Almost all parents want to do the best for their children. But unlike many other professions or tasks, parenting doesn’t come with a guided set of instructions. As a result, parents take time to adjust in order to respond and react to their children’s habits. While this is completely normal some parents follow strict parenting styles as passed down by generations. This may cause a tension between children and parents and the outcome may not be positive. Shedding light on the topic of mindless parenting, Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Venura Palihawadana explained some common mistakes parents do and why it’s important to accept children for who they are.
What is mindful parenting?
“When people ask for parenting advice they expect to learn some techniques so they can control or direct their children,” opined Dr. Palihawadana. “But, parenting has more to do with the parent than the child. In other words parents should be prepared to be challenged, changed and transformed by their children in the process. Mindful parenting is the ability to see this dynamic and utilize it for the benefit of you and your child, rather than imposing directive and hierarchical ways using the scripts handed down to you by your own parents. It is the ability to see yourself and your child as imperfect human beings while embarking on the beautiful journey of parenting hoping to help each other flourish.”
“A lot of parents are what I call ‘doing’ parents and not ‘being’ parents,” he further said. “They have a checklist to raise an ideal child. Mindless parenting happen when you are unconsciously repeating a script on your child rather than accepting your child for who he or she is. Parents don’t connect with the kid and they see the child as someone who could be dictated and directed. There’s also a trend of over-parenting where the parents would do things excessively for their children,” he continued. This happens because self satisfaction of parents often depends on the success of their children. Most of the time it’s done for the love of the child. “During over-parenting you kill a child’s self- efficacy which is a person’s ability to see themselves as doers. The myth of raising a happy kid is false. You don’t have to make your child happy all the time. You have to let them become frustrated from time to time because that frustration will help them to grow. If he made a bad decision you shouldn’t go and rescue him. We have seen parents meeting teachers when their child has got into a fight in school or punished. There are some parents who even go to offices to solve problems their children have with fellow colleagues. This is what I call ‘helicopter’ parenting where parents are always coming to the child’s rescue. When they do that the child loses the ability to see the strength and power of their decisions. When they make bad decisions they should feel the consequences. When you are rescuing him he won’t feel the consequences. As a result when a child when he grows up, he will make terrible decisions as an adult and will always depend on a way to be rescued. For example we see how politicians’ children are being rescued. They have been rescued from trouble when they were kids and they expect it when they are adults as well. Partly this could be due to the collectivistic nature of our culture where we have diluted our boundaries. As a result, parents might feel obliged to look after kids and overly protect them.”
According to Dr. Palihawadana many parents have a hard time accepting their children when they realize that they don’t have the qualities they expected them to have. “But it is only if you accept your child that you will be able to change them. When you don’t accept a child there are two things happening ; one is conditional love where you would love the child only when they fulfill your expectation and you will look down on them when they don’t fulfill your demands. This will affect their internal growth as a holistic person. They will live a life trying to please their parents. These children can become high achievers because they do things obsessively, just to impress. They become first in class, a prefect etc. Internally they are not happy but they are chasing after something they don’t like and want. They are bound to be frustrated one day. They come crashing down when something happens in their life because internally they are not strong enough. Parents have a duty to love their children unconditionally where they wholeheartedly accept the child for whom he or she is. It is only then that a child would feel safe. Then you can guide them to achieve remarkable things.”
He further said that parents try to fulfill their imperfections and egoistic desires through their children. “This includes things they have failed to achieve in life and dreams had for their future children. So they hope that their children would achieve them and bring some meaning in to their lives. That way they try to use the child as an extension of themselves. . You need to accept the child as a separate person. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t discipline your child. You have to do it in a loving way. You need to provide a structure and stability because if you don’t do that a child will never learn the boundaries or he will not develop an internal discipline. The idea of disciplining is to help a child develop an internal guidance but not to make him a minion who is prepared to follow orders.”
Parent-child bond disconnected
We have seen parents having no control over their teenage children. In fact children take no notice of what their parents say. When asked about the reasons for this situation, Dr. Palihawadana said that it’s an example of shutting off. “When you violate boundaries and penetrate a child’s world too much, then a child will find a way to naturally shut themselves off. Children will feel overwhelmed and psycho-suffocated. This can happen in the form of excessive advising, direction and by giving little freedom over their lives. However we shouldn’t forget that all these are done with really good faith. These will be the children who will go to university and never call the parents, who won’t go home for holidays or would ultimately shut the door on their parents. Parents should learn the art of when to provide guidance and when to give space.”
According to him, using power to control them or using a physical force can have detrimental effects on a child. “You can guide them and direct them by being mindfully present with them,” he adviced. “As I said earlier, children need that guidance from time to time. Let’s say you are using corporal punishment to teach a kid a lesson who had assaulted another child. While you are teaching him an important lesson about effects of his wrong behaviour, you are also teaching him, by being an example that it’s OK to use violence to control. This will lead to aggression. If you want them to be kind you should be kind to them.”
Children are chasing others’ dreams
Children have different passions but not everyone of them get to do what they like. A child who likes to do art would be forced to study commerce to meet the demands of today’s competitive world. “This is a problem with modern parenting. We have a checklist in our hand and we follow it first. This list includes achievements, goals, doing a degree, constructing a house, getting a promotion and other material things. Since we think that children too should follow the same, we eventually hand over this list to them. But if they don’t follow it they become a failure in the eyes of their parents. This affects their growth a lot. People can’t accept their children for whom they are because they haven’t accepted themselves and their weaknesses. Most of us are average. We see a lot of perfectionists in today’s context and even when a child dances, he or she has to dance like an adult, when they sing they should sing in a way that they get a standing ovation, otherwise it’s not a good performance. Therefore, children are always stressed out. They may achieve their goals but at a huge emotional expense. As a result you can raise an unhappy adult by giving them that checklist. Today’s children can’t enjoy a sport because they have to focus on getting to the national team, winning a championship and standing out from the rest of the team. But we have to realise the fact that we should let them enjoy life. After all parenting is a lot about self inquiry. It’s not a one-off achievement because it’s a continuous learning process.”
(To be continued)
In the next article we will talk about single parenting, using positive reinforcement and why parents shouldn’t fight in front of children.