Will you stop measuring your child up against others? Please? Right now?
Hello Maa’m, Sir, You don’t know me, but the living proof of your reproduction capabilities, who has just handed over the newspaper to you and is now discreetly checking out your facial expression as you read this, does. And it is for him or her that I’m writing this letter to you.
Not sure if you noticed, but your offspring hasn’t really been happy lately. By lately, I mean ever since a few minutes after his birth, when you first uttered ‘the complexion is good but the birth-weight is a little less than the boy born yesterday in the adjoining room.’ That marked the entry of your child, who I am certain you love most dearly, into your ‘inch-tape’ world.
As he or she grew older, your inch-tape started closing in on her, with reminders that unlike her, the neighbour’s child drinks milk without any fuss, or that her cousin is 2 cm taller even when she’s forty days younger. As years passed, the calendars on your wall changed, but your measuring tape did not. Because the cousin was not just still taller, she had also got 94 percent in exams when your poor Pappu was languishing at mere 92.7.
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Your constant reminders that the others will get admission at better places, that the others will get better jobs and that the others will have a better life, are actually contributing towards ensuring that the others indeed get a better life. Because your child is too busy trying to deal with your inch-tape. Can you, for the sake of their happiness and world peace, do the following three things? (‘world peace’ added just to make it sound cooler. Not everything in life has a logical explanation, people!!).
1 Can you give your son or daughter a 30-minute appointment today?
Closed door, heart to heart meeting, in which you will let your child (only up to 80 years old) tell you, in whatever words they can manage, how much it hurts them when you compare them with someone else, be it an outsider or even a sibling. You will not interrupt, argue or say that you do it only for their betterment, because they already know that. They know that no one in the world wants their good more than you do. It still hurts. Just 30 minutes, let them vent it out. They’ve
already promised me they’ll be most respectful. I’m not asking for you to change. I’m just asking you to listen. They deserve to be heard.
And all those who know that their child may not be as expressive verbally, could you please encourage your child to write it all down, in a letter or an email, which you will patiently read? Pakka Promise?
2 Can you manage to find some peaceful moments this week, to sit alone, without your mobile phone or TV anywhere nearby, and remember your growing up years?
Try to remember how you felt being measured up against others, how during exams, a bigger cause for tension than not getting good marks was your friend getting more marks than you. And then ask yourself if sub-consciously, you are becoming the reason for a similar tension in your child’s life? You know how we are so fond of saying things like, ‘I couldn’t afford this lifestyle when I was growing up, so I’ll make sure my child gets it’. The same is applicable even for peace of mind. If you didn’t get it as a child because of constant nagging or comparison, it’s all the more important you make sure your child does. Basically, if among all other things, you have unknowingly inherited your parents’ inch-tape as well, please put it away now. Also, do you remember how you secretly began to hate everyone who your parents compared you with? So, what are you doing now may just be making your child dislike or hate a classmate, friend or even a sibling for no fault of theirs. Don’t do that. It’s just not right.
3 And finally, ask your spouse, or some close friend to look at your life at present and honestly evaluate it. You’ve done pretty okay, haven’t you?
Not being able to utter a word when the kid next door was singing rhymes, not being as tall as Pooja aunty’s son, not getting as many marks in the board exam as the boring geek in the coaching centre or not cracking the IITs or the IIMs like your elder brother, didn’t really keep you from having a fairly good life, no? You know why? Because coming on top in a comparison is just no assurance of a happy life. And you know that. Right? Don’t just nod, kuchh karo na yaar, about this profound realisation I’ve just spelt out. (thank you, taking a bow). Promise yourself that the next time you’ll start to give someone else’s example, in an unhealthy-comparison way, to your child, you will immediately stop.
In fact, if it makes it easier, set a code word with your son or daughter to remind you of this. The moment you start to compare, they’ll say the code word and you would be reminded of your promise. If you’ll do this for your child, I promise on their behalf that they will also take a vow to never compare you with anyone else’s parents. Deal?
Sonal Kalra got so senti after writing this that she actually threw away the inch-tape lying on the table. It belonged to the carpenter working in the house. Damn.
Note: This column is being re-run on reader feedback. It was earlier published on November 19, 2011