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“Fathering like a Mother”- 25 February 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 19 March 2017 17:40

The four month old baby looked at his Father with askance and an emotion that said ‘where were you, come here fast’, just as he would do with his Mother. This baby did not know the difference between his father and his mother as for all purposes he has two mothers! It was not like a sharing of responsibilities between the two parents but like a joint venture between two active partners with equal responsibilities. The Father did all that the Mother did and more. He massaged the child, bathed him, sang a lullaby at night, played with him, made his baby-feed at correct intervals, worried about his health, nursed him when he caught a cold, kept wake when he cried at night and even cuddled him while asleep. He handled the baby with utmost gentleness, love and care and delight just like a mother would do in a natural way! How many Indian males would play such a role?

This ideal is also an Indian male but reared abroad and tutored by the child care agencies that made regular visits to their home to impart education and training in child-care to both of them. Says Rajan (name changed) the proud loving father of the baby, ‘this mother’s role is much hyped for nothing. It is a real pleasure to nurture a child and how else will he love me dearly if I do not do things for him’! This young fellow is not an unemployed sit-at-home dad while his wife earns the bread, but is an engineer with a degree in business management from the world’s number one school today. He is a business consultant again at an internationally acclaimed consultancy group. He is very tall and handsome too. I asked him if these domestic duties clashed with his profession and he said ‘BAH’! His wife also a post graduate in engineering and gainfully employed shared similar views. She was on a year of maternity leave and he was on a two month paternity leave- he wished he could take more leave.

One of the chief complaints of working women in our country is that ‘men do not like to perform so called ‘womanly tasks’. Besides that, at most times, when there is a new baby at home, men may behave as bad as children as they feel neglected and demand/expect attention of their wives. Some may even compete with their children in seeking attention! This acts as a source of stress for the already stressed out ‘new mother’. The child is considered her ‘whole sole’ responsibility and child-care is an addition to her existing list of chores. Have you heard some husbands say, ‘why can’t you control his crying, I can’t sleep, I am going to the next room’.  The already stressed mother is further blamed for the kid’s natural behaviour and manners. Mothers get reprimanded for every misdemeanour of the kid or for every simple infection that he may catch. So the male theory is that ‘if you take good care of the child, he should never fall ill and should always behave in a proper manner’!!

In a traditional house, where the male earns and the woman cooks, there are no added expectations from the male. The roles are fairly complementary as the demarcations are clear to all with no scope for confusion. The grey areas begin when the woman is gainfully employed. When both are career oriented the dynamics is different. Sharing of domestic chores is essential and how they distribute the chores could be on mutual consent and not ‘imposed’ on the woman unilaterally for it becomes a ‘double duty’ for her. It is grossly unfair, unjust and archaic.

When I tell young aspiring women entrepreneurs to ‘train their husbands in baby-sitting and simple tasks’, they laugh loudly saying ‘MAAM!’ and nod their heads in disbelief and resignation. This is a pathetic state of affairs where youngsters cannot dream of reforming their lives and cannot aim high in career goals for want of empathy and practical support from spouses.

Fathering concerns should be as broad based as mothering where both believe in sharing the pleasant burden of parenting. Parenting starts from the time the wife gets pregnant and the husband empathises with her physical and mental exertions. Some countries insist on husbands being present during child-birth for sensitization and empathy. It is nonsense to say that men do not possess emotional capabilities like sensitivity, love, kindness, gentleness and empathy. It is equally ridiculous to say that men cannot develop and possess ‘womanly skills’ for most professional cooks are men, male nurses are much in demand in other countries, great dress designers are males, the best paediatricians are males. Men can do everything from cooking to cleaning, from nursing to medical care, from sweeping to mopping, all things considered a woman’s domain. Men have every capacity that women have and more. Similarly women have every capability that men display and more. The problem lies in the psycho-social atmosphere called ‘culture’; in the clamouring for ‘sons’ over daughters; in the lop-sided and stereotyped nurturance of sons; in the disrespectful attitudes and mindsets towards women and their roles.

 

If fathers start ‘mothering’ their children, along-with their spouses, whether it is a boy or a girl, the trend will change and set a revolution rolling which no amount of preaching and shouting from podiums on specific occasions, for women’s equality, empowerment and justice will do.

“Nurturing in a competitive environment”- 12 February 2017

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 15:57

My last piece on ‘benefits of controlling parents’ fetched some good feedback. One lecturer requested advice on ‘nurturing children in a competitive environment’. Perhaps this was a statement made by an anxious parent about the current scene of high competitiveness in seeking higher education in good colleges and the concerns of providing a good future to their kids. This reflects the mental state of many parents perhaps. Yes, these are extremely challenging times for parents and children alike. There are numerous issues that flood the mind and the issue is a highly complex one yet it can be simplified for our understanding. The matter has three sides to it, first, from the angle of the distressed parents, the second is from the perspective of children and third, of the reality that exists today in our city.

Let us take the third issue first. To say that the present system of school education needs major revamping will not be an understatement. Its primary focus is on teaching of curriculum and not character development as moral education has been discarded like a piece of antiquated furniture. Besides this, the school system is not child-centric and hence does not focus on the uniqueness of the child but wrongly focuses on the ‘attainment of marks’ in examinations. Secondly, most of the schools in our ‘beloved city’ are encouraging students to enrol in coaching centres, declaring themselves loudly as being ‘incompetent’ of teaching effectively. Strangely, all the coaching centres are focused on a few career choices of ‘engineering, medicine, law and chartered accountancy’. A girl with her good father was looking for a good tuition in English language but in vain. Similar is the case with subjects such as pure science, commerce, psychology, acting, art and design –the list is long indeed. This lop sided picture of career-making in the city is a curse in a way. This restricts the thinking of parents as well as those students who do not want to choose any of the above four choices, as they are made to unnecessarily feel inferior, isolated and doomed. With such an all-around frog-in-the-well mentality, we forget the age-old dictum that a ‘fish cannot fly’, an ‘elephant cannot climb a tree’ and a ‘tortoise cannot run fast’. But that is what we are promoting!

The second aspect of the psychosocial reality is the advent of smart technology that has disrupted life like never before. Children and adults alike have fallen victim to this malady. Addictions of social media and internet have taken a heavy toll on the psychological and spiritual health of the people. This issue is proving a source of headache for parents and guardians alike. Today’s parents cannot dismiss this reality as it draws attention right from infancy. I have seen parents proudly declaring the competence of their one year child on the smart phone! Their pride is short lived as it becomes a nightmare very soon.

Parents would do better to begin the process of training as early as possible. They need to take a larger picture of reality, not a local but a national and global one. An awareness of various opportunities in different types of career and their prospects will be great. Children too need to be encouraged to make themselves aware of the same. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the student in school subjects, hobbies, and his/her personality is very important. That is where the scope for excellence lies as the potential lies in the strengths of the student. When a choice of career is made with all this in mind with many rounds of open discussions between the student and the parents a correct decision may be taken to the satisfaction of all.

Behind all this process lies the ability of the students to think for themselves their interests, their personalities and their career goals. So encouraging mental processes, such as, ‘independent thinking, rational thinking, making wise choices, setting goals, decision making, and good habits such as, discipline, ability to concentrate, emotional restrain, and daily prayers and meditation, is vital for parents to understand and implement in their nurturing practices from childhood. This may sound like a tall proposition but who said parenting was an easy task! Parents need to be ‘smarter, swifter, sensitive and skilled’ enough to counter the negative influences of the ‘peer group, external environment, Google uncle and the smart phone’ on the child. Parents need to be open minded, well read, and display themselves as a good role model to their children. You cannot preach what you do not practice. One child said, ‘tell my mamma to stop her ‘WhatsApp’ chatting and to give me food on time’.

Parents can make many mistakes which is not a crime if it is acknowledged and worked upon. Allowing the children to make mistakes and helping them learn from it is also an important aspect of mental growth. Keeping a positive mind, with an attitude of solving-the-problem will help, instead of being critical, judgemental, imposing unrealistic expectations, dominating, being abusive, aggressive and comparing your own child to the neighbours!!

 

Parents are not ‘perfect people’ and cannot expect children to be perfect too. Hence the aim is not perfection but excellence in at least one area of life and goodness in all others. There is no simple recipe for parenting but a continuous conscious process of comprehending, thinking through, developing and growing with the growth of the child.

“Benefits of controlling parents”- 29 January 2017

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 15:55

We had a sort of ‘military rule’ at home. The music from the radio would start blaring at 5.30 am sharp and it made it difficult for us to sleep further. This was the practice even on Sunday and all holidays till today! My father was a stickler for time. We were taught to get up and get ready in ten minutes flat. Food was to be consumed, whatever mother put on our plates, with no fuss, and was to be cleaned up totally with no left-overs. Even today we feel guilty leaving food on our plate. Mother controlled other forms of behaviour such as speech, friends, dress and treatment of servants and the poor. The values, attitudes and behaviour were all taken care of meticulously by both parents who maintained a united front. Academics was given utmost importance and even if one mark was cut it was evaluated. You were supposed to achieve 100 percent in maths -zero error was the norm. They set high standards of achievement, value and proper behaviour. Till today the habits are deep rooted and refuse to budge!

Shiv’s parents were very strict. He was made to practice violin daily as his father sat with him correcting and appreciating his notes. He learnt to enjoy his music and also his academics and could balance his life well. So was the case with Preeti and her love for dancing. Her mother took keen interest in her dance practice and her systematic progress in it. She also graduated in medicine and enjoyed both the fields equally. She leads a wholesome life with a good practice as well with talent in music and dance.

The stories of celebrities clearly demonstrate this aspect. Most celebrities would tell us of how strict their parents were in disciplining them, training them and pushing their talents to the limits. This pushing of their limits kept them on their toes and lead to their continuous improvement. They were clearly denied certain liberties and encouraged to stay focused on the goal. The film ‘dangal’ beautifully highlights the message of ‘no pain no gain’. The apparent ‘atrocities’ of the strict father who imposes controls on his daughters, who rebel, cry out, and winch in pain, but eventually reap the benefits of the strictness and begin to enjoy their success.

Parents, who are strict, controlling with a purpose, nurture healthy children. Children need clarity of thought and clarity of behaviour by parents in bringing them up. This means many things and one of them is -purpose and a goal.  A higher goal and its pursuit is a terrific way to bring up children. However, not many parents are able to define ‘the goal’ early on. The few who are able to do it and pursue it make achievers of their kids early on. I remember a couple who disputed over this point of setting clear goals early in life. The mother was the one who pushed her kids into the game seriously and father felt that she was ‘spoiling the best years of the kids’ by not allowing them to enjoy their childhood in the streets with friends. A big debatable point we have here but if we desire kids to become super stars early on then the mother is right. If we are ready to allow them their natural growth and flow of creativity then they might become achievers but later in life. The process of achievement gets delayed and may or may not happen depending upon the intervening variables.

The second important aspect is -consistency. There has to be a systematic thought behind the discipline- what to enforce and what not to enforce. When parents are inconsistent with their disciplining behaviour it leaves the child confused as to what is right and what is wrong and what do his /her parents want. Consistency comes when parents think out their expectations from their children and conduct themselves accordingly. It’s a devotion and dedication to their child’s welfare and future. Parents with mood swings and erratic behaviour can do harm and damage to the child.

One more aspect is setting limits to the child’s behaviour. They explain and teach the limits in behaviour and also explain the consequences of behaviour to the child. They do not say ‘do as I say because I say it’ but this is the reason why you should do this. Also preparing the child for the consequences of their behaviour will make them aware of the ensuing punishment to their transgression. If parents sometimes allow an action and sometimes ban it the child does not learn the logic and the rationale behind action. The connection between ‘action and reaction’ should be clear to the child. This will consequently lead to development of proper thought and action. It will lead to independent thinking as well as independent action and behaviour. Thinking individuals make their own decisions, they are more in control of their behaviour, feel confident of their selves and face the world with assertion and firmness.

 

Strictness does not mean aggression, coercion, violence and lack of fun and humour. Strictness does not mean that parents are not friendly and communicative with their children. Strictness does not mean depriving children of wholesome development. In fact it can mean just the opposite. Controlling with consistency, clarity of goals and compassion makes achievers of children.

“Micro-managing mothers”- 15 January 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 22 January 2017 19:39

“I am almost 30 years of age and I do not have a single girl as a friend and nor do I have a girl friend!” wailed Amit. “In all these years I did not dare make a girl friend because it was severely looked down upon in my home by my parents. My mother asks me so many questions about my whereabouts and insists I tell her each and every move of mine- where do I go, whom do I meet, who is good for me and who is not good for me, when I should be back home, etc”. He was working in another city and lived his life away from parents for many years. However he often complained of bouts of intense anger and fear too.

Shreyas told his new wife that his mother ‘will never change her ways the adjustment will have to be done by her. His mother has had a tough life as his father was generally unemployed and she had to earn the bread and run the family with three children to feed. His grandmother surprisingly always sided with her son in spite of the fact that he was irresponsible and a tyrant. Hence his mother had also become a tyrant and although he feels that her behaviour is not right towards his wife, there is not much he can do about it except bear it!”

Madhuri seemed to be full of anger but behaved very sweetly with all. She rarely expressed her anger, never fought with others and seemed quite submissive in her interactions with people. She however complained often of headaches and pains in the body. The doctors could not find medical reasons for her frequent bouts of illness. Counselling revealed deep seated anger and hostility against her mother who she said was very nice and caring but had some flaws. Her mother loved her as Madhuri was the only child and often feared that some harm would come to her. She was over protective, over caring and had many expectations from Madhuri, she being the only child. Once or twice when she tried telling her mother that she needed more freedom to meet friends and that she was not allowed like other kids, her mother threw such a tantrum of crying and accusing her for being ungrateful that she shut up and gave up her efforts to check her mother. She accepted nearly all her mother’s norms and lived by her rules.

Rupesh confessed that he could not carry out his commitment of marrying his girlfriend of long years due to his mother’s tantrums and hysterical behaviour. His widowed mother had severe fears about her only son getting a wife home who would take control of the house and ‘throw her (the mother) out’ of her home and dominate her son! He was terrified of his mother and paralysed in solving the problem.

Sunita after ten years of married life was frustrated with her husband and her mother-in-law. While her father-in-law controlled the business and the purse, the mother-in-law ran the house according to her set dictates without giving Sunita any powers in the house. Her frequent complaints to her husband about his submissiveness and about his low status in the family business fell on deaf years with the result that she left home one day in despair.

Controlling mothers control their children due to a variety of reasons, whether it is their own insecurities or their own personality disorders or whatever reasons they can give, they do not realise the damage their behaviour does to their wards. Mothers who micro-manage their children feel they are ‘right’ in doing so and that’s the way it should be. They can justify their behaviour in many ways. Children who are nurtured by such mothers not only face problems in their childhood but also encounter psychological hardships in adulthood. The remnants of childhood trauma can be seen in adulthood as such adults struggle to re-define their selves and their lives. Most of them cannot trace their troubles to their parental upbringing as they deny any negative experiences.

These experiences have consequences on their self, such as low self-esteem, low confidence in their capabilities, inability to take decisions, a deep sense of frustration and anger, high sensitivity, and confusion in more aspects. Such aspects impact their adult life and their sense of well being and can lead to lowered quality of life and lowered sense of happiness. Such people may possess ample talent and competencies and may be high achievers in their work life but they may still feel a sense of suffocation overtaking them at times which acts as impediments to their overall progress and growth. Adults of controlling mothers may like dominating or controlling spouses, may need a lot of attention and reassurance, may tend to be dependent on their spouses for support. They can wrongly define ‘controlling and dominating’ as ‘love and care’. Conversely they can be unreasonably rebellious to any type of ‘controlling’ behaviour and create conflict.

 

Control has negative connotations. And controlling on a micro level has disastrous consequences. Parenting is a tight rope walk and the fear of falling and failing is always imminent. Healthy growth of personality requires a good balance between enforcement of discipline with a good dose of freedom of thought and action. It is certainly not an easy formula but a necessary one for healthy mothering.

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