You’ve heard this before but it’s truer now than ever before: being a parent is a colossal responsibility.
Kids are more empowered than ever before – thanks to the information age, alternative careers, and the mainstreaming of ‘cool’. Ten years ago, being cool was the exception. Today, being cool is the norm. The teenage psyche has undergone a sea change. Are we as parents catching up or still stuck in old school ways? How do we become fair, enabling, loving parents to today’s children? How do we love them in a way that protects them as well as frees them? How do we stay sane?
A good start point to assess where we stand is to remember that we become our stories, and will inevitably pass on the same stories to our children – because that is what parents do.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can modify our stories with time, and tell our children newer, more empowering stories.
Firstly, what is a story? It is a belief or an idea we carry around in our heads about ourselves, another person, or even the world. For example, a man with a failed marriage behind him could carry a story inside his head that says, “Love marriages end up in disappointment. Only arranged marriages last.” Is this a fact? No. Is it a story? Yes. Does it influence his view of marriages and, by default, will it influence his idea of his child’s marriage? Yes.
Our stories can either enable us or limit us. In other words, we become our stories.
So while parenting, our stories are our CPU, the matrix of values and anchors that determine how our child should think, behave, live. What other filter do we have?
Except that we need to ask ourselves a few questions from time to time:
– Is my story true?
– Is it necessary?
– Is it enabling me or stopping me?
If you get positive responses for those queries, then your story is a strong story – one that enables you to think and live better – and it is certainly one to be passed on to your children.
If, however, you got at least one negative response to your story, then ask yourself if this story is the one you want to be living, leave alone passing on to your children?
Now it is not easy for each of us, as parents, to sift through the million stories in our head and pick out the ones that might work for our kids. Nobody has that level of rigor and perfection for if we did, we’d not be humans but computers, right?
So how do we structure our best stories, and transmit them to our children?
We should crystallize the beliefs and traits that have historically brought out the best in us.
For example, as a person, I feel the beliefs that have brought out the best in me over time are:
– Hard work pays
– People are not against me; they are simply for themselves
– The world does not owe me a living but it is a beautiful place
And some of the traits that have, again, brought out the best in me are:
– Critical thinking
– Pushing the bar in terms of creativity
– Understanding another person’s point of view
– Trying to stay sane, no matter what is happening around me
As parents, we owe it to your children to pause, funnel the busy experience inside our heads into insight, and pass on those insights to the next generation. It is hard-won knowledge, it is unique, and unless it is codified, it really does not exist – even for you!
But preaching is not enough. We have to lead by example. Children are notoriously quick to discard words and pick up behaviours and feelings.
So what strategies should you proactively adopt to ensure your kids develop into reasonable, compassionate, resourceful human beings and leaders?
Help them develop emotional intelligence
Time and again, research shows us that talent and knowledge is only half the story. The picture of success is completed by knowing the self and others, and managing these two entities smarty. This is what we mean by emotional intelligence. It builds self-knowledge, self-control, and stronger, more mature bonds between people. We do not help our children build their EQ. We only worry about their IQ. But an average IQ with an above average EQ can move the world!
Don’t obsess about achievement
We raise our children on the dichotomy of winning / losing. This kind of dichotomy is an outgrowth of a free market economy where everyone is technically ‘free’ to rise or fall, depending on their own motivation and ability. However, in truth, there are many more factors that contribute to success or failure – background, psychology, family life, other external circumstances, and so on. And secondly, success is not homogeneous. It can and should mean different things for different people. We need to educate our children to be persons of value, not persons of success. Success will then come as a result of being true to one’s values. And if it doesn’t come, we will still persevere.
Teach them to be flexible and adjusting
Evolution states that the species that lasts is not necessarily the most intelligent but the most adaptive. We tend to raise our kids on the values of intelligence and rock solid focus. This is good but the world has become more volatile in the last decade. Our kids will go into a job market that is fragmented, unstable, and complex. And in that kind of an environment it is not always a good idea to have a fixed picture in your head of how things should be; it is in fact a recipe for constant disappointment. We must teach our kids to be grounded and flexible – so they can always move forward, and be happy.
Focus on the now
Do you remember that interview question you constantly dreaded?
“Where do you see yourself five years from now?”
They ask you that question because they want to know if you have a plan, if you’re ambitious. It’s good to know where one is going but to make our children think only about outcomes in the future and forget to smell the roses now, will turn them into outcome-obsessed, productivity nerds who cannot handle leisure, cannot spend a moment without consulting their screens, and feel worthless the minute their workload reduces. This, in other words, is how our generation turned out. But mindfulness – being in the present, taking it slow, taking one’s time – has been proven to make people more focused and happier. We should train our kids to streamline their thoughts, focus on the now, and move towards a state of wellness, as opposed to a state of success.
Allow them to experience success and failure
I don’t know about you but my parents were overprotective of me. I thought they did this because I was weak and they loved me a lot. As you can see, that’s not a very healthy self-perception to carry around. Overprotecting our kids feeds their ego the illusion that they are special and life should be fair. But no one is special and life is chaotic. And yet, we can be reasonable, compassionate and beautiful people, isn’t it? So why insulate our kids from failure? Let them fail. Let them suffer. We should anchor them with wisdom but allow them to see life for what it really is – a rollercoaster ride. And another important piece of this philosophy is to make them solve their own problems. Self-reliance is one of the best gifts you can give your children. Or they will turn into weak professionals and uncooperative spouses.
Be enthusiastic but don’t turn them into gods
As per TIME magazine, millenials have the highest degree of entitlement of any generation. They have a high degree of narcissism, are lazy, and feel entitled to appreciation, money, and the good life – at a lower rate of input. If this is the kind of culture that has emerged, then, as parents, we need to be mindful of what we tell our children about the truth of give and take: the world owes you nothing, you are talented but you need to work hard and stand in line like everyone else, if you don’t fulfil your potential you are no different from the person who has NO potential, and treat everyone with respect. Last but not the least – deny them their self from time to time, let them understand they are part of an ecosystem, not an ego-system!
Allow them to try new things
It was impossible when I was young to go to a disco, join a trekking group or stay over at a friend’s place. These were unheard of and even taboo. But we learn only when we leave our comfort zone. Allow your kids to experiment within boundaries. Or else their knowledge becomes bookish and insulated. They also learn less about the world and about themselves.
About the Author:
Sandhya Reddy is a Life coach and Leadership coach based in Bangalore, India. She is the Founder and Principal Coach at Chapter Two Coaching, a coaching consultancy that enables everyone from CEOs to work-from-home parents to achieve their goals by replacing self-imposed limitations with enabling stories.
Sandhya, a life coach in Bangalore, who runs a life coaching academy, can help individuals with a desire for change to examine their beliefs – or their ‘stories’ – and change them for the better, so they can achieve their goals.
Many of us in our thirties experience a disquieting realization: what brought us to middle-management may not take us to senior-management. This is true. To chart a new career path, one needs to think and do things differently. This is where Sandhya can help. She is a coach. Life coaching, executive coaching, personality development, leadership coaching… they are all part of her forte. Her Executive coaching programs helps tomorrow’s leaders set new goals, make new plans to achieve those goals, get that elusive promotion through a blend of knowledge, action and image-building, enhance influence among the leadership team, be more productive, get more out of one’s team, and be known in the company as an indispensable performer and future leader.