Months ago, a medical student from a prominent family in my country committed suicide from depression. He was deeply in love with a woman, who left him for another person. What an unhappy man. As my 16-year-old son commented, “Well, mom, if he thinks the purpose of his life is to be the woman’s partner, what’s there for him to live when she’s no longer around?” Makes perfect sense to me. Life with the woman, it seemed, was the young man’s purpose of life and his source of happiness.
Then, weeks ago, my mobile phone recorded five missed calls from the same number. I ignored them, thinking it was yet another telemarketer, until a message came through. “Ma’am, may I please speak to you as soon as possible regarding my son?” Her voice sounded familiar. I remember our first meeting, her eyes glistening with tears as she poured her concerns.
Her seventeen-year-old son tested positive for drugs, and spent a couple of days in police custody for a juvenile crime. There was little else I could do, other than offer words of comfort and encouragement. The mother was already heavy with guilt and shame. Nothing good would come from telling her that “It’s too late” to do anything. I was consumed by my job, she said. Everything was done on remote. I just wasn’t there when he needed me the most.
You might say, it’s a problem with working parents. But are all working parents to blame for children who failed to turn out right? I don’t think so. Studies have shown that a good number of juveniles come from families with at least one parent staying full time at home.
I know of parents, many of them, who work, whose children have the kind of attitude any parent would be proud of. But I also know that these parents, despite their busy schedules, make it a point to make their presence felt.
Children don’t fit into a single mould. Some children did very well in the early years of life, then faltered and failed. Some seemed to be good-for-nothing, then made a U-turn, and surprised everyone including themselves, with their achievements. I know two good friends who fit this description. One used to bring a report card home every year, full of red marks and F’s. The only paper she got A for was English. She went on to become an accomplished English lecturer. Yet another friend had lackluster school reports, excelled in her university days, and eventually spent seven years abroad studying and working.
A person’s attitude towards life is shaped by multidimensional factors. But one factor remains significant – sense of purpose in life, man’s search for meaning. We all seek an answer for the question, “Why am I here?” I find this a recurring theme in the many hours I spent dealing with my own children, with top scholars sponsored by different organisations. Everyone needs a clear purpose in life. Knowing one’s purpose of life is a very important source of happiness and contentment.
What you tell them, how you speak to them, in your many interactions with them, leads them to an answer. I believe too many of us parents and educators skip the “Why” question. Either we find it too hard to answer, or we think it’s too trivial and the children and youth should figure it out themselves, or we just get caught up with other matters. At home, we are engrossed with the daily concerns of earning enough or even more, so we could lead a more comfortable life. At school the teachers get in and out of class to cover every inch of the syllabus. In the end, nobody sit the kids down to discuss this crucial question.
Talk to your children in a way they can easily understand. Talking, I learnt years ago, is brain food for children. Responding to their endless questions, encouraging them to understand what matters in the world, how things work, relationships between people, friends and family as they grow older, helping them resolve conflicts by talking objectively rather than hitting and hurting in a physical way, make for smarter mankind.
Man’s search for meaning in life begins early on. High in the agenda in the never-ending interview between youngsters and adults, is the word “Why.” Young children, especially, tend not to like being left at home by their parents. Hence the question, “Mom / Dad, why do you work? Why can’t you just stay home with me?” Parents typically say: “I work because I need to pay the bills.” Really? Is that it? Tell them also: “I work to make a difference.” Tell them how. If you are in the medical profession, talk about examples of the lives you saved. Or some that you didn’t. That’s a more meaningful conversation.
My message is, be aware of the kind of interactions we have with our youths. It doesn’t have to be an hour long chat. You could talk to your kids in the car on the way to school. You could have a brief exchange before they go to bed or just after they came from a sports activity. But make it happen. Your parenting moments don’t end the day they can make a simple dinner by themselves or order online for something they need. What you say next can make all the difference.
This article was published in page 23 of the September 2015 edition of Alwasat, a bilingual Australian newspaper based in Melbourne. Read it online at