept your child informed about different strategies to be adopted, you know that there is a little leeway you can provide. This is a method of building trust between you and your child.

A parent who does little more than insisting on the expectation of being called and restricts the child once the call is made is giving the message of distrust – distrust does not receive respect, it receives disobedience. Do not allow your worry for the child to lead to disregard of preferences. Under circumstances of normalcy, you need to develop a set of actions that you can expect the child to remember and consciously adhere to.

Going out with friends

When a young child is going out with friends, there may be situations that lead to inappropriate behavior. You may feel that your child is with the wrong group of children. Counter this effect by reiterating your trust in your child and guiding thought towards identifying the difference between right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable. Highlight your expectation that your child will use certain ground rules, for instance, causing hurt to another person or property is not ‘fun’. In the face of goading to do a daring act that has the capacity to kill or maim, it is better to dare to do something to good effect. One can dare to be risk-taking in business or finding creative ways to manage situations and help people.

You can clearly put into a young mind the expectation that restraint is to be exercised before being a part of an activity. If you find that this is not happening, the effect of the peer group is greater than your own words, take stronger measures. Let your child know that you are watching out for any behaviour mismanagement that can cause trouble to the family or the young person. Highlight to your child the difficulties that children of that age face by references to current happenings and the impact on their own lives and their families.

Trust denotes the expectation that a person will take responsibility for actions and use judgment in the face of doubt.