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Sitting in the bus to Pune I was feeling very happy. My work assignment required me to visit Pune and provided the much looked forward to opportunity to visit my childhood friend Priya and spend the weekend there. The wonderful family that they were, it always felt like visiting home.
As expected I was received with a lot of warmth, and her eleven year old son Sparsh was thrilled to see me. His eyes revealed his agenda of sleeping with me so he could get his heart’s fill of suspense stories. I laughed at the thought of him sitting all bundled up inside his bed sheet, with just his face popping out, and eyes gaping at the horror of the ghosts and mysteries in the stories of ‘Byomkesh Bakshi’, our very own Sherlock Holmes of Bangla literature.
As I settled onto the sofa with my cup of tea, I reminded myself that I would have to quickly browse through a few of them before going to bed. J
It was dinner time now and as I started to help Priya in setting the table, I was pleasantly surprised to see Sparsh run in to help me set the table. I smiled at him and mentioned how charmed I was to see him do that. He gave his toothy smile, when suddenly Priya walked in saying, “It’s simply to impress you. Don’t get any ideas. He never helps around the house otherwise.” Sparsh quietly looked away.
A night filled with the high-strung mysterious moments quickly passed away and a wonderful new day dawned. At breakfast, I expected to see Sparsh come and join us early as he always did, but he only came in when the dosas were served, with a plain face. I hugged him and we joked about the previous night and the high-intensity situations. His eyes lit up and he wondered what story I would tell him today. He was himself again.
Later, as Priya and I sat down and chatted, Sparsh walked in with a sheet of paper and stood in front of me. He looked at me and told me that he was on a project and that he was collecting funds for the ‘National Association for the Blind’. As he spoke further, I was impressed seeing him talk so eloquently about what he was doing and how it would help the association. Finally he told me the amounts that were acceptable as contribution.
Having finished his speech, he suddenly hugged me and gave me the most ‘bribing’ smile and said, “Aunty I am expecting that you will contribute Rs.1000/- for this.” I was a little taken aback but his bribe worked its magic and my heart melted away. Just as I was about to express my agreement, Priya shouted, “Have you lost your mind? A thousand rupees for this? Say sorry to aunty!”
Turning to me she started to apologise that he took me so much for granted. Sparsh was thoroughly embarrassed and walked out of the room.
I was hurt for him. I looked at Priya and realised it was time I shared my observations and thoughts with her. I told her that she had been showing a lot of impatience in dealing with Sparsh. She explained that he was becoming increasingly demanding by the day and she had to ‘control’ him.
Now it became clear to me that she had not realised that this bumpy ride had just begun. Sparsh was on the onward trip to being a teenager and she was seeing the pre-teen stage where the child is beginning to realise the power of individual thinking. While he was still a child, he was also experiencing being a grown-up and it was equally stressful for them.
The preteen years are hard because these are transition years. Children this age are experiencing all kinds of changes; physical, cognitive, emotional. It's normal; but it leads to internal turmoil, upheaval and confusion. On the other hand, this transition or transformation in the child brings in a sense of loss for the parent, not just for what ‘was’ wrong with the child, but of your own self-esteem as well.
Very often we parents are unable to accept this physiological and psychological change. The idea that our child is out of control makes us feel like we have failed at being ’good’ parents. ‘What will people say?’ is the next big thing on the mind.
It is important to remember that your responsibility is to care for your child and not focus on what others think or say. This is the period that your child needs you the most. It is difficult for him as well. So be compassionate to him. Do all you can to keep the two-way communication channel open. Listen to your child; respect his opinion even if you don't go along with it. That teaches social responsibility and also gives you an emotional edge. It makes your child more likely to be responsive to you in the long run.
Priya became disturbed and felt she let her son down. I quickly looked up a child counsellor in the directory and asked her to take an appointment. It is not important that we have the solutions to all the problems. What is important is to be able to take the right action so that we arrive to the right solutions. Priya needed some advice in understanding and handling the transition in her child’s life. Also, she needed to know what she could do to make it easy for him as well as herself.
Children today are different. The times and the environment that we grew up in is not relative any more. Parenting needs to undergo some tweaking as well. Often parents are able to mould themselves naturally, but some may need help. There are many opportunities available today where these guidelines are available. Today, even schools acknowledge how challenging it can sometimes be to manage kids in this fast-evolving society, and educate parents by organising ‘Adolescent Management Sessions’ through counsellors.
Parenting is an art. Often we need to equip ourselves with tricks and techniques to know what can make it better. Be an informed parent and reach for help when required.
After all, it’s a case of, ‘different strokes for different folks!!’