Please Note: This is Ep.11
Please click here for Ep.10
11. One for the Mummas and Papas… And, Yes you Kiddos too!
As I bring the childhood episodes of this series to a close, I feel it’s important to pause here and reflect before we go on any further. Let’s call this the Bonus Episode at the end of Season One.
If you haven’t already, please read Episodes 1 to 10 first (you can find them all here), then ask yourself this question: Do you want your kids to end up like I did as a teenager? If the answer is ‘Hell no!’ which I’m guessing it might be, then you might like to read some of the realisations my father and I have come to after making so many mistakes between us.
Here we go.
Are you paying attention?
I want to say here to all the parents out there, parenting is the hardest job in the world. If you get a smile and a hug from your child from time to time, you’re doing okay and don’t be too hard on yourselves, but do pay attention. Your children are delicate strands of cotton in your hands. The way you weave them now, will decide their texture for life; how strong, durable, soft or colourful they’ll grow up to be, depends on you.
Realisations from my father
I was having a conversation with Vip Prabhu the other day and I listened as he spoke about all the things he would have done differently when my brother and I were children. It was a very healing conversation for me because I’d never heard him admit and say all these things out loud and I thanked him for it. Paraphrased, here’s what he had to say:
“You know, I had a big ego. I was focused on my business and money all the time. I cared more about my reputation, showing off to people, look at what I have, my car with my name on the number plate, my house. Now I just don’t care about all those things. Back then if anyone said something to me I got angry because I thought I was always right. Now if my wife tells me anything, I listen, because I know she is saying it for my own sake, even if I don’t like it all the time, I listen and I don’t argue. I feel it’s too late now. I lost so much time with my family and my children are not as close to me as they could have been. I wish I had made an effort sooner. I didn’t have my priorities straight then. I’m an old man now and I realise my family is more important than anything.”
My father’s advice to parents with young children:
“Don’t do what I did. Spend time with your children. Really love them, love them, love them. Get to know them. Be gentle with them. If they’re giving you an attitude, don’t get angry at them, be very patient, find out what the crux of the issue is (the issue could well be you). In the beginning, you might not be able to ask them outright what’s wrong, but start by making more of an effort with them. Take them out on the weekends. Ask them where they want to go, what they want to do, enjoy whatever it is they want to do without any other distractions. Slowly build up your relationship, show them they can talk to you and trust you. Don’t give them any reason not to. It might take days, weeks or months, but keep at it. Remember your children are your priority. Right now they need you more than anything. Soon they will grow up and you will need them but they will be gone, caught up in their own lives. But if your relationship with them is good you will enjoy a new friendship as adults together. Nobody in the world will help you like your own children will.”
What he’s said is so important. It’s exactly what we were missing as kids — that connection. My father was so caught up in his desires, and expectations of himself and from others that everything else fell apart. (Om Swami ji’s very first few posts are about exactly these things, it shows just how much of a role they play in our lives. I’ve put links to those particular posts here: Desires and Expectations)
Even if there are no major arguments in your household, just a lack of the mental presence of one or both parents who live in the same house can be enough to make a child feel neglected and cause lasting damage. Sending them off to school all day, then allowing them to entertain themselves or be glued to their phones and tablets while you unwind after work and do your own thing will eventually come back to bite you in the you know where. And it can be pretty painful.
Your job as a parent doesn’t end when your paid employment ends. You might punch out at the office but you have to punch in again when you get back home, full of the same enthusiasm, if not more, than you had in the morning, as you now begin the evening or weekend shift. Unless you are a single parent, expecting one partner to do it all doesn’t work. Both parents need to be in sync. Both parents need to know how their children tick.
The worst thing you can do for your children
Of course you’ll have disagreements as a couple, it’s likely you will argue as well but never raise your voices in front of your kids, or even when you think they’ve gone to bed. It’s like a little extra sensory power we have, that when parents argue somewhere in the house, even at night, the vibrations reach us and jolt us awake. I say ‘us’ here because even though I am no longer a child, it’s been my experience.
If you want to sort out a problem as couple, try and do it away from the children, in a public place over a coffee or dessert (no alcohol as it will only heighten emotions) and have a conversation. Hashing out your issues in a public place means you’ll probably speak quietly and you won’t end up shouting at each other… hopefully!
The biggest gift you can give your children
From my perspective, the biggest gift you can give to your children is to throw all taboos and judgement out the window. As Om Swami ji mentioned in His most recent post, we are biological creatures with all kinds of hormonal and chemical reactions going on. And especially so when we reach a certain age.
Yes, your children will have wet dreams and will probably be thinking about sex, and masturbating quite a bit; it’s completely normal, and might I add, quite healthy at that age. I know of too many young men especially, who thought they were doing something sinful and disgusting and were ridden with guilt about the frequency of it. Explain to them that it’s normal but if the thoughts take them over completely and affect their life, guide them, show them how you dealt with such challenges. As Swami ji said recently, sometimes the only way to overcome a desire is to walk through it. Simply telling them not to do something or not discussing it at all isn’t always going to work. Your children need to know they can talk to you about things like this.
And yes, your children might fall head over heels in love with a ‘bad boy/girl’ who will break their heart and they will feel like it’s the end of the world; that’s absolutely normal too. But who would you rather have pick up the pieces, you, or the next ‘bad boy/girl’? Your children need to know that they can come to you even if they’ve had their heart broken by someone you don’t exactly approve of.
Why do we ostracise the most natural instincts that teenagers have? Why can’t all parents talk to their children openly about relationships, love, sex, masturbation, menstruation, mood swings and contraception? What they will learn from you in a trusting, responsible environment and what they will learn from school and their friends are completely different. Your children should not feel ashamed to speak to you about something that is so natural, so innate and right there in our biology.
And when you do talk to them, be absolutely 100% present. A huge part of my healing took place only last year, because my parents and I took the time to sit and speak with each other, regularly, without any distractions, we just focused on each other, and for the first time I thought, “Wow, my parents actually care about me.”
Who gives a damn what other people think
A big part of Eastern and Asian culture especially, I have noticed, is worrying too much about what other people think. I say, who gives a damn about what other people think! I mean, wouldn’t you rather raise happy, healthy children than bother with what that aunty, uncle, or neighbour thinks? Does it really matter so much? Why can’t we own our actions and hang out that laundry, it might just get cleaned and refreshed in the rain and the sun. And the truth is, most people actually don’t care to think that much about you. Besides, the gossip-mongers who choose to look down on you most likely have a closet full of dirty laundry and skeletons themselves. Nobody’s family is full of angels.
Pick your battles
If you’re nagging your kids about every little thing, they are undoubtedly going to tune you out at some point. There are times when the parent just has to let it go. Smile, grit your teeth if have to!, but smile, breathe, and let it go. Kids will be kids. We were all naughty little monkeys at some point, getting up to all kinds of mischief. Let them make a mess, or be lazy at times or whatever the issue is.
Say for example, your child prefers to stay under the covers and doesn’t want to go to school, instead of nagging at them, first, as Vip Prabhu mentions above, build up a trusting relationship with them, this can take time if the bond is weak. Then be gentle, get to the crux of the matter. Perhaps they’re not sleeping well at night, perhaps they ate dinner too late, or went to bed too late, perhaps there is something or someone bothering them at school, perhaps they are unwell or need some supplements, perhaps they’re just being lazy. The more you nag, the more they’ll want to stay under the covers and the less likely they will be to open up to you.
Approach every conversation with love, you can be firm but never lose your cool. If you feel yourself getting angry, give them a kiss on the head and tell them you’ll be back in a moment. Keep actively building your relationship with them.
They’ll do as you do, not as you say
Remember that children will mimic your behaviour. If you smoke, get high, drink, party, argue, fight, work too many hours, neglect your family’s needs, they probably will too. If you live a balanced work/home life, eat well, sleep well, read, pray, meditate, workout, spend time in nature and creative pursuits, and in being kind to others, they probably will too.
And children are smart, you absolutely cannot be a hypocrite. Lying in bed, watching your favourite TV serial and shouting through the walls at your overweight son to get himself to the gym isn’t going to cut it. They will only do what they see you do.
They will also learn to manage their stress in the same way that you do. Think about how you would want them to manage their stress when they have a family of their own. Start practicing the same for yourself, now, before it really is too late.
As a huge chunk of a child’s life is spent under the care of their teachers, do give them credit where it’s due. Every day there are teachers that make a difference in a child’s life. They may even change the course of their life entirely. Be aware of the teachers and other role models in your child’s life, and take an interest in your children’s activities outside of the house.
Do you know your children’s favourite subjects and why they like them and don’t like others? Do you know what books they read last week and who their favourite authors are? Do you know who their favourite teachers are and why? Have you sincerely thanked their teachers?
My parents now dog-sit a little pup called Mickey who lives down the road from them in England. They take him for daily walks and whenever he’s around the whole family lights up. Getting a dog, or any pet for that matter is a wonderful way to bond with your children and a wonderful antidote to depression. And if you can’t afford to keep a pet, you can offer to dog-walk or dog-sit together as a family: Love and laughter guaranteed! Should you wish to dog-sit but don’t know where to start, there are apps that you can use to connect with dog owners in your area.
And now for the kiddos!
Now for all you delightful, and not so delightful (like me) kiddos, teens and tweens reading this, give your parents a break, man! 😊 They’re working day and night to give you everything you eat, wear, sleep on, sit on, play with, and more. They might not be the best parents in the world but they are yours. They probably had a fantastic life before you came along and messed it all up 😅 They saw things and did things you couldn’t even dream of! And yes, they were in fact ‘cool’ 😎 before you popped out and made their world all about you and sleepless nights and dirty diapers.
So, try to be grateful for every single thing they give you and teach you. Right now it feels like they’ll be around forever, but the reality is, they won’t. Do you want to spend the rest of your adult years after they’ve gone wishing you’d respected them more, shared more with them, listened to them more, understood them more? Now is the time to do it before it’s too late.
Did my parents beat the crap out of me? Sure! But, I also know they didn’t exactly get dealt with by a feather hand when they were kids and they were under a lot of stress; I didn’t have to add to their stress. Did I feel they weren’t there for me enough? Of course! Most kids feel that way, and sure, I felt they could have done a better job, but aren’t we all just as blind as each other in this world, flailing our arms around in our ignorance? Nobody (except Om Swami ji) has it all figured out, not even your parents. In fact, there are so many things you can help them with. They grew up in an era that was so different from yours. They’re just trying to catch up while you Millennials and Generation Z’s are evolving at breakneck speed. They’re actually trying, so go easy on them. I wish I’d had this advice when I was younger. No matter how tough it was, it would have made some difference.
A final word
I hope and pray that the parents and young ones reading this will never have to experience what my family and I went through, but if you have and you’re still holding on to the pain, please read this part carefully.
There are so many potential ‘What if’s’ in every post in this series thus far. But here’s the thing with life: We don’t get a ‘Do Over’. We don’t get to see what might have happened ‘if…’. What has happened has happened, and as they say, there’s no use crying over spilt milk. Life can be very, very (excuse my French), shitty. Blaming others for everything gets us nowhere. Bad things happen to good people and vice versa, people hurt other people, intentionally and unintentionally all the time. Children, innocents are in the line of fire daily, it’s just the way life is. It’s unjust, it’s downright unfair at times. And as I mentioned to a couple of people recently:
My story is just a tiny leaf in the giant book of our lives. The circumstances might not be exactly the same but we have all gone through the same emotions at some point.
Yes, we are blessed that Om Swami ji is with us and He is helping us heal. But we make His job impossibly more difficult if we play the blame game and hold on to the hurt. If you’ve decided to stay depressed or angry at certain people, then not even God can help you.
Acceptance, that it is what it is, and thinking about how to make the best of the situation now is a huge part of the healing process.
If someone has really hurt you, you don’t have to keep that person in your life or ever see them again, but for your own sake and sanity, let the past go. They don’t even know your thoughts, so you’re only hurting yourself. Now why would you want to do that? It’s a silly thing to do, right?
So, Forgive everyone for everything all the time. Sincere forgiveness is your only lifeline outta this mess. Empty yourself of all the things that have been weighing you down. Let go of everything, throw your hands up in the air, sing, dance, shake that thang! Shake off the last bits of the dry, old, useless casing that’s holding you back and emerge as that beautiful butterfly you were always meant to be!
Fly, be free!
Please click here for Ep. 12
You may also wish to read Om Swami ji’s book, The Children of Tomorrow for His wonderful take and advice on mindful parenting.