My Linkedin profile stating “Parent…” first draws some conversations as it is unusual to describe oneself as a parent in a professional platform. I take the liberty to the make a point about the importance of our role as parents for those who have the pleasure and pain of parenting, as the responsibility is often compromised for our own professional and selfish pursuits.
It is about finding that balance as livelihood is important, but so is nurturing a family and how can I become more mindful about both?
Research proves that proper nutrition and stimulation in utero and in early childhood in the first thousand days improves physical and mental well being, as well as cognitive and socio-emotional skills later in life.[i]
In my case I give all credit to Samantha, my life partner and mother of our four children for bringing me on board to that reality. I remember how she took care of her self when she was pregnant – her diet, sleep, not getting stressed out and angry, the TLC to the tummy as it expanded and the movement started – to speak to the critter, play music and even to direct Reiki energy as the baby grew inside.
The babies came at a very busy professional time in my life with a lot of international travel. Being self employed gave me some advantages to make time for family, but there were opportunity costs as one never knew when the next assignment would come.
Making time for family had an impact on my earnings, even took us to the edge every so often, yet Samantha and I knew we were making another kind of investment with our children.
Therefore, I set a pattern and let my business partners and clients know that I would schedule my work and business trips around significant events like birthdays, sports-meets, concerts – so I was there to support and cheer them on.
The Rules of Engagement
With the first born Sacha – Samantha set some rules of engagement and communications, which I initially resisted. She proposed that we never argue nor contradict each other in his presence. While she adhered, I had a hard time taking them seriously at the time, as I favour going with the flow and was uncomfortable with imposed boundaries.
With time, I realized as a significant person to the child, indulging in my emotions or being inconsistent in the way I acted may have adverse effects. It could confuse or make him fearful and impact on his confidence and self esteem, as he tries to find his place in the world.
As boundaries were important, Samantha also set a strict schedule for eating and sleeping, which I also thought too rigid at the time. In between the schedule, he had plenty of freedom to play, roam and explore, even do seemingly dangerous things like climb trees. As the other kids were born I saw a system and a process falling into place, which made home life more organized and less frantic, yet the children had a lot of leeway within the boundaries.
The framework provided logical, rational references for everyone and that enabled the family to have some emotional equilibrium. Everyone knew the rules, so breaking them had consequences – like me not being able to see the kids if I came home after 7 pm, as they were in bed by then. Even though I felt frustrated not to play with them, I knew I had to deal with my emotion internally as there was an agreement in place.
The Sacred Dinner Time
Another request Samantha made of me was to come home for family dinner. This was a challenge in social Colombo[ii] – there was often a call for a drink and chat on the way home. Again, I realized due to my constant travelling I was losing my relationship with the children. So I made an effort to be there in time for dinner.
The Dinner Ritual
As I settled into the ritual of family dinner and as they got older, the conversation became very interesting, lively and meaningful and at times, very challenging too due to differences of opinions. They were all asserting themselves in their own way.
We realized the power dynamics of the older vs younger and the need for compromise, to give and take in order to honour everyone at the table. We were also able to discuss some grave issues – the threats and the consequences of the civil war[iii], poverty and inequality around us. This gave them an opportunity to voice their feelings – hopes, fears, guilt for being privileged and learn to cope, be sensitive, yet resilient.
The dinner table became a safe place to trust that anything could be discussed – infatuations, mistakes, doubts, insecurities, misgivings – without judgment. This is where we assured each other that, if ever any of us got into trouble, we were the first to know. There is unconditional love anchoring us together – no matter what. I now realize the commitment and effort required to nurture these relationships, as each one’s needs and personalities are so different.
Building Self Esteem
My research and professional work with organizations, schools, teachers and youth focused on emotional intelligence and self esteem. Self esteem is predicated on our belief of what significant others think of us. It begins first with parents, in the way we love, nurture, judge and give feedback. I realized the power of communications – language, words, tone and most importantly, how we walk the talk with values to shape the children’s view of self and the world.
It did not mean heaping praise when it was not deserved, yet to recognize and appreciate good behaviour and outcomes – like winning a race, a prize or when they were generous or stood up for what is right. It also meant having those tough conversations with reason, when they over stepped their bounds to help them change the behaviour without humiliating them.
Here, we had to manage our emotions first to be logical and rational. This was not always easy as I fell prey to my emotions and lost it every so often. When I did – making amends, apologizing for my reaction became a way to show them I was a fallible human too.
Creating a happy, joyful and a positive home gave the children a sense of security and well-being, which led to their confidence and self esteem. That meant, Samantha and I had to manage our own challenges and differences – and there were many.
Samantha and I were explicit in walking the talk with the Value of respect. It meant not swearing or using the words such as “hate” as words posses a powerful energy.
Both of us did our best to help them become strong and grounded to assert their power in their own way, yet to be loving and compassionate, to live well with integrity and be resilient in an uncertain impermanent world. The ultimate objective as a parent is to ensure that we nurture a child to become a responsible adult to be an asset and bring joy to this world.
As I turn 60 and look back, there are no regrets. It was not all perfect but the meaningful time we shared together, the sacrifices we made in their formative years continue to reward us as parents.
A real testament to this was when they decided to quit jobs and significant others for a 6-week family road trip across Canada and the USA in 2016. We endured being stuck in a van for so long and our friendships continue to evolve as they grow into responsible adults.
I write this article as a tribute all those good parents who agree with me that – “Children are not the distraction from more important work. They are the most important work” – C.S. Lewis
References: [i] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4981537/ [ii] Colombo is the commercial capital of Sri Lanka [iii] We lived in Colombo, Sri Lanka through the entire period of the war from 1987 to 2009