11 Parenting Lessons from an Unexpected Source

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Recently, I started reading this book called ‘The Gardener and The Carpenter’ by Alison Gopnik, and she opened my eyes to a different paradigm of parenting.

Somehow, deep inside, I knew there was something amiss with how we approach parenting nowadays – as parents, we are always so concerned, so competitive, so full of guilt – as we constantly try to make our kids smart, independent, empathetic, responsible and successful.

I had started to wonder – are we taking this responsibility of bringing up a child, more seriously than we should. It seemed as if the job was much easier for our parents. Are we really helping our kids by being overly concerned about them and their future? That’s when I struck gold with these words by Alison Gopnik. I quote –

“To Parent – is not actually a verb, not a form of work, and it isn’t and shouldn’t be directed toward the goal of sculpting a child into a particular kind of adult. Instead, to be a parent—to care for a child—is to be part of a profound and unique human relationship, to engage in a particular kind of love. Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. The purpose is not to change the people we love, but to give them what they need to thrive. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny, but to help them shape their own. It isn’t to show them the way, but to help them find a path for themselves, even if the path they take isn’t one we would choose ourselves, or even one we would choose for them.”

In simpler words, she says – “Our job as parents is not to make a particular kind of child. Instead, our job is to provide a protected space of love, safety, and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish.”

Alison Gopnik

When I read this last line – I couldn’t help but wonder, isn’t that what mothers do when we are pregnant with a little life within us? –  Provide a protected space of Love, Safety and Stability, where the little one can peacefully flourish, the way it is meant to be.

And this little thought snowballed into 11 Parenting Lessons that, I believe, God is giving us through ‘pregnancy’ – because, you know, the internet wasn’t there a million years ago – and God knew these innocent parents would need some lessons!!

As you read through these lessons, I’d urge you to think – are we making our Parenting Journey tougher and more complicated than what it was meant to be?

  1. Replicate the Oath of Pregnancy

The moment any mother realizes that she’s pregnant – she secretly whispers a little oath to the life within her – “I promise to take care of you, keep you safe and provide for you in the best way that I can.” As Alison Gopnik points out, that’s mainly what is expected of you even when the baby is out – to provide a safe space to flourish. Never does a mother proclaim – “Baby, now that I have you, I will make sure you come out as the most successful, confident, empathetic baby ever!”

  1. Replicate the Prayer of Pregnancy

All through those 9 months of pregnancy, every mother has just one prayer – “God, boy or girl, I don’t care much – just let the baby be healthy and perfectly fine.” Beyond the grades, degrees, medals and fancy jobs that you wish your kids will have as they grow, isn’t their physical, mental and emotional health most precious to you!? Let’s not forget that, when we knowingly or unknowingly put the burden of our expectations on our kids.

  1. Resist the urge to micromanage, there’s very little you can do about the final outcome anyway.

During my pregnancy, I used to wonder, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a transparent belly, so we could monitor the baby every moment.” When I finally had my little daughter, I realised what a boon it was to NOT have to monitor your baby every moment. But of course, other than infancy and toddlerhood, where we might want to be more careful than sorry – it is best to slowly release our clutches and resist the urge to micromanage – should I send him for dance or for chess or for both? Should he be doing Commerce or Arts? Because ….

  1. Most kids turn out perfectly fine, all the time.

There are millions of sperms and eggs fertilizing perfectly, dividing and multiplying the way they should to form the head, the fingers, the toes, the heart and the nose – to ultimately deliver a perfectly fine baby at the end of 9 months. Despite the jitters and anxiousness that every pregnant mother experiences, we know, that does not help the final outcome in any way. So, let’s keep unnecessary worries out of parenting too. Just like in pregnancy, periodic checks with necessary corrective measures is usually enough. So, choose your battles, worry only about the choices and decisions that are truly meaningful – that’s a mantra to live by.

  1. Every journey is unique and so is every child.

While I was in labour (which eventually lasted for 36 hours), each time my gynaec would come to check, I would ask, “When will this end?”, and she would say with a straight face – “I can’t really say, every pregnancy is unique.” While at that point in time, I could have smashed her nose – now, I realise how true that is about parenting as well. The sooner you acknowledge that you are on a UNIQUE journey with your UNIQUE children, the easier it will be for you to get out of the trap of unnecessary comparison & competition, and give yourself a whole lot of peace.

  1. The bond you share with your child matters most – ABOVE ALL

You haven’t seen this little being yet, but you ‘know’ her. The moment you laid your eyes on your little baby for the very 1st time, you felt as if you’ve known her for aeons. That’s the BOND you share with your child. While infancy & intimacy go hand in hand – as years progress – the distance between us and our child gradually & sadly increases – physically as well as emotionally. As parents, while we are busy trying to do the best we can for our kids, trying to MAKE them the best – let’s not forget – when all is said and done, what you will cherish is not the accomplishments, but the memories and the relationship you share with your beloved child. Let this end goal govern all your parenting decisions.

  1. There are a million things happening to that little life on a daily basis.

During my pregnancy, I had subscribed for weekly updates on what the baby looks like and its developments. What a joy it was to know about those tiny little fingers and toes developing, just like it was so enjoyable as my little one achieved those milestones every month during the 1st year. If we think deeply though, for all of these visible changes to happen – there has to a million things that are going on inside their little bodies and brains. And it continues for several years after birth till they reach adulthood. Being aware of this fact, will help us have a little more empathy and patience in dealing with our kids through their tantrums, tempers and rebellion.

  1. Your well-being matters a LOT

Every pregnant mother knows that her baby’s health depends a lot on her own health. Not just the physical health, but mothers are also extra careful about their thoughts, actions and emotions during those 9 months. However, as years go by, mothers slowly forget that their physical, mental and emotional well-being still has an impact on their child. If you’ve slept only for 4 hours, haven’t had your lunch, and now your toddler is screaming his lungs out for a candy – most likely, you will end up hitting your child and then feel sorry about it. Self-love and self-care will not only help you be nicer to your kids when they need you most, but it will also set a good example for them when they are in the same position. Just like you’d ask for help if you had to carry a heavy shopping bag in your 9th month, even later in your parenting journey, remember to ask for help, and take all the help you get! It is worthwhile to know ‘there’s no trophy at the end’!

  1. A few slip-ups are OK!

It’s ok if you had a burger in your 4th month, and that you couldn’t resist the pani-puri in your 9th month – your baby still came out fine, the guilt was unnecessary! Similarly, a few missteps, taken unknowingly once in a while, during your parenting journey – can be pardoned. Your child will not hate you all his life, just because you happened to miss his annual day program. Give yourself permission to fail once in a while, we all are learning as we go! Guilt isn’t good for you or your child. You are a good parent, because you are trying your best, everyday!

  1. The ‘kicks’ are a part of the journey

Remember, how those tiny kicks you experienced during the 4th month turned into somersaults by the 9th month? You didn’t complain, did you? Because, you knew those kicks were not only enjoyable, but also a proof of life. In parenthood, let’s say your kids tantrums, mischief and rebellion are the ‘kicks’ – let’s accept them as a part of the package. Let’s cherish them too, because it won’t last for long. Let’s learn how to take those kicks in our stride, just like you had devised ways to sit through those somersaults during pregnancy.

  1. You have to ‘Let Go’ someday

As much as you little baby enjoys the safe space you provided her with for 9 months, she can’t stay there forever. She must enter a new world that awaits with new possibilities, wonders and challenges. And as much as you would want your little baby to grow up, yet remain small enough to fit in your arms – you have to ‘let go’ someday. Like Alison Gopnik says, “Our adult children are and should be foreigners – inhabitants of the future.”

We can pat ourselves for having done a good job as a parent – if our kids grow up to be able to masterfully deal with the inevitable and unpredictable changes that face them in the future. That would be our TROPHY!

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Are we raising kids with these 7 skills needed in the 21st century?

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“85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet and 65% of children starting school now would one day hold jobs that do not exist as of now.”

If you are a parent, does this statistic scare you?

Well, I am a mom to a two-year old and the first time I read this – I felt really tensed. I had heard of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, and from what I understood the world of the FUTURE is going to be very different from what it is today. Technology is going to develop faster and faster, making the devices and technology of today completely obsolete.

I am not really sure if our schools that haven’t changed their pedagogies since decades, barring a few improvisations in the new curricula like IB, IG, ICSE – can be solely entrusted with this grave task of preparing our kids for the FUTURE. I am not really sure if schools are equipped yet to prepare our kids for THE FUTURE.

All of these thoughts just kept making me more and more worried about what to do. Like every parent, I want the best for my daughter. I want her to become a kind, independent and intelligent person capable of doing things for herself and for the world, as she grows up.

But, can I take things into my own hands, and offer her the education she needs?

That’s when a sea of information gushed across my face – there are so many different approaches to raising kids and educating them – hundreds and thousands of activities that we can do with them to enhance their physical, cognitive, emotional and language skills!! And that’s when I realized what a daunting task, I had taken up for myself!

One day, while I was sitting, thinking about ‘this huge burden’ I had brought upon myself by challenging school education – the words of Stephen Covey struck me –

“Begin with the end in mind”

So, I thought what does the end or the future look like. All I know is that the future of my kids is going to be very different from my present. The circumstances will be very different, which I cannot predict or control. What I can do, however, is to help my daughter develop certain values and skills that will help her survive and prosper in any kind of future. That is, I must work from the inside-out! Now that sounded like a plan, something doable!

But again, what values and skills will prepare her best for the unknown future?

While I was mulling over this conundrum, I came across this amazing video – a TEDx talk by Dr. Laura Jana – And I felt I got my starting point!!

While there’s a whole lot of resources available online to tell you about the milestones our kids must achieve at each age, after watching this video – I was able to gain a more macro-level perspective on what skills I must aim at imbibing in my child so that I know I did my best to prepare her for THE FUTURE.

So, if I had to share in a nutshell what Dr. Laura Jana so powerfully yet simply shares in her TEDx talk – here’s what it is:

skills kids need in 21st century

The Skills our kids will need in the 21st century along with a few thoughts for us to ponder upon:

ME skills: these skills are everything our kids will need for Self-management like self-awareness, self-regulation, self-control over their emotions & behaviour, attention, focus.

In our times of excess and abundance, how can we best inculcate self-control and self-regulation in our kids? In this age of Youtube, Google and Social Media, when our own attention spans have reduced to a few minutes, what can we do to help our kids have better attention & focus?

WE skills: These are the people skills that allows kids to understand, share and “play well” with others using their language, empathy, listening.

These skills will be necessary for effective communication, collaboration and teamwork just like we see in our own workplaces today.

WHY skills: Most of us who’ve been close to kids when they’re around 3-5 years of age, know that this is the time when they question everything – much to the displeasure of poor adults who are expected to be equipped with all the answers.

This tells us that kids are wired for questioning, curiosity and inquisitiveness – skills which will be required to solve the problems of the future, let’s not beat that out of kids with our efforts to educate and discipline them.

WHAT IF skills: Coupled with WHY skills which help kids understand how the world works, WHAT IF skills encompass imagination, and creativity that allows them to envision how the world could be.

Can we join our kids in cooking up imaginative alternate worlds with superheroes where anything is possible?

WILL skills: As parents, we can do all we can but ultimately, self-motivation and drive including a can-do attitude, determination, persistence and perseverance is what will help our kids create and live their own future.

My grand-dad had a favourite quote – You can take the horse to the water but you cannot force it to drink.

WIGGLE skills: Physical and intellectual restlessness which has been shown as one of the key characteristics of all great men of our times, make up the WIGGLE skills.

Now, that’s good reason for us to let our kids be a little restless, and not tie them down to the chair or get them checked for ADD.

WOBBLE skills: We’ve seen those toys that wobble when hit, but they don’t fall down. Wobble skills stand for resilience, adaptability and the ability to face, overcome, and learn from failure.

As parents, rather than trying to protect our kids from every fall or failure, how can we learn to trust ourselves and our kids’ ability to fall and yet rise and move forward?

Now, think about this statistic again – “85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet and 65% of children starting school now would one day hold jobs that do not exist as of now.”

And let’s rewind to the time when we were kids. If you were born between 1980 – 1990, did some of today’s in-demand jobs exist back then? Let’s say – Social Media Strategist, Digital Marketer, Programmer/ Coder. No, right. The computer itself was such a new thing, and in our computer classes in school, we would learn ‘Paint’! Haven’t we survived and thrived?

When you think about these skills required for the 21st century – are they any different from the skills we are expected to have as a part of today’s workforce? Not really! These are the skills that I know, (as a Soft Skills Trainer myself) are being programmed into today’s working professionals and entrepreneurs too.

The only difference between us and our kids will be that – our kids will have the advantage of being prepared before-hand, if we as parents take the initiative to imbibe these skills in them from early childhood. They won’t grapple with developing these skills as adults, like we are trying to cope today.

I am sure these skills will be the sum and result of many tiny actions me & my daughter take on a daily basis, and not some sudden phenomenon.

Well, I am glad I’ve got my starting point – my journey of exploration and experimentation begins here and my goal is to have some concrete ideas on the HOW.

As parents of toddlers and young kids what can we do? What tiny actions can we take daily to imbibe these essential skills and values in our kids and help them be prepared for their FUTURE.

Any ideas to begin with?

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