By Devangini Mahapatra
Being a parent is a matter of navigating a minefield of sorts. Saying yes, saying no, saying “ask dad”; and then wondering whether or not you got it right – all these scenarios must be pretty familiar for most parents by now. From free range parents to helicopter parents, everyone is trying a style that leaves them feeling guilty at the end of the day – no matter how hard they try. I was still looking for my parenting style when precious inspiration hit. And here’s how.
My daughter and I began to take back packing trips once she turned five. I remember saying no to her for n number of things, n number of times a day, and then hugging her close while she slept, apologising to her for being a crazy parent. One day, it snapped. I was crushing someone’s childhood, someone’s coming of age journey – and all because I regarded her as my property, my responsibility. So, I asked myself, “think of something you have been longing for, and then imagine being told you cannot have it.” I instantly thought of a rucksack and long journeys into nowhere. Thus, our first trip materialised.
In a matter of twenty four hours, I was on a bus with my precious cargo and we found ourselves in Dharamshala the next day. After ten days of roughing it out and no saying no, here is what I found:
- I can say yes. If I had to overlook one odd time when she did something she was not ‘supposed’ to, nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. No infection, no hurt, nothing. So I said yes. Yes to paragliding (yes, I checked the harness and instructor’s credentials first). Yes to zip lining (yes, I ensured there was someone halfway down the line first). Yes to posing for a selfie few meters from a tiger (yes, we were in an open canter, in the middle of a jungle). Yes to a trek through the jungle while it rained cats and dogs – and leeches (yes, I layered her with plenty of clothing first, and got bitten on my leg by leech later). Yes to staying up late and watching movies with me sometimes, yes to a marathon session of stone paper scissors (I won. I know).
- Yes makes friends. And so we became friends. I found an inner strength in the conviction that if she really wanted something that badly, she would be okay doing it – whatever it was. For all the other things, I found that she showed the same conviction in my wisdom and gave in when I asked her to rethink her demand. Everyone wins, everyone is friends.
- Friends that explore together. As we took that first trip, we learnt so much about each other. We had no one but each other. And so, we began a journey of inward exploration, in which one really learnt to listen to and understand the other. Suddenly, with each new hike we took, the higher we went, we left even more baggage behind. Exploration and wonder became a beautiful everyday thing. I saw her react with wonder the first time she saw snow, and it was like I was seeing snow for the first time myself. She saw me trying to find a decent hotel room in the dead of the night in a new place, and she squeezed my hand tight, almost as if she knew that it was a first for me.
- Relax, rinse, repeat. My parenting style soon went into ‘relax, rinse, repeat’ mode. With my child on my side, suddenly anything seemed possible. Her aptitude and personality both began to shape up much faster, and I found that spending time with her gave her confidence a huge thumbs up. Soon after our first trip, she made it to the final round of a competitive math exam. That was a huge confidence booster for me too. And a no tears formula for success meant we actually found success in each other’s methods and madness. Suddenly, it wasn’t about what others kids were doing and constant fights about why she could not could not do it. It was about us as a team.
- Inner Strength. When I refused to control her decisions, I realised I was actually getting good at one very crucial thing that made my life easier. Much easier. I suddenly had faith. I stopped praying for her to blindly listen to me and do the “right” thing for happiness, success, good health, et al. Instead, I now pray for God to give her the strength to deal with the result of whatever it is that life throws at her.
- Trust. We have come full circle to trust each other. She trusts that I want the best for her, and I trust her when she says she knows what she is doing. Our relationship has evolved into a more meditative style of parenting where we both are in perfect balance – at least 90% of the times. The rest of the 10%? Well, there is always room for improvement, isn’t there?
My disclaimer is this: I still feel guilty and apprehensive sometimes, but I have learnt that it goes on to show one very crucial thing – you’re obviously doing it right.
And for anyone who is curious about our adventures, you can read all about them (and much more) on http://www.studioandall.com