We had our first child four years after marriage and the second just one and half years later. It was as good as having twins in many respects but actually a bit worse. Out of a continuous time-period of twenty-seven months, my wife was pregnant for eighteen months! Sure, it was tough for her. But once the kids started growing, we went through our share of joys and the tough times. One morning during this phase, I was reflecting on my adult life and I realized that before marriage my full time was only mine. I could decide to use my time in whatever manner. After marriage that concept of my time actually vanished but as a thumb rule, I can say that a quarter of the total time was still mine. But as soon as we had kids, there was no thing as my time or our time (only with my wife). In my book, ‘Happiness is All We Want!’, I compare a household with two super-young kids with a war control room. Both of us, living as a nuclear family, were always at the end our wits in this phase. We were super-stretched in every sense of the word. Slowly, as the kids came out of toddler phase and entered the five to seven year age-group, things seemed so much better. But that benign phase was just preparing us for the upcoming onslaught of the pre-teens. So, here we are bracing ourselves for a whole new set of joys and challenges. So, what did I learn so far from this parenting experience? Happy to share a few key learnings with you:
- A day is much more than 24 hours: I have stopped believing that a day has only twenty-four hours. Actually, a day has unlimited time. At one time, doing my day-job, commuting, a bit of relaxation, exercising, socializing, eating and sleeping were only things possible. It was out of question to find time for anything. Today, I do all this and a lot more. The new additions include but are not limited to spending time with kids (playing, teaching, lazing around), meditation, yoga, running, writing (the book project and regular blogs), exploratory travel, photography, reading, social work and so on. My wife, who had quit her corporate career after the kids happened to us, has successfully transformed herself into an Image Consultant and set-up her own business (aspirioglobal.com). If someone told me twelve years back that this was possible, I would have laughed at them. My daughter recently told me, “Dad, my teacher says that President Obama also has twenty-four hours but he achieves so much more than all of us.” I silently wondered if I had produced just two more kids, I would be doing more stuff than the US President.
- Patience is the highest virtue: Raising children tests our patience every moment. I have been an impatient person bordering on Type A personality. However, impatience fails you in front of kids so often that you are forced to do a deep dive and think how to develop patience. Right from the process of putting your child to sleep to answering their questions to helping them with their studies, you need every bit of patience this universe can offer. When I want to have a serious discussion with my children, I can almost never control the direction of the conversation. Any instruction is answered in “Why?”. The moment you feel you are a bit patient, your impression is shattered and you are forced to start all over again. It is a continuous struggle but I am sure this process is gradually making me a better person.
- You can only take a horse to the water, but not make it drink: The meaning of this famous proverb stares you in the face when you have kids. As educated and well-placed parents, we have a pre-set formula for success in our minds. We want our kids to do certain things in a certain manner. The hypothesis that if they follow this formula, they are bound to be successful. I have seen many parents around me who claim to not care about what the child is doing or who claim to give a free rein to the child’s imagination. Believe me, such parents exist in numbers lesser than the Great Indian One-Horn Rhinoceros. But, however hard the parent like me try to make the kids do anything, they do what they want. For a short while, one may force them but they revert to what they like. I am still trying to learn the art of motivating the kids to do certain things which I believe are important for them. This, I feel, has been the most important ongoing lesson for me.
- Doing you own thing works, directing doesn’t: As a parent, when I focus all my attention and energy on what the child is doing, I hamper the progress of both – myself and the child. Instead, I have learnt to have my own mission and objective in place (even of weekends and holidays). I realized, by trial and error, that when I focus on my thing and the children focus on theirs, we are all so much happier. As a parent, at most our job is to help set-up the tasks and activities for the children. That’s it. Then we need to get on with our life and only do periodic checks on progress. Sitting on the child’s head to complete the work may achieve the desire objective in short run but results in an unhappy experience for all parties. Further, kids learn more by seeing you do it. If you read books yourself and read to them, they are more likely to see reading an enjoyable activity rather than a burden imposed by vicariously ambitious parents.
- Self-help is best help: We took a conscious call to be least dependent on domestic help whether servants, maids or drivers. If I look around in my society, an average household has a couple of full time servants, a couple of part-time helps and driver etc. We want to make the kids independent and hence work with minimal domestic help. The result is that the kids get ready for school themselves, pack their own bag, eat the food on their own and eat what is served. They help us in setting up the dining table, giving clothes for laundry, buying grocery etc. Seeing their energy and enthusiasm, I feel that standing on my own feet in every sense is the best thing possible. This has the added advantage of family seeing more of each other, fewer HR issues with home-staff and lesser anxiety overall. The extra work that you do keeps you in better state physically as well as mentally.
- Trying to be one step ahead of life helps: Eventually, life will always be ahead of me but I can at least try. I am saying this because I feel that I was ill prepared to handle my wife’s pregnancies and the arrival of babies in my life. I didn’t have any knowledge of things like post-partum depression, terrible two’s, child psychology and so on. Now, I try to read-up on things to help me with the next phase. In earlier times, people used to live in joint family and the grand-parents’ experience was so helpful for the parents as well as kids. But now, in nuclear families, we are left to fend for ourselves. Only way out is to seek help from all possible sources. So, we make friends with more experienced couples, ask for guidance from our parents and let the kids spend as much time as possible with grandparents. As a next step, I have started reading a few books on teenage parenting. Hope that helps, but as I said, Life is always one step ahead. So, let’s see how it goes.
After eleven years of parenting experience, I have realized that the only reason these little flowers have blossomed in our lives is to make us better human beings. The kids have their own history, karma and destiny. I am sure they will do what they have to do, but in the process they would have transformed us forever.
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A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.