Creating and sharing moments of joy with your children...

Have you met Ashok uncle? The same one with a bushy mustache and round belly? The one with an upturned coconut of a head and an ever self-important look on his face? 


Okay, let me introduce you to him. So Ashok uncle is my father’s cousin brother. While we were growing up, he lived across the street with his so-called perfect family, holding his perfect job, in his perfect house and living his perfect life. He had views and opinions on everything. He knew which political party to vote for and advised everyone on it whether they cared to listen or not. He knew which foods to eat, which destinations to visit, which vastu-compliant angle to construct your kitchen in, which relatives to maintain relationships with and which hobbies to pursue.

Ashok uncle loved to come to our house every Sunday. There were many reasons for that. Firstly, my mother was and still is an excellent cook. In fact more than being an excellent cook, she is an above excellent hostess. If you visit her home, you are ensured of the best food, relaxation, respect and overall treatment. Ashok uncle obviously wanted to exploit this to the maximum. So he came home every Sunday to piping hot delicious stuffed parathas or paneer-capsicum gravy with home-made naans or rick badam halwa with ginger tea.

The second reason was that my father respected him immensely. Being a simple gullible man, my father always deferred to his advice. Ashok uncle loved these positions of influence and authority. So he would come home and subject my father to endless hours of lecture on how to conduct his work and his life. We were obviously too young to understand the dynamic that was taking place there. So we heard uncle tell our father on how he should be strict with us because what children are parents now friends. He would tell him that children flourish under discipline, that what they want from parents is safety not fun, that a parent’s job was to ‘teach’ the child on what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Sometimes my father nodded, at other times, he just glazed over (thankfully). I remember one such Sunday.

Ashok uncle: I am telling you, they don’t know anything. They are just children. They need to be taught everything.
Mom: They are smarter than we think they are, bhaya ji.
Dad: I agree.
Ashok uncle: What agree? You henpecked bugger.
Mom: They can know even more than we do. Age has nothing to do with knowledge or smartness.
Dad: Yes, that’s also…
Ashok uncle: But do you want to risk it? I make my children pray for an hour every day, then read our religious books, then they go to school, then they do their homework, then…
Mom: We may not realize but by making them do what we think is ‘right’, we are not letting them discover what is ‘right’ for them…
Dad: And who is to say what we think is ‘right’ is actually so. We are also capable of making mistakes, even if we are parents.
Ashok uncle: So sad to hear you both talking like that. I am elder to you…
Mom: We did not mean to…
Dad: Sorry bhaya…
Ashok uncle: Now listen to me…

I do not think my parents took his parenting advice too seriously, else I seriously would not be where I am now, nor would be my siblings. He was older and they respected him, but somewhere they miraculously seems to know that they would rather be our buddies than our parents. Our buddy parents viewed parenting as interactive and not instructive. Fortunately for us, mom and dad wanted to create bonding moments with their kids that go on to make for a happy and secure childhood. So this was how our typical weekday would be like:

6:00 AM – wake up, get ready and leave for school in around forty-five minutes.
2:30 PM – come back home, have lunch and take an afternoon nap.
4:30 PM – wake up and finish homework, all the while mom around to help or encourage where required.  
6:00 PM – Either play outside or start cooking dinner with mom or play an indoor game or read a book based on what we felt like that day. Sometimes (but not often given we were a regular middle class family) mom would join us in a game and we would order dinner from outside when dad came later.

8:00 PM – dad would return from work, greet us with a big beaming smile and we would have dinner together, sharing stories from the day, having lots of fun, making tonnes of bonding memories.
9:30 PM – we would normally watch an informative program together as a family because as habit we preferred that to movies or TV. On other days, we would do some household work together like cleaning the book cabinet or sorting out letters.
10:30 PM – bed time.

A weekend was not very different though there was a lot more family time, people visiting and chores to be finished, of course all of us doing most of the work together or parts of it allocated to us. If you see carefully, there was absolutely nothing unusual about this childhood. There were no big declarations of love from our side or from our parents. There were surprise gifts or vacations (other than one annual one which my father could afford). There were no chauffeurs, no tiaras, no filmy stuff. But what was there was a simple thread that ran through the entire family. This thread was not made of the hardest metal in the world. This thread was not something that could be described in words. This thread was never spoken about deliberately. But this thread was and is pretty much the only one that held and still holds.

This thread was called love. Or bonding. Or trust. Or respect. You can choose to call it whatever you want.

This thread was responsible for innumerable moments of joy in our household and still is. My parents never really looked at us as children, but they never treated us like adults too. They never used the rod with us, but they never conveyed that we could do anything we want too. Their parenting style was not based on fear or authority, it was based on understanding and a deep wisdom. So while we knew that we could not steal from a shop because it was absolutely unethical to, we also knew that if we are wrongly accused of it, we can stand up for ourselves confidently because our parents would stand up for us too, instead of telling us we should have never visited the store unaccompanied.  We were fearless and confident and still are. We can look up and face anybody who dares to challenge us ;)

I call this philosophy as ‘Khuljaye Bachpan’. ‘Khuljyaye Bachpan’ is about being unfettered and fearless. ‘Khuljaye bachpan’ is about empowerment, not being authoritative and thus letting kids be kids. ‘Khuljaye bachpan’ is symbolic of ‘unlocking’ the way childhood should be. Today, kids know a lot. The best way to bond with kids is to participate and learn about their world and in the process learn new things. By being hung up on the past, parents just close the doors to an exciting new world that only their children can help them step into. By being obstinate and stubborn, be showing that they know-it-all, they are missing out on that vital spark that their children can bring into their lives by being the torchbearers of the next century themselves. Being a parent is as much about learning as it is about teaching. It is about giving your child what he or she truly needs and not what you want to hand-over.

It is about remembering that chronological age is never an index of maturity because sometimes the oldest can be the biggest fools and order wars on other countries and the youngest can stand up to terrorism and become Malala. It is about being humble and accepting to learning from anyone including your children. It is about not coming under pressure that only you can teach them and they cannot teach you anything back in return. It is about recognizing the genius in your child and letting it flower and bloom. It is about not forcing your lifestyle or dreams on them and letting them flower and become the beautiful people that they are totally capable of being.

Looking back now, I wonder about Ashok uncle’s poor children. He has a daughter and a son, and while both seem externally as normal as one could be, there are certain things about them that sadden me. The daughter was married to one of the ‘richest’ and most ‘intelligent’ boy of his age-group. He came out of a big institute, took a job abroad and started a big company. Ashok uncle was so proud of his accomplishments that he made sure he repeated it at least ten times to anybody who cared to listen. Now she spends her time locked in her big castle, taking care of the household and children, with no time for herself or her dreams, following the rules set by the ‘rich’ and ‘strong’ family she has been married into. While initially she looked happily well-fed, now she has begun to show signs of people who are scraping through life like zombies, and worse still, they know it.

His son, obedient and handsome at home, was one of the best known brats in college (unknown to his doting dad of course). Then he flunked in college, was rescued by uncle’s financial might and sent abroad for a face-saving degree. Recently he came back to India, and went into a tiny village to find the most pliant and docile wife to take back with him. Now he seems to have found a job back abroad and never plans to leave that country. He sends some money periodically to his parents as a substitute for his presence and they know that they only way they can keep their position in society is by showing that they love this arrangement. So while there is nobody who actually cares when they are sick and need to be taken to a hospital, they do have money to buy a Prada bag or a Honda Accord which is paraded around in demonstration of their never ending prosperity. While they have nobody who wants to talk to them, or visit them, they do have a 7-figure bank balance that they do not know what to do with – if only they could take print outs of it and distribute to everyone to prove how happy they are.

Recently I was at my parents’ place and surprises of surprise, my dear Ashok uncle came visiting. When we were young, he would just dismiss our presence as these lowly mortals who were far beneath him. He would treat us like lumps who are being grown up for a specific purpose, but now that we are ‘hugely successful’ people in our own right according to him, his demeanor towards us suddenly seems to have changed. We had an interesting exchange:

Ashok uncle: Arey beta, I never thought I will get to run into you!
Canary: I am glad to have met you, uncle.
Ashok uncle: Me too. How is your job? Your mom told me about your promotions. Congrats!
Canary: Thanks uncle.
Ashok uncle: I used to always tell them to encourage you children because you all seemed so smart all the time.
Canary: Really? (with a smile)
Ashok uncle: Of course! I told them that you were smart kids and they should be your friends and not really your parents.
Canary: I see (exchanging a naughty glance with my mom who was also smiling now)
Ashok uncle: Your parents are lucky they get to see you all often. My kids hardly get to visit because they are very busy in their successful jobs, you see,
Canary: I am sure about that uncle. Are they still praying and reading religious books every day, uncle?
Ashok uncle: No, they said they never get the time. I am sure God is in their heart.
Canary: I am sure.

Of course there is no point in saying this now, but I wish instead of spending all his time in preaching to other people, including to his own children, he actually spent some real time with them. He asked his son why he seemed to enjoy photography or his daughter why she was always looking at fabrics or dress designs in magazines. His children may have been able to express their dreams to him, may be even include him, and surely reach their potential following their true passions. They would have taught him now about the gadgets they use and which he struggles with all the time, despite possessing them to show to other people. They could have spent time with him because they felt he was at their wavelength. And most important than anything else, now being parents themselves to children who will shape tomorrow with their thoughts, behaviors and actions, they would have learned the right kind of parenting not from books or others, but at their own homes. Boy, was I lucky with the parents that I got!

My parents were the best,
Not because they gave me endless allowance
Or unbridled pampering,
But because they were my buddies when I needed them most.

Like silent sages, they understood parenting,
And unlocked my childhood to be fearless and joyful,
By sharing so many ‘khushi ke pal’ with me,
They practiced ‘Khuljaye bachpan’ to ‘khuljaye life’.
I am so glad that a great brand like Kellogg’s Chocos helps in creating ‘Khushi Ke Pal’ between parent and child. It is wonderful that most Indian households consume their products at the breakfast table because through their reach into households, they can propagate the message of effective parenting very well! I loved their new TVC illustrating this very sweetly so I am sharing it here:

(p.s. Images used in this post are from pixabay. While Ashok uncle or his family surely does not read my blog, some other people that may know him do, hence I have not used any of his pictures. I have however used his real name because it is so common :D :P ;) )


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