Recently somebody asked me, ‘what did you do that your kids are so open with you’? That got me thinking. My quick answer was to be honest with them. As it is children put parents on a pedestal, so it is important for them to know that we are normal people with real emotions like them, we cry, we are angry, we are happy, we are sad. So here goes from a work in progress –
Respect – use every opportunity to show them and tell them about respecting everyone around is the most important (according to me) trait, any human should possess. When my children had issues with their grandparents, I told them, you may not like what they are doing and that is ok, but you cannot disrespect them. When they spoke lightly about a Janitor, it was an opportunity to explain, that people do different jobs to earn a living. A Janitor is doing their job, and no job is big or small, a job is a job done to earn money. It cannot be done overnight, it is keeping our eyes wide open to an opportunity where we can show and tell about respecting others. Also teaching them that respect does not mean you agree to everything another person says. It is respecting their opinion, and respecting your own as well.
Food – Not letting them waste food is another important thing we can teach them. Doesn’t mean punishing them and forcing them to shove everything on their plate into their mouths. Encouraging them to take smaller portions and refill if you need to. If they are trying something, give them one spoon, let them taste it. If they don’t like it, do not force them. They are an individual and you need to respect their likes and dislikes. My younger one barely ate vegetables when he was young. Changing this was a herculean task, but started by giving him one spoon of vegetables every meal, and being consistent with that, helped turn the situation around. Even today I offer one spoon of a new curry to taste. Wasting food is never an option.
Menstruation – As they turn around 11, provide them with sex education at home. Teach them what menstruation is, not on a youtube video, but sit them down and explain to them how a woman’s body works. And then normalize menstruation at home. When I am on my period, my children know. If I am cramping, I am on the couch the entire day. I tell them, I am on my period, and it hurts. They offer to bring me Tylenol, or ask if there is anything I need. When I go to the store and have to buy pads, like everything else, they move the packet from the cart to billing or self check out. Menstruation is something women go through as part of their life, and doesn’t matter if you have a daughter or son or whatever gender they identify with, it is important that it is a normal occurrence. My mother did not explain to me what menstruation was, or what was happening to my body. It was a hush hush conversation, something I wasn’t allowed to talk about with male folk. It was something to hide, which through my knowledge of the world, have learnt that it should not be.
Gender identity – Let me be honest, I was not open to genders other than male and female until a few years ago. When the world started adding letter to LGB…, it was an eye opener. Took me some reading and understanding that it is how an individual feels and it is ok. There is nothing I can do about it. Can anyone change that I feel female? No! One thing that this evolving world is teaching me is to adapt. And there is no other way to it. Adapt to what is happening around you. Every individual has a right to make their choices, irrespective of age. When a two year old refuses to drink milk, you have to accept it.
Mental Health – I understood the importance of mental health and therapy after being in therapy for 6-8 months. The change it was making to my general wellbeing was immense. As parents, it is not only our responsibility to mend wounds on their body, but equally or more important to tend to their soul. The basic question is, is your child happy. Not jumping with joy, but is their general demeanor contentment. Everything may not be perfect and probably it will never be, but they can be happy about where they are in the moment. If that is not happening, talk to them, understand what they are going through. You cannot fix everything, you have to understand that as a parent, although popular belief is parents can fix everything, that is not at all true. Get help, provide them the resources to nurture a healthy mind.
Porn and Sex – This is very important, explaining the difference between porn and being intimate with another human. Porn is a recorded video of people directed by a person. Physical intimacy is something deeper and real sex is not porn. It is essential to tell young adults who are going to have sex for the first time, to not expect porn. It is question everyone should ask their partners, how addicted to porn are they? Talking openly about sex with your children, will open doors for them to come to you when they have a question or are in a problem. Normalize birth control, use of contraceptives, and definitely normalize sex. It is not this sacred, biiiiig thing that is taboo or secretive or whatever my generation was taught. It is a natural thing.
Body – I learnt this the hard way. Because I always felt inadequate about my height, weight and skin color, I thought for the quite some time that my children had to look perfect. What is perfect you ask? Fair, tall, not overweight. Until I realized a few years ago, its ok. I cannot push them to the gym, or for physical activity. They need to want to go too. Color, height, weight, are parameters that can change any time. Maybe not height, after you’ve crossed your growing years, but weight is the most ridiculous number one can track. What is important is that your children are healthy, they are eating right, sleeping right and happy.
My biggest lesson in parenting has been that my children are individuals. Seeing them, respecting them, giving them the space to grow and learn on their own, is the best thing I can do for them as a parent.
So thats my parenting hack, like I tell my children, its is the first time I am a mother to an 18 year old. I have never been a mother to a 19 year old, so when I get there, I will learn. I don’t know a lot of things and that is absolutely ok. A true work-in-progress mom!