Looking back at how I brought up my children (or, how I have been doing it, for they are still children), I have mixed feelings about how good I have been as a parent. Overall, I have been decent, slightly above average, I guess. But I have certainly formed strong opinions about what it means to be a good parent. I want to share my thoughts with my younger readers in the hope that they may find something useful in it.
In most things we do, there is a feedback, and we can use the feedback improve ourselves. For instance, if we do poorly at work, our bonuses and paychecks suffer, and we can, if we want to, work harder or smarter to remedy the situation. In our dealings with our children, the feedback is very subtle or even absent. We have to be very sensitive and observant to catch it. For instance, when my daughter was less than a year old, I noticed that she wouldn’t make eye contact when I came back late from work or when her mother came back from a business trip. To this day, I am not entirely sure that it was an expression of disapproval on her part, or fanciful imagination on mine.
Even when the children are old enough to articulate their thoughts, their feedback is often subtle to non-existent because the don’t know how to judge us, the parents. You see, they have no yardstick, no standards by which to assess our parenting qualities. We are the only parents they will ever have and, for all our follies, it is very hard for them to find any faults with us. So we have to measure up to a much higher standard — our own.
Coupled with this unvoiced feedback is the huge sense of injustice that our little unfairnesses can inflict on our children’s little hearts. As Dickens said in one of his books, small injustices loom large in the small world of a child. (I am sure he put it a lot better; I am paraphrasing.) We have to appreciate the need to be painstakingly and scrupulously fair with our children. I am not talking about being fair between children, but between us and a child. Don’t hold them to rules that you are not willing to live by. These rules can be small — like don’t watch TV while eating. If you like your TV with your dinner, don’t expect the kids to stick to the dining table. They do what we do, not always what we say.
In fact, imitating our habits and mannerisms is part of their charm for us. By nature and nurture, our kids mirror our looks and actions. If we don’t like what we see in the mirror and complain about it, we are often barking up the wrong tree. In order to improve the image, we have to improve ourselves. We have to live up to a high level of integrity and honesty. Nothing else works.
Another essential virtue for a parent is patience. In today’s busy world, with thousands of thoughts and cares and distractions all vying for our attention, it is always a tussle to be, for instance, a good blogger, a good corporate player, a good spouse and, at the same time, a good parent. One way out of this is to dedicate a certain amount of quality time for our parenting Karma. This may be the only practical advice in this post — so pay attention now. Set aside half an hour (or whatever time you can) every day for your little ones. During this time, focus your undivided attention your kids. No TV, no Internet, no phone calls — only you and your kids. If you can do it on a fairly regular basis, your kids will remember you for a long time after you are gone.
Our children are our legacy. They are what we leave behind. And they are, in many ways, our own reflections — our little addition, little pieces of colored glass in the dome of many-colored glass staining the white radiance of eternity. Let’s try to leave behind as perfect a reflection as we can.
Thinking again about all the sermonizing I did in this post, I find that it is not so specific to being a good parent. It is more about being a good person. I guess what they say (in the Zen way of looking at things) is true — how do you paint a perfect painting? Be perfect and then just paint. How to be a good parent? Be good, and then be a parent! Goodness happens in the stillness of perfection and peace where even “bad” things are good. This statement is perhaps mystical enough to wind up this post with.