A fine balance
Should parents be friends with their children? A balance has to be struck.
Raman entered the ashram with his shirt torn and a cut across his cheek which was bleeding. “A few boys standing outside were speaking ill of you, Guruji, and so I got into a fight with them,’’ he explained. You should ignore what others say about me, my child, Guruji advised him lovingly. Later, after a few minutes, Shravan entered the ashram. On being asked, he said, “Yes, there were some boys outside saying terrible things about you, but I ignored them.’’ Guruji chastised him. “They were putting me down, and you didn’t even raise your voice? What kind of shishya are you?…’ Later, when another student asked him about his different advice to Raman and Shravan, Guruji explained, “Raj needs to learn to calm down, Shravan needs to learn courage….And, so, different advice for different people.’’
There’s something I have learnt from this story. Just like Guruji, I have a different attitude towards different people. Particularly when it comes to friendship, and here I wish to speak about parenting. There is a lot of talk about being friends with your children, but I beg to differ. This new and modern outlook is diametrically opposite to the way in which parents connected with their children in the past. In the old days, a common saying was, `Spare the rod and spoil the child’. I don’t relate with this either because I think that was another extreme, and, besides, if you smacked your child today there’s a good chance you would be justifiably looked down upon as some sort of primitive. In some states in the U.S. a child can call up the police and complain about being ill-treated at home.
Today’s parent, however, believes that one should be a friend to one’s children. I don’t buy into this either. It’s true to a certain extent, but I have seen parents going overboard with this `friend’ business. As a result, I have seen children smoking with their parents, even experimenting with drugs. Now some kids might know where to draw the line, but if the aforementioned child slips into drug abuse at some point, the parents will only have themselves to blame. I think we are oscillating to the other extreme.
I believe that I did manage to strike a fine balance with my mum, or maybe the credit should go to her. My mum was a friendly parent but she wasn’t a friend to me. I loved her, respected her, was in awe of her, even a little intimidated; naturally, I didn’t cross the line. It’s because of this I think I had the right perspective on our relationship; I was aware of my duty towards her, I looked after her when she was ailing, I cared for her till the very end, I made sure she went to bed in a positive and cheerful frame of mind. I believe this is the right way to do it.
I have seen `friendly’ parents being taken for granted by their children and their grand-children, and I believe there is a danger of slipping from cool and friendly to cold and callous. I have seen children taking their parents for granted. I have seen them walk all over their parents and make unreasonable demands on their time and energy as a result of which the poor parent is always on the treadmill, meeting the children’s demands, and with no life of her own. As a result, not only has their relationship suffered, but the poor parent finds herself saddled with a child who has graduated from being `loved and friended’ to `spoilt’.
A line has to be drawn and this is of course the parent’s responsibility. The `friendly’ parent has to ensure that he or she wins the children’s friendship but doesn’t lose out on respect.