Indra Nooyi, current President and CEO of PepsiCo, recalls her mother regularly ending the family dinner with a little competition. At age eight, Indra and her older sister were often asked to prepare and present a speech on who they wanted to become when they grow up. Their mother would then vote for the winner between the two.
Jane Goodall, world famous primatologist, who travels the world to create greater awareness for chimpanzees after more than fifty years living among and studying these creatures, vividly recalls that her mother didn’t get upset with her missing act when she was little – hiding for four hours in a chicken coop to see how chickens lay their eggs.
Perhaps the mothers of Indra Nooyi and Jane Goodall did what they did simply to honour children for being children, to give them the space to grow their curiosity. Perhaps they wanted to prime their daughters for future opportunities when they do come knocking at the door. As Ken Robinson said, “Curiosity is the engine of achievement.”
We learn from parents of successful adults what to do, what to avoid, so our children have a chance of doing better. But “better” is subjective, and for some parents, the journey to better is fraught with guilt trips, feeling “I’m never good enough”. Many a time, I am asked by distraught young parents who seemed surprised to be told that, try as they might, perfection is an ideal, nobody can get it right a hundred percent.
If you are such a parent – upon learning about what Jane Goodall’s mother did differently or about what Indra Nooyi’s mother used to do to raise her – you reflect on a child of yours, struggling one way or another, and you become more anxious on how things will work out, this article is for you.
Perhaps your fifteen-year-old just flunk his Math exam, and you thought, “Ah… if only [I had been more proactive / got him a better tutor / made sure he studied] … “ Or perhaps you grew up in a not-so-positive family atmosphere yourself, you fear that you have unintentionally passed on the negative traits to your child. Or because you were so busy working to financially support your younger siblings in college, you didn’t spend as much time as you’d have liked with your children. In short, you blame yourself for what you see as an imperfect child.
No parent can be expected to be worry free all the time, but if you are the type who seem to struggle aplenty with parental anxiety, it’s good to know that in the long run, being less-than-perfect is very much part of the parenting journey, something every parent must accept open-heartedly. Some facts:
– A guilt-ridden parent is less effective to lead her child. It might push you to overindulge your child to compensate for your oversights and mistakes. Not a smart thing to do.
– The best leaders make mistakes. Parents are no exception. Accept that it is just impossible to not make mistakes, because nobody could have possibly learnt all the parenting tools and techniques in the world prior to having children. You improve as you go along. I do not know any parent who did a mistake intentionally. These include parents who pressured their children to ace their exams, parents who yelled at their children, parents who physically beat their children. You did it because you didn’t know any better. Move on.
– As unpleasant as it sounds, to a degree, some parenting mistakes do help children become more resilient, a crucial trait of a leader. What doesn’t kill you may make you stronger. Of course, given the choice, you’d rather not be the source of these painful experiences.
– Knowing you made mistakes keeps your feet firmly on the ground, you are more empathetic to other struggling parents, particularly those whose children are doing less well than yours.
– You are motivated to do better. You can’t undo what you have done. Badgering yourself aren’t going to change anything. It’s a waste of time. Far better to spend your thoughts and energy on something positive and productive, like how to motivate and inspire your child to do better.
– Think of the future. When your child gets married, for instance, you are likely to be less critical and more appreciative of his efforts in trying to strike a balance between work, spouse, in-laws and raising children.
I am not trying to tell you to be complacent, to stop making adjustments that might help you to become a better parent. If you are not on talking terms with your teenager, by all means, do all you can to thaw things a little, make it a bit warmer, grow the rapport. If your ten-year-old is failing and you know it’s because he has not been getting enough attention from you, adjust your schedule.
Still anxious and worried about your faults and shortcomings? Here’s the good news: You can make mistakes and still be happy and fulfilled as a parent. Your parenting is always work-in-progress. Falling short can be good for the human soul. You don’t want to become the perfect parent. What is there to work for tomorrow, then? Let me tell you the best advice I get about dealing with past oversights and mistakes: “Indeed, good deeds remove those that are evil.” – Qur’an: 11 (Hud): 114. There you go. Good deeds erase bad ones. If God Himself already said it, who are we to ruminate on past mistakes, instead of focusing on the good we can do?
Children are not products to be paraded or showed off to others like trophies. While we look up for examples, the best parenting models are those parents who share their secrets, yet are quick to add that their parenting journey has never been easy. It means: Give it your best shot, change if necessary, leave God to do the rest.
All said and done, be honest. Before you start to envy extremely successful people, it’s good to remember that there is a cost to everything. If you define success as making lots of money, keep in mind: Men and women who sit at the top of the earning scale are known to hardly have time for family, their children included. It helps to talk to your children what “real success” is really like. Wise parents teach their kids to have a more holistic form of success; aiming to strike a balance between God, relationships, work, health, and money.[ends]