Raising children in today’s busy materialistic world can be very challenging. There is a popular myth that raising a child should come naturally to a parent. In theory this might be true, but in reality, because of many factors, such as our childhood experiences, family dynamics, cultural attitudes, social norms, technology etc, raising a child is a very complex task.
In this brief post, having raised 2 children who are both now married with their own families, I thought it would be helpful to share 10 key lessons I have learnt about parenting.
1. Communication – It is important to engage with your children in an open and honest way. Of course, how you engage will change as they grow older, but most importantly, you have to adjust to their level. Active listening and reading their body language are really the key to effective communication with your children. A good parent by simply looking at their child can know if they are sad, happy, frightened, dishonest, troubled etc.
2. Love and Compassion – do not ever get tired of giving hugs to your children, which make your children feel secure and loved. The amazing thing is that your children will repay that love many times over your life. However, your love should be unconditional, otherwise it could backfire. Never blackmail your children!
3. Equality – Each child is unique and we should not discriminate at all. In Panjabi culture, sadly there is a lot of discrimination based on gender and appearance. I had a girl and a boy, but I never treated them differently. Treating people equally is a key Sikh principle, but the best way to teach your children this value is to practice it yourself. If we don’t do this, when the children grow up, they will accuse you of hypocrisy and may even turn against you.
4. Education – In Panjabi families, all we think about is that our children become doctors and lawyers. We see them as trophy’s to display to our friends and relatives. But this is wrong; our children are not property or investments! So, it’s really important for them to make their own educational choices, to realise and follow their own passion and to develop independent thinking. That said, we do have a role in the education our children, most importantly about our Sikh history, language and where we came from. That doesn’t mean we force our children to follow our path or to preach to them, but we should guide them to find their own true path and their own positive identity.
5. Making mistakes – All parents are terrified that their children will go against their wishes and make mistakes. But we must remember, for a child to become a independent rounded person, they need to make mistakes in order to develop self-confidence to make their own decisions. To rebel against parental authority is not only a natural thing, but important for the child to develop into an adult. This rebellion tends to begin around the age of 15/16 years and can last up to the early 20’s. Yes, parents need to set boundaries, but during this stage, we need to have a lot of patience and not be harsh on them.
6. Quality Time – We live very busy lives trying to earn money and please extended family and community. These are important, but not at the expense of neglecting our children. For this reason, it’s important for parents to spend quality time with their children. This can take many forms, from reading together, singing, playing, making things, going for picnics, walks/trips in the countryside, gatka, kirtan and Sikhi camps etc.
7. Freedom – Parents have a responsibility to protect their children but that doesn’t mean we put them in a cage. You have to let them explore the world and face challenges. These can range from everyday challenges to activities like climbing mountains, cycle rides, camping etc. I believe children are like delicate flowers, but you should let them grow naturally and learn how to survive in the environment around them. I have seen too many parents who have overprotected their children and then suffered later when their children find it difficult to face the world on their own.
8. Ups and down – Life is not a straight journey and everyone has their ups and downs. In life the successful person is somebody who can deal with the challenges. Some challenges are real and we need to have patience and not to overreact. When faced with such challenges our role as parents is to create stability for our children, and often time can be a great healer. Some problems are just in our minds but because we over think they become bigger than they actually are. So, in life you have to be in high spirit (chardhi kala) and remember life is about facing and managing challenges. We may need others to help with our problems sometimes, but we must first try to deal with them ourselves and develop our own inner strength, and we should teach our children to do the same.
9. Knowing when to let go – As I said earlier, our children are nobody’s property. The role of parents is to help them develop so they can cope with life’s challenges. This means learning to let go, especially when they become adults and make their own choices; whether that is to do with career, marriage or even where they live. Parents are fearful that their children might abandon them, but, if you give them unconditional love and respect, then they will definitely not forget their responsibilities to you. Letting go is healthy for parents and children in many ways.
10. Never abandon Guru Granth Sahib – Faith can be a great help in raising a family. I have gained much strength from Guru Granth Sahib ji, as have my children. Sometimes life can be cruel, but it is important at those moments not to abandon the Guru. Sadly, I have seen other parents, where they have conflict at home, either losing their faith or going to pakandi babas, who simply make things worse! Guru Granth Sahib has all the answers and we can access our guru though mobile phone apps like SikhitotheMax. So, when faced with major challenges I always taken a hukam nama and have encouraged my children to do so as well. I have never forced religion on them, but have encouraged them to develop their own love for Guru.