Pro-tect or pro-tact?
If at all in a difficult time you do have to correct your child’s mistakes immediately, do so with tact and not by shaming the child in any way.
Ask any parent who has had a difficult life, and they will say, “We don’t want our children to go through the same pain as we did.” Though said with the best of intentions, this line often takes away the agency and freedom of children. Ask any parent, and they would say we don’t want our children to suffer. PERIOD! Parents don’t realize when in a bid to protect their children from pain or suffering (whether it happens due to the child’s mistakes or anyone else’s) they also start protecting their children from the joys of life, from the pleasures of life. It is because protection becomes a default setting in the subconscious and one slowly stops using the power of discernment from moment to moment and usually is always on alert mode ke mere bacche ko kuch ho na jaye. Remember that your child is a combination of both you and your partner’s best and worst traits, thus his/ her pleasures and fears and mistakes might be vastly different from yours. There is a saying which goes: “A ship is perhaps the safest in the harbour, but that is not what it was built for.” Similarly, a child might be the safest when it doesn’t go through the same pains that the parents did, but he/she won’t be full of joy either. So, let your child explore the world on their own after a certain age (say 7-8).
Don’t stop your child from making mistakes; just ensure that you are there to hold their hands and rub their backs and give them hugs after they have made a mistake. In most cases, the child acutely feels the aftermath of the mistake he/she has made, but still those mistakes at a young age are necessary so that they grow up feeling both a sense of freedom as well a sense of belongingness and a solid sense of personality. Never make a child feel that the money lost or the thing broken or the loss caused (in any other form) is more important than the child itself. In fact, you need to stop your child from making mistakes when you can see that a life or death situation is imminent. You also need to let your child know they are making a mistake when they are doing something that hurts others (like lying or gossiping or stealing) but do it without shaming the child. Ask him/her why she felt the need to do that. I am all for constructive feedback later on, but not immediately after a child has made a mistake (not too late either). In fact, research says that the power of awareness (that their behaviour might affect the lives of those around them) comes only after the age of 12.
Both my parents, like many others born just after Independence, found themselves having uncomfortable childhoods financially, so their whole focus went on ensuring that their three children had a financially more happy and secure childhood than the one they had. They wanted to protect their children from making any financial mistakes. However, they were so focused on providing material comforts (this shows that they have a loving heart and the best of intentions towards their children) that they forgot all about giving emotional support. It is not my place to talk about the feelings of my siblings, but I grew up feeling dirt poor emotionally. If a person looks poor, there are many support schemes and an elaborate support system in place around the world, but there is no support system for those who grow up feeling poor or in other words unloved. They prepared us to earn money, but they never prepared us to receive (earn) love from outsiders. Just like my parents, my whole life has been spent on focusing more on one part of my life at the cost of the other parts. I focused so much on the love that money took a backseat in my life. I made a few financial mistakes, but I did make many emotional mistakes because I was too scared of telling my parents that I had made an emotional mistake and that I was unable to handle the heartbreak. Slowly I started finding refuge in books to avoid that pain. I mostly chose emotionally unavailable people (just like my parents) as friends or romantic partners. It is only after many struggles that I finally found balance and realized that all aspects of one’s life need equal attention and respect. Still if one has to choose, one could do well by choosing love over money. A family full of love will sooner or later attract money, but a family with money doesn’t necessarily attract love.
I mean of course my parents love me, but my parents never felt the need to express it openly. However, as happens in many homes in India, they would express their criticism very openly and very vocally, and again they thought they were doing this to protect their children. It is only in hindsight did I realize that their actions came from a place of love. But many years were wasted in between with me feeling unloved and they feeling misunderstood and miscommunication in the family being rife.
I still remember an instance very vividly.
It was a Sunday afternoon and our family had just had lunch. Everyone wanted to nap. Generally my elder sister (around 15 at that time) and I (around 13) would nap in one room, my parents in another, and my younger sister (around 4-5), like most young children would just want to play during nap time. But that particular day perhaps because it was raining outside everyone was in the mood to nap. So my mother said, “I would love it if my elder daughter slept next to me. My dad, who wasn’t very expressive with his love towards his two older daughters would always melt at the sight of his youngest one and he had this to say,” I would love it if my youngest daughter slept next to me; she is such a bundle of joy”. There was space for only 4 people on the bed, so I, feeling very dejected, because I thought nobody wanted me to sleep next to them said, “Theek hai fir, main zameen pe hi so jaungi dharti mata ke pas.” I think my parents didn’t understand what I wanted to say or that I was feeling isolated, and everyone just laughed it away. Perhaps because I was just on the verge of puberty (Class 7) my hormones were making me feel more sensitive than usual.
The sensitive me had just remembered an episode from Mahabharata that I had watched a few years ago which had remained etched in my memory. The story goes thus: Ghatothkach, the son of Bhim and Hidimba is out looking for food, and since he belonged to the asura class it was okay for him to eat humans too. So he suddenly sees a family of 5 passing by (with three sons), and he thought it would be such a good idea to be able to eat at least one of them. On seeing Ghatotkach, the mother soon pulled the eldest son close to herself and said, “Please don’t eat him for he is my first-born and I love him too much.” The father equally swiftly pulled the youngest son aside and said, “No, no please don’t eat him; he is the apple of my eye, the joy of my very being.” On seeing this, the middle child said, “It seems nobody wants me so why don’t you take me along with you and eat me?” On hearing this, Ghatotkach’s heart melted, and he decided to let the whole family go.
Do you see the similarity in our stories? Wouldn’t it have been a better idea if the whole family had just pulled the mattresses on the ground and lied down next to me, with my parents saying something to the tune of, “Hey you are flanked by your sisters on both sides, but you are still flanked by your parents’ love too. Maybe the next Sunday you can sleep next to mom or dad whoever you wish to sleep next to.” I wish my parents had worked as much towards becoming emotionally rich as they did towards becoming financially comfortable.
All I want to say through this story is through my life was lacking in no material comfort; it was lacking in emotional comfort. Any mistake would draw sharp rebuke, “We are sacrificing so much for you, how can you make a mistake?” And when a child starts walking on eggshells around life ke mujhse koi mistake na ho jaye, koi mistake na ho jaye, to mistake ho hi jati hai. As the saying goes, “What you resist, persists and whatever you run after, runs away from you.”
So, allow your child to make mistakes, they don’t take everything as seriously as grown-ups do. In fact we would do well to learn from our children as to how to bounce back after a mistake. And remember it is only when the heart breaks that the soul emerges. Be there when your child’s heart breaks and provide all the love you can after it, but don’t prevent it from breaking in ordinary circumstances. Don’t stop your child’s soul from emerging sooner. As someone wise has said, “Glory lies not in NEVER falling but in RISING EVERYTIME you fall.