Having a child is like a new learning lesson every second you are a mother. It is not about finding faults with others’ techniques but finding your own. And most importantly, I look at these ‘learnings’ as not bitter lessons of life, but realizations that will set him free.
1. You can never be in control
One of the 5 bitter lessons of life is you can never be in control. This is something I need to constantly remind myself every day, and yet I hope to teach my child to imbibe the fact that things go wrong too. I feel it lowers expectations from life, people and circumstances and opens up the senses to Plan B (or C or D). We teach our children to be perfect – but we forget that perfection is a consequence, not a goal. The goal is the honesty of purpose – despite resistance, despite failure. As long as you are convinced deep down in your heart that you have done your best, nothing else matters.
My son Angadveer had spent hours painting a toddler’s watercolour of himself playing at the beach. When he stood up after finishing it, he toppled over the jar of water he was using to wash the brushes. Yes there were tears and he was crestfallen – so was I – but we adapted the painting to make it look like he was swimming in the sea instead of frolicking on the beach. Voila! Problem solved. So, the only thing we can control is our own happiness – a choice to be positive and be ready to make lemonade out of life’s lemons.
Regret and guilt are in the past – embrace whatever happens in the present – that is where life is. Move on – there is no obstacle you can’t find a way over, under or around! Sometimes the most crucial life turns to start out as painful obstacles.
Change is the one constant we have in life and it happens, no matter how much we try to avoid it. Most of us are programmed for perfection. Life’s lessons are that – lessons we live to be able to learn. I would much rather he grow up to be a quality person who is flexible and resilient than a perfection machine.
2. Be your own help
Parents don’t live with you forever. Friends are not there 24X7. You are as alone in the world as the day you were born – and the day you will die. People may be sympathetic ear, but they cannot fight your battles even if they want to.
My son was the youngest in his class when he joined the regular school. He had to work twice as hard as his peers to perform basic tasks such as holding a crayon or drawing a standing line straight. His biggest obstacle was motor skills – because at just 3 years – holding a spoon can be a task too.
Initially, his peers laughed at him, but because we role-played at home on how to ask for help, Angadveer became very confident to ask for clarifications or help even in front of a large classroom. At eight, he is one of the favorite students simply because he has the confidence to ask questions that his peers may not even think of.
Teaching a child to stand up for themselves teaches them not just confidence, but inquisitiveness and self-worth. And, most importantly, responsibility.
3. It is absolutely fine to cry
Crying is not weak. It is not just a way to vent when you are at a loss for words, but a way to make you feel lighter. Any vessel can hold only so much – a cup will also spill over when you put in more than it can take. Your heart is like that too. It needs to be emptied out from time to time. Babies are born with the ability to cry. For newborns, crying is their main way of communicating. It works too.
Don’t let anybody make you believe ‘boys don’t cry’. If it was to be that way, why did the maker put in tear glands in the first place? My son cried when a pet fish in our aquarium died – I did not stop him – it was his first encounter with loss at the age of a little more than two. I just hugged him tight and told him ‘Alfie has gone to become a star. Let’s bury Alfie and plant a flower over her’. I just acknowledged his emotion as it was. I think we both learned the most important feeling in life that day – empathy.
Saying “Don’t cry” simply sends out the message that tears are unacceptable – something that can lead to kids stuffing their emotions – that can actually lead to more violent outbursts. Everyone needs to cry sometimes.
4. Better to tell when others hurt you
Your only responsibility in life is to yourself. If you try to please everyone nobody will like it. As a matter of fact, you can’t make life agreeable for everyone around you. If you lead with the truth, you will never be caught in the web of lies and deceit. Everybody respects someone who is honest. Being straightforward and honest is the bedrock of every relationship in your life — whether it’s a romantic, professional, or friendly, healthy relationship. That being said, it is also important not to disregard someone’s feelings in the name of being honest. What is okay for you need not be okay for others. Be prepared for that too.
The basic bottom line – treat others as you would want others to treat you. While your thoughts and feelings are important, your actions and words also make up the world. “NO” is not a bad word – to say or to hear.
5. Money matters
Last but not the least, money teaches us the most bitter lessons of life. We spend tons of time teaching our kids to tie their shoes, to read, to ride a bike, to drive, but we don’t often invest effort in teaching them how to manage their money. And that’s a big mistake.
When you have kids, you learn quickly that although positive parenting is amazing, it’s also very expensive. The older they get, the more things they want, and many young parents struggle to balance not only the cost of all these items but also how to raise a child and teach him or her about financial responsibility. It is not materialistic to teach them money. It is as basic as it could get – everybody needs money for survival.
Yes, I would give in to the temptation of fulfilling my child’s whim for a toy or something fancy he saw in a store. But not anymore. I have done this as an exercise for myself in the interest of my child. It wasn’t easy. We got those clay piggy banks so we saved coins – sometimes currency notes – and did indulge ourselves every once in a while. But that was only when we knew that the ATM does not just ‘give us money, but that Mom and Papa have to earn it. However, with the increase in online shopping, digital wallets and contactless card machines, it is more important than ever to teach our kids that money doesn’t just get given to us on a card or via the ATM, but that Mom and Papa have to earn it.
About Aarti Kapur Singh in her own words: After being a puppeteer, journalist, filmmaker and corporate trainer for 17 years, I thought I had seen the world. Till I had my son. As a mother to an eight-year-old, I am now loving the whole process of unlearning and relearning with my son. Being a hands-on mom who is also a work-from-home communication professional, research scholar, and avid traveller, I am Ravan on some days and Durga on the others – depending on my state of madness!
by Aarti Kapur Singh