Many of us believe that an important aspect of parenting is to be able to crack the generation gap and become friends with our children. But has anyone thought how? Can the parent and progeny ever become friends? Can two different generations with changing ideologies really understand each other and become mates? Parenting no longer follows those strict codes of conduct that promised to keep the father and son a psychological distance apart. Today equations have changed and everyone is constantly striving to bridge gaps and bring minds closer to each other so that we are better informed about the thoughts of our children. But relationship dynamics can’t be defined abruptly. They need to be worked upon and the foundations have to be set over a time. Most of us don’t give ourselves the time to plan out that foundation and understand the rules of the game. Let’s explore this aspect of parenting to discover ourselves as parents who have to play multiple roles in the lives of our children, one of them being “friends”.
In order to define friendship, the first question that comes to mind is who our friends are! That would give us enough clue to understand what our children would look for, if they have to be friends with us. A feeling of mutual appreciation and trust are the basic qualities of being friends. A person who stands by us socially and emotionally with enough flexibility to accept us as we are, becomes our friend. Do we remember how we became friends with so many people? A common purpose maybe, a common interest; similar way of doing things; when habits, ideologies and sensibilities match; someone who adds meaning to our perspectives and pursuits and makes it easier for us to share ourselves unconditionally without the fear of being judged. All these ingredients help in shaping a long-term faith and restore a psychological relief that we are in the right company where our interests won’t be misused and we’d achieve the support we need, whatever be the stage of life. Another important aspect of friendship is to be able to laugh with each other and jointly enjoy each other’s company. All these and more are what we, as parents need to target right from the beginning to set the equation right with our children.
Think of a situation when we are lost in a crowd. At such moments we are looking for a pleasant face with whom we can initiate a communication. For a child too, who is new to earth and is waiting to be introduced to a greater world, a pleasant touch and empathetic support gives her the clue that this is her area of comfort. As she grows up, she tries to explore diverse aspects of her new-found personality and then again, she tries to understand whether the people around her are receptive enough. Any kind of mind block or resistance leads her to question herself. And that’s when she starts losing confidence in herself, exhibiting that trait by not trusting those who are around her, giving everyone who is trying to discipline her a tough time.
Can the parent and progeny ever become friends? Can two different generations with changing ideologies really understand each other and become mates? Parenting no longer follows those strict codes of conduct that promised to keep the father and son a psychological distance apart. Today equations have changed and everyone is constantly striving to bridge gaps.
This obviously doesn’t mean that we let our children do all that they wish to and not stop them ever. We certainly have to guide them through the rights or wrongs. But one mistake that many of us commit as parents is that we don’t learn to respect the little being around us because of her size and age! Respect is an important word for every relationship, and is one of the core words in the definition of friendship. That is probably why little children are so fond of their grandparents. Grandparents pamper their whims and fancies well and usually never raise their voices on the child, subtly providing children that cushion, that respect and that sense of belonging which she is so much longing for. Hence, grandparents should never be suspected for “spoiling” the children; neither should their pampering be judged offensively. They often manage to service that emotional security in the minds of the child that we as parents can’t.
For us, the child is just an innocent one-foot something; but for the child she is no less or different than an adult. If we have to be friends with her, we need to assure that feeling within them. We have to share their moments, their joys and their sadness however silly they might be. It is important for all of us to spend good time with our children and enjoy things with them the way they want. It can be watching a cartoon show, or playing with clay dough or colouring a drawing book or anything else. Think for yourself, do you fiddle with your mobile phone or browse endlessly on the laptop when you are sitting with a friend? Then how can you do that with the child who you want to make friends with?
Encourage your child to tell you everything that is happening with her, right from the beginning. Encourage her to share thoughts, ideas and feelings. If she is going to a school, ask her about her friends and teachers. If you have been to a restaurant, ask her whether she liked it. Engage her in a conversation; help her understand that you are seeking her opinions and valuing them.
While reacting to anything that they may have done, just pause and think how you would have reacted had it been your best buddy! I personally have lots of fun with my child. Just like I play pranks with my friends, I do the same with my three and a half years old. When he falls for them, he gets angry and I laugh. He hits me and I hit back, of course very gently. When he runs away with things, I chase him and get it back. He tells others about the bully; I too complain to the same person against him. Of course it’s me who gets scolded for “being a child”, and he enjoys that I am scolded. But that’s my way of being his friend and sharing that platform of equals. Of late, he has started out-witting me with his pranks. End of the day what matters is actually being the child with the child. We all have to arouse that within us. Unless we re-live our childhood once again with our children, we can’t be their friends.
In the process however, I have learnt certain things the hard way. One day I had said “pagal kahin ka” (mad) to him. We use such words often between friends and it’s not considered offensive. But when my child repeated the words, I knew the difference. The boy using those words for his parents were quite culturally paralysing and I too had the same reaction. But that day I learnt, I can’t do to him what I don’t want him to do to me. Strictly telling him to mind his words might scare him, but his mind wouldn’t understand why! And the moment I do that, I violate my own understanding of friendship with him and become that parent who rules by designs of hierarchy. Practically that evening I spoke a lot with myself and allowed it to settle down. I promised to be careful with my words on one hand; on the other I agreed to let go of things that are absolutely fine when uttered between friends. That day I also promised not to stay bound by cultural rigidities as long as they are not harming the behaviour of my child beyond repair.
Having said that, I would also advice, never allow her to take the parents for granted. No relationship prospers till you have set the boundaries. Every person in your life must know till where they are allowed to explore and when they must stop. Otherwise you end up being nice to people when you meet them, but make a face the moment they turn their back. You can’t appreciate the people in your lives till you have defined limits for them. Make sure that you follow the same principle with your child. Firmly, but not rudely, let him know when he overrules his boundaries. That will instil a sense within him too to draw lines with the relationships in his life and manage them better as he grows up. He too will then enjoy his relations rather than just dragging them along because of some inherited connections. After all, a happy life is about a fair company.
Happy befriending. Happy parenting.