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Embracing our roles as mothers
Q: What values are you passing on to your children?
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This Mother’s Day as I reflect on my own upbringing, one of the gifts that I am thankful to my mom for is the gift of independence. My mother raised me to be an independent thinker and as an only child of working parents, I was self-reliant at an early age, taking public transport to school in Jamshedpur, India at the age of ten and making my own lunches at the age of thirteen.
This is an important skill that I have tried to pass on to my kids as well. This school year, I have focused on getting my kids to be more self-sufficient. This was initially driven by a selfish motive - I needed to find more time to do uninterrupted focus work. Some practices were already familiar to them - biking to school by themselves, packing their own snack boxes - but I also wanted to establish new ones like cooking their own meals when hungry or doing their own laundry.
With both kids in double digit years, I want them to take more responsibility for their stuff so that they become self-reliant. It takes the headache of nagging them for daily habits off my plate (brush your teeth, take out your lunchbox, practice your flute). But more importantly it makes them feel capable and responsible.
As a parent I also want them to know that I love them for who they are and not for what they do or achieve. Instead of looking to me for approval, I work with them to set their own goals and help them track their progress. Instead of asking me if I am proud of them, I ask them if they are proud of their efforts. External validation is a trap that I have often got caught up in and as parents, we are often feed into that through praise (positive feedback) or punishment (negative consequences).
“...The educator must not be the judge, but rather the counselor who is always there for the child…Praising is the passing of judgment by a person of ability on a person of no ability and its goal is manipulation. …Rebuking is a form of conduct that reveals one's immaturity and gives rise to contempt. The final objective of education is self-reliance and one must not stand in the way of that path.”
- The Courage To Be Happy, Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
My role as a parent is to make them less reliant on me for approval and to instead build the muscles to recognize if they are doing the right thing. Last week, I got a note from the principal of my younger son’s school. He had gotten into trouble for displaying the wrong behavior when standing up for a classmate that was being bullied. When I spoke to him about it at home, he was clearly feeling remorse over his action. It was validating as a parent to know that our family values led him to do the right thing ("be an upstander not a bystander") while also taking responsibility for the choice he made (owning up to his mistake).
But most of all I was happy that I was able to have a calm discussion with him. One of the gifts of not working right now, is that I have the time and mind space to be an attentive parent. With each passing Mother’s Day I am reminded of how precious this time is with our kids. While I may have anxiety about my “work” after taking a break in my career, I am forever thankful that the twenty years of hard work has given me the opportunity to be a calm, joyful, heartfelt presence in my kids’ lives today. To have the time to explore their curiosities together and foster their passions. To identify their strengths and encourage them to take risks. Some days that means being the sous chef to my budding baker and other days it's listening to them sing the Nations of the World on repeat as they attempt to memorize all the country names. 😀
“What is parenting/teaching for? The role of a parent is to see the child and help the child see themself.”
- Marcus Buckingham, author
My journey to motherhood has had its share of ups and downs. After a failed pregnancy in 2020 and unsuccessful IVF cycles in 2021, my husband and I had decided to let things be. Skip to January 2023, a missed period, two pregnancy tests later (because I didn’t believe the first one) I found out I was pregnant. I was in shock. I spent the next two months oscillating between tears and joy, stress and lightness. Had this really happened? Had the Universe really delivered on this desire? I found myself grateful and yet in tears almost every other day. Will the baby be okay? Will there be genetic complications due to my age? Will my body be able to handle this? Will it take me another year or more to feel strong in my body again?
I also found myself worrying about my own mother. She had been in the hospital in December and I had planned to visit her in India in January. With all of my anxieties I wanted to be around her. Through my childhood and through all her own health issues later in life she had always maintained a positive attitude. As my cousin put it “your mom seems to be cruising through life on her positivity alone”. But I wasn’t allowed to travel – I was told that it was high risk and I shouldn’t make any travel plans.
However, in another month my emotional state stabilized. I took the genetic tests and was classified as low risk. After the first trimester my doctor gave me permission to visit India. Little by little my anxieties fell away and I allowed myself to get excited. I experienced joy from a vision of little A being a big sister, of my husband being a father of two. I started exercising and meditating more and I felt my faith in my body, in myself getting stronger. I could do this.
In my meditation this past weekend a question arose - "What's most important to me right now?". I pondered over that question for a while. I realized that I was not craving career fulfillment or creative stimulation as much as before. I felt a lot less angst about making immediate decisions about my career. There had been a shift.
“...if we want our children to love and accept who they are, our job is to love and accept who we are. We can’t use fear, shame, blame, and judgment in our own lives if we want to raise courageous children. Compassion and connection—the very things that give purpose and meaning to our lives—can only be learned if they are experienced. And our families are our first opportunities to experience these things.”
- Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly”
I want to be a good mother, a good role model to my kids, make them feel loved while also showing them the benefits of self-discipline. I want to show my kids how I love and take care of myself, the importance of building strength - both internal and external. I want to continue to build the village around my children and contribute meaningfully to our community. These deeply human needs have taken precedence over all else. It's not that I've stopped wanting intellectual and creative stimulation or that desire for self expression has gone away. It's just that I've stopped wanting them at this moment. I know that there will be time for that. For now, I am maximizing my potential by growing a life inside of me. For now it feels right to flow and nest.
“...In terms of teaching our children to dare greatly in the “never enough” culture, the question isn’t so much “Are you parenting the right way?” as it is: “Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?
- Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
I’ve been continuing to practice being a good mom to little A, which comes easily most days. When she walks in the door I am delighted to see her and I make sure she knows that. I want her to feel loved, feel like she belongs, feel worthy. In order to make her feel all those things, I need to show her how I feel all those things myself.
“...If we want to cultivate worthiness in our children, we need to make sure they know that they belong and that their belonging is unconditional.”
- Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly”