STEP NUMBER ONE ………………………………………………..…………..…… 1
What Makes a Mom Cool and a Dad Super?
STEP NUMBER TWO ………………………………………………………………… 19
Realise that You Are a Human First and a Parent Second
STEP NUMBER THREE ……………………………………………………………… 47
See Why You Treat Your Child The Way You Do
STEP NUMBER FOUR ………………………………………..……………………… 61
Make Your Child Feel Special Like Nobody Else Can
STEP NUMBER FIVE ……………………………………………………….……….. 151
Build Your Support System
STEP NUMBER SIX ……………………………………..…………………………… 177
Maintain a Positive Outlook at All Times
STEP NUMBER SEVEN …………………………………………………………… 189
Learn to Let Go When The Time Comes
Before I became a parent, I used to think that parenting is something that should come naturally to anybody who assumes the role of a parent. After all, I reasoned, countless people have done it since time immemorial; why should it be a big deal? Because of this erroneous belief, I made no effort to learn anything on parenting prior to the arrival of my firstborn.
That was why when I first became a parent more than twenty years ago, I did not have a clue on how to be one. Overnight, I became a harried parent. I sought advice from family and friends but most responded with well-meaning words like “Sure it’s tough when they are growing up but it will be over before you know it,” which provided me with little comfort but did not really help.
To say I was harried, in fact, is actually an understatement. My early years as a parent were a struggle to get a grip on parenthood. Indeed, there were moments when I wondered what I had got myself into. I could not understand why things were turning out the way they did despite my ‘best’ efforts.
It wasn’t long before I began to scour for books and all the parenting resources I could lay my hands on. Some of these resources were quite helpful and did help me to be less wound up, to an extent, having been written by child psychologists and other experts in child development. The first and most valuable piece of discovery that came with this researching was that, parenting is a skill that can and should be learned if we ever wish to get better at it. This certainly wiped out any misconceptions I had about parenting being something that would become automatic the moment one becomes a parent.
But in none of these resources did I find the answer to the question that was foremost in my mind: Who are the happiest and most fulfilled parents and why? In other words, what do they do differently that sets them apart from the average parent who ploughs through parenthood almost as though it is a mechanical thing?
My own observations of many families around me led me to the following conclusion:
The happiest and most fulfilled parents are those who, consciously or otherwise, focus on developing a warm, enduring relationship with their children. They achieve this by balancing their own basic needs with the needs of their children such that their relationship with their children thrives and becomes something that both of them will treasure and cherish for the rest of their lives.
Sure enough, when I shifted my focus on the relationship aspect, things gradually turned out better between my kids and me. It did not happen overnight, of course, as the change began with the smallest of things. My own experiences as a parent of five boys and a girl (the eldest is twenty and the youngest, seven) have been quite an odyssey, full of ups and downs and the journey continues till today. But today I can say with certainty that between my children and me there is the kind of warmth I did not dare dream of having years ago.
Why is the relationship aspect so important?
A big part of developing a positive relationship with your child is making him or her feel special like nobody else can. When you succeed in this, wonderful things happen. Your child feels appreciated and respected. He listens more. Over time, he becomes more and more emotionally secure. His sense of self-worth goes up. What you are bound to have is a child who believes in and is confident of himself both at home and at school, with a giving and responsible nature to boot. Consequently, he has a greater chance to be successful in his adult life. It’s a chain reaction.
I wrote this book because I believe that every parent deserves to be happy and fulfilled and this book will show you how to achieve this. If you are not totally happy with the way things are between you and your child like I once was, if you wish for a better relationship with your child, then this book is for you.
However, I must stress here that your success hinges on two things:
First, you need to understand and accept that your own personal history and upbringing have a lot to do with the way you parent your child and hence, the way things have turned out up till now between you and your child.
Second, your willingness to change. These changes may be as small and subtle as changing the tone of your voice or restraining yourself from making a negative comment when your child does not meet your expectations or as major as reviewing your work-life balance.
I wish I had known the facts that you are about to read in this book in the early years of my parenthood. If I had, those early years would have been much more pleasant and I doubt I would have been the kind of parent I once was.
Even if you are not the biological parent of the child you are dealing with, the principles that I laid out in this book still apply. I have come across numerous adults who, in one way or another, have to parent a child or are anticipating to do so. These include expectant moms and dads, single parents who have to be both “Mom” and “Dad”, adoptive and stepparents, grandparents, teachers and educators who have to deal with lots of other people’s children, as well as those who find themselves playing parent because of a twist of fate – for instance, big brothers and sisters who are forced to parent younger siblings because of their own parents’ sudden demise.
Parenting is a daily challenge. It’s one of the most intense ongoing learning experience that helps you to grow in no small way if you allow it to. It’s never smooth sailing all the time but, as I will point out at the end of this book, if you manage to do it right most of the time, then you have done well.
All the stories featured in this book are true, except for one. To find out which story I concocted, turn to page 200.
STEP NUMBER ONE
What Makes a Mom Cool and a Dad Super?
Can you recall the exact moment you became a parent?
For me, it started late one evening, one week short of my delivery date. I was in bed when I heard a soft “pop” coming from inside me. All of a sudden, whoosh! the bed was wet. Fakhri and I made it to the clinic half an hour later.
“Your water broke,” the midwife explained as she examined me. “But you’re dilated only three centimeters.”
She turned to my husband. “Why don’t you go home? We’ll take good care of her.”
“I’d like to stay,” Fakhri said.
“You don’t mean in the labour room?” she asked.
“Did you ask for the doctor’s permission?”
He shook his head.
“A father fainted in there recently,” the midwife said. “He couldn’t stand the sight of so much blood. Since then, we let fathers in only with the doctor’s approval.”
“You’re telling me to stay out of here,” Fakhri said in disbelief.
“It’s best that you go home,” the midwife said as she straightened her crisp white uniform. “Your wife will not deliver tonight. I’m quite sure of that. Most likely it will be tomorrow morning at the earliest or even later than that. Firstborns tend to take longer, you know. We’ll call you as soon as the baby arrives.”
Half an hour after I was admitted, however, the waves of contractions began. I had no inkling then, that the severe waves of pain intercepted by moments of joy of anticipation were to prepare me for the years of roller coaster journey of a lifetime I was about to have with my children. At first it came every ten minutes. Then every five minutes and finally, every two minutes. But the midwife said it was not going to happen until much later, I assured myself. I decided not to beep for help despite the intense pain I was in.
Suddenly, the midwife showed up to check on me. “Good God,” she gasped, “the baby is on its way!” I could tell she was on the verge of panic from the tone of her voice. “There’s no way you can deliver on this narrow bed!” Pandemonium broke as she hollered for her colleagues. Someone dashed in with a wheelchair, propped me on it and rushed me to the labour room three doors away. It was all surreal. The wide double doors of the room hastily opened and closed again … the doctors and nurses putting on their gloves … the spot lights beamed right onto the bed and stainless steel paraphernalia in every corner of the chamber. I was fully aware of the doctor’s voice encouraging me to push … hold on … then push again. Ten minutes after I was wheeled in, my baby was born.
“We can’t locate your husband,” said the midwife as she wheeled me back to my room. “I’ve called your house number several times.” In those days, mobile phones were a rare breed. The words were hardly out of her mouth when we heard someone running down the corridor towards my room. It was my husband.
“I was waiting in the parking lot!” Fakhri panted, his hair a little disheveled. “I knew it wouldn’t take long.”
A nurse came over and placed my baby gingerly beside me. “He’s all yours.” I watched as the father of my son run a finger gently along the tiny baby’s cheek.
Hours later, as my husband’s steps faded away in the corridor, I turned to my newborn. For the first time, we were together alone. He was swollen pink. He had thick black hair and sideburns that reached the lower end of his ears. His fingernails were long and dug into my thumb.
He didn’t weigh much – just 2.27kg but he looked quite chubby. It was his cheeks that gave him a rather round look. Slowly, his almond shaped eyes fluttered open and dark brown eyes glanced furtively around. For a long moment, I stared at this tiny creature swathed in a blanket. Terrifying doubts swept over me and caught me off-guard. I brought him into this world. But was I ready for him?
For the next few weeks, the baby seemed so fragile. I would panic if he cried non-stop for more than five minutes. It was the first time I heard the word “colicky”. When the time came to bathe him, it seemed impossible to stop his head from slipping into the water. Instead of giving him a full bath, I chose to wipe him twice a day.
By the time my mother arrived to give a hand, my baby, denied of a proper bath for two whole weeks in hot, humid weather, was full of rashes. Disposable diapers were considered pricey then. I opted for washable ones. For two weeks I wondered whether the pin should go up or down. Or should it be a little to the left or a little to the right? It didn’t occur to me this was a matter too trivial to be perused, and that any which way was fine, as long as I was comfortable with it.
After a few weeks of being woken up every couple of hours for a feed and having endured eleven full days for my stitches to heal, I wasn’t quite head over heels in love with my baby. As a matter of fact, I remember our early months together as full of annoyances. He knew quite well when I needed a break. Just as I was about to doze off or pick up a book to read, he would begin to send off distress signals. At first, these would be in the form of a little whine which would progress into an ear-splitting wail if I didn’t attend to him at once.
But despite these recurring annoyances, from the moment I set eyes on him, I was aware of this strong urge to protect him. It was this urge that woke me up bleary-eyed in the middle of the night to make sure he was still breathing and sound asleep next to me. I suppose I was having my first taste of maternal instinct. And somewhere between feeding and changing nappies and taking care of him when he wasn’t well, sparks of tender feelings grew. As I blew the dust off his scraped knee and watched him crawl towards the kitchen cabinets so he could have another go at clanking the utensils together, a certain fondness for my child developed.
If you’re like me, then you had entered the world of parenthood without the slightest inkling of how to be a parent. Fakhri and I had tied the knot soon after graduating from university. I clinched a job soon after that and very quickly found myself caught up with my job at the office. Curiously enough, despite my love for books, it never crossed my mind to learn anything on “parenthood”.
To say that I love books, in fact, is an understatement. I not only love them, I adore them. I adore the smell of them. I adore the sight of them. There is this feeling of awe and reverence each time I hold a new book in my hand and run my fingers across the printed words. I would bring the book closer and inhale deeply … Ahh … the shine and scent of a new page … nothing smells like a new book! Yet I never scouted or bought or read or borrowed anything from libraries or bookstores on the subject of parenthood despite my love for books. Nor did I attempt to attend any related courses. Forget about attending talks or support groups!
Still, as the above example shows, it is not how much you know before you became a parent that really matters but how much you are prepared to learn along the way.
In parenting, it doesn’t matter if you start from ground zero. Some things you learn by doing.
Parenthood is a world of peaks and valleys akin to taking a roller coaster ride.
You start with climbing into your seat, belting up and telling yourself, “This is it!” Your car shoots forward and zooms up and down at breakneck speed along the peaks and valleys. Anticipation and nervousness instantly give way to a powerful brew of fear and excitement that come rushing in together at the same time.
You scream in a frenzy as you cling to dear life, along with the other riders as exhilaration gives way to fear, then exhilaration, then fear again. At fleeting moments, you are suspended in the air and your heart leaps as the car suddenly drops and speeds up toward the ground in a dramatic plunge. Then up you go again, along very steep hills before hurtling down the track at 60 miles per hour, braving sharp twists and turns and perilous loops.
Parenthood is fraught with contradictions from pleasure to amusement to bliss to frustration. You would be swept by pleasure when your child does something commendable and you know you’ve done something right. You would be overcome by pain when he does the opposite. If you’re worn out and looking for a quick exit, forget it. There’s none. That child is yours and will remain under your wing until he hits adulthood.
In a way, comparing parenthood with a roller coaster ride is simplistic. A roller coaster ride is predictable. You know exactly when you’re going to turn and dive. The whole scenario is there before you. You know how long it takes, how high and steep the slopes are and you know it’s going to end when your car careens down the last lap, slows down and finally grinds to a halt.
Not in parenthood.
Reading about raising children and living with them are two entirely different realities. And even if you have prior experience with other people’s children, dealing with your own, as you will learn as a new parent or would have realized if you are not entirely new to parenting, is not the same thing!
“I had this fantasy that life would be a bed of roses when I started a family,” said a good friend of mine. “I thought I was prepared, with all the reading and parenting classes I went to. They certainly helped to an extent. But I had no idea how unpredictable it could all be.” But then, if we could have been or were fully prepared to be parents, it would make parenting a whole lot more forseeable. That would take much of the spontaneity and adventure out of parenting.
What fun would that be?
In the introduction section, I described parenting as “one of the most intense ongoing learning experience that helps you to grow in no small way if you let it to”. But parenting can only be a springboard for your personal growth if you make a conscious decision to keep an open mind throughout.
An open mind allows you to question your assumptions and manage your expectations, if you have any. It enables you to see different perspectives and become more objective in your role as a parent. You become more receptive to new and different ideas or the opinions and insights of others, even when they are different from your presumptions. It stops you from thinking, “This is the way the experts say is right. Hence, it must be.”
An open mind accelerates your learning process. It allows you the flexibility to make changes, if necessary, to your parenting beliefs and techniques or the way you see and deal with yourself and your child.
Now, take a moment and ask yourself this question: What do I really want out of being a parent? Imagine yourself years down the road. As a parent, what do you hope to achieve when you are seventy five? Search deep within yourself. If you look deep enough, you’ll realise that your deepest yearning as a parent is NOT:
- that your child will get straight A’s in the next examination;
- or that your child will be the next piano prodigy;
- or that she will be a doctor, an architect or engineer just like you;
- or that she’ll take over the thriving family business when she reaches 21.
Rather, as a parent, you yearn for a warm, enduring relationship with your child all your life. And if you’re successful in nurturing a warm, enduring relationship with your son or daughter, you’ll be the ‘cool mom’ or ‘super dad’ in his or her eyes! In other words, a ‘cool mom’ or a ‘super dad’ is the parent who has carved a niche in a special corner in his or her child’s heart, where all his cherished memories are.
Up till now, you may or may not be aware of this. Acknowledging this subconscious wish automatically puts all your other wishes and dreams for your child as secondary. Believe me, your child wants it, too.
I believe that there is real desire on the part of both parent and child for connectedness, but the parent may not realize that his or her child desires the same thing and vice-versa. If we parents do not understand how to develop this connectedness, our relationship with our child will be at risk and worse, may diminish as he or she grows up.
You know you are on your way to be a ‘cool mom’ or a ‘super dad’ if …
… you can chat and laugh with your teenager over a cup of hot chocolate.
… your child knows he can express himself in front of you without fear of being intimidated.
… you tell your child his phone bills are over the limit, that he has to pay the excess amount with his pocket money and he says “That’s fair.”
The ball is in your court
A newborn can only cry to communicate his needs. We learn to anticipate and interpret his cries as him telling us that he’s not feeling well, hungry, sleepy, or tired. Because of this, young parents are often seen as being under the mercy of their newborn, which, in a way, is not far from the truth, at least for the first few months after delivery.
Verbal communication between parent and child, however, begins in the form of monologues, with the parent as the sole communicator.
Some children begin to utter their first words at around twelve months of age while others, several months later.
By age three, most children are able to communicate quite well, although the words may sound mixed up at times.
But until a child learns to talk, the parent is the one who does all the talking, unless someone else assumes the responsibility of raising him. There is no way the child can respond in a verbal manner until he is ready to do so.
This is to say that, until our child learns to talk, our verbal communication with him begins as a one-way street. This one-way street, over time, evolves into a two-way communication system as he learns to talk and master the art of language.
Any relationship takes two to tango. The uniqueness of the parent child relationship is that, at least until the child reaches adulthood, it is the parent who has the upper hand.
If you begin parenthood armed with the knowledge of yourself and of the child you are dealing with, then things would turn out better. There would be less resentment, more warmth, less fights, more tender moments, and more happiness for both you and your child.
You communicate with your child not only through words, but also through your gestures. Your child is smarter than you think. He learns to differentiate the various tones in your voice and facial gestures that you make. He senses your moods by listening to the tone of your voice, your gestures and the words that you use. As time goes by, the child learns to react to these impulses accordingly.
Take, for example, a three-year-old who throws a tantrum at Toys-r-Us in the middle of a big crowd because the father refuses to buy him the really expensive toy that he wants. If the father, out of sheer embarrassment, buys what he wants, he quickly learns that it pays to throw a tantrum. You can be sure that the next time he sees something that he wants and his father says “No,” a tantrum is well on the way.
Think of yourself and your child as two tennis players playing a game, with you as the first server. How he hits the ball back is very much dependent on how you serve the ball the first time. His reaction depends on how you act in the first place.
From loving to loathing
If it had been smooth sailing between you and your child, there will be a smile on your lips as he stirs in deep slumber and you will look forward to the moment when he wakes up so you can have more of these moments. On the other hand, if you know for certain that he will do everything in his power to avoid bumping into you when he wakes up, there will be a stab of pain in your heart.
But what if your child has outgrown the toddler stage and things haven’t turned out the way you wish? What if you just had a shouting match? What if you had just slammed the door in his face in a fit of anger? What if tense exchanges are the order of the day between you and him?
You feel a tear rolling down your cheek as you recall the poignant moments you two had together years ago. The time when you cooed him to sleep when he was blown with measles. The time when he would seek you out for comfort for every bruised limb or knee.
Remember the day you brought your baby home from the hospital. And remember the first few months when he started to smile and respond and how his earliest expressions filled you with joy. Then your little cherub learned to roll over … crawl … walk … talk … and you began to find ways and means to make sense of his emotions as they started to surface. He would display anger when you took away a toy and grin to see you bring his favourite snack.
From someone who was totally dependent on your attention and care, your child begins to assert his independence.
Hours turned into days. Days turned into months which in turn, passed into years.
And one day, you realize either of the following:
1) you have a wonderful relationship with your child, in which case you may skip this section and move on to the next; or
2) there is a gap between you and your child and it seems to be growing wider by the day.
“I love my daughter / son, but …”
Much hype has been made surrounding the chasm between the parent child relationship. Some have gone so far as to be full of conflict, strained and stormy. Others are characterized by love and hate exchanges and recurring arguments, a cause of private misery.
The funny thing is that the issue of the quality of the parent-child relationship rarely rears its head until the child becomes a teenager.
Parents want to be on terms of endearment with their daughters and sons by the time they are grown-ups. Still, it isn’t difficult to find sons and daughters who grow up resenting their own parents and parents who resent their children one way or the other.
A mother with a twenty-year-old daughter said that she wished her daughter had never grown up. “We live like strangers sharing the same roof these days.” Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?
What went wrong?
More often than not, the problem is this: It’s an accumulation of little things that had built up over the years. So much so that it’s virtually impossible to pin down one real cause for it.
In extreme cases, the differences seem to be irreconcilable and both parties spend years nursing their own hurt. The parent and child stop communicating altogether; the child leaves home and never returns. And when something unexpected happens to your daughter or son, you would be left behind, full of regrets, wishing that things could have been better.
Similarly, if something unexpected happens to you, your daughter or son would be left behind, full of regrets, wishing that things had been better between the two of you.
How it affects us
Deep inside, a difficult relationship between us and our children manifests itself in our daily lives. We become confused and frustrated.
It eats us up. It affects our mood. We feel strained in the presence of our child.
It stresses us out and in the long run, affects our emotional and mental health which inevitably affects our physical health. It may make us irritable and miserable, even if on a subconscious level.
We become anxious and worry (quite rightly) if the strain is going to last for a lifetime. If we consider parenting as our most important job, we may even perceive ourselves as a failure.
A bad parent child relationship can scar both parent and child for life without either one realizing it.
On the other hand …
We invest so much effort, time, energy and not to mention money into our children. A great relationship with our child boosts our morale. We become happier and healthier and so does our child. We feel good about ourselves and so does our child. It snowballs on the well-being of the rest of the family and helps us “grow”.
You are the main player in this equation.
In your relationship with your child, you definitely had the upper hand to begin with. It started as a one-way street before it gradually evolves into a two-way highway as our children grow up. The game of parenting starts with you as the main player. You set the tone on how the relationship turns out to be.
The next time your child meets up with another adult and you happen to be there, watch how your child behaves. You’ll see that it depends very much on how the adult treats him.
If the adult is relaxed and approachable, pretty soon your child will feel at ease. Your child may not say much, but see how his shoulders relax. It’s all written in the body language. If the adult is tense, observe how tight-lipped your child will be.
It’s a classic thing about the adult-child relationship. It’s the way children see us. They see adults as figures of authority. A child may be filled with awe towards one adult and view another with contempt. He reacts according to how we act towards him.
It’s not about blame
Many of us parents play our role based on what we learned from our own parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles or whoever provided the role model for us. They, in turn, learned from their own observations, the art of parenting from their own ancestors.
We are not here to find whose fault it is that things are not turning out right. Blaming anyone is counter productive and will not change anything. Rather, we want to understand what has happened thus far and why to help us decide on the next step to take. When you realize what an important role you have in this parent-child relationship, you know you are in charge. For things to change, you must change. You may resent having to be the one to change. But change has to start somewhere, so I would like to suggest that it starts with you.
As Wayne Lotherington pointed out in his book Flicking Your Creative Switch, it’s insane to expect different results when you are doing the same things over and over again. It’s just like when you are traveling and suddenly realize you are lost, you need to change your direction. Otherwise, you’ll never reach your intended destination. It’s only by changing the way you do things that you’ll reap a different kind of relationship with your child.
It’s never too late to improve a relationship with a child, even if he or she is already a teenager or on the brink of entering adulthood. Every child has this great need for a close relationship with his parents and wants to earn their approval and respect. Your child is no exception.
Can we depend entirely on our instinct? Some of us may think that parenting is something than can be done based solely on instinct. So let’s clear the air about what instinct does in our lives.
When a baby starts sucking her mother’s nipple right after birth, that’s instinct. When we close our eyes and shield our face and head when something is about to hit us, that’s instinct. Breathing is one instinctive action we are hardly aware of.
Now let’s see which parts of parenting are instinctive and which are not. Waking up the moment the baby cries for milk while your partner snores next to you is instinct. The affection we feel towards our newborn, that’s instinct.
Instinctive behaviour is inborn and automatic. It’s performed correctly the first time without previous experience. It doesn’t need learning. Non-instinctive behaviour, on the contrary, is learned behaviour. How we react when a boy breaks a glass or punches another boy is NOT instinctive. Whether we give him a smack or a shrug is non-instinctive behaviour, which is behaviour as a result of experience. Much of our parenting is learned behaviour.
HOW TO BECOME A BETTER PARENT
For many parents, the moment a child is born, a question pops up: Now what? Since time immemorial, parenting means different things to different people. To some, it’s a source of delight, bliss and contentment from day one. To others, it’s a bitter-sweet, sometimes mind-boggling affair, full of surprises, that stretches them to the limit virtually every minute of the day. “Cool Mum Super Dad” is written especially with the latter in mind.
Jamilah Samian, herself a parent to five boys and a girl for many years in various settings – as a senior staff in a multinational organisation, as a fulltime stay-at-home parent, as a successful home-based entrepreneur, and as an expatriate spouse in the Middle-East – shares the secret of making parenting a springboard of joy and growth for both you and your child.
– what makes a mum cool and a dad super
– who the happiest and most fulfilled parents are
– how little things can make a big difference in parenting
– how your personal history and upbringing define the way you parent
– why the relationship aspect is key to a happier and healthier you
– why fulfiiling your needs is crucial to becoming a better parent
– optimism: the “magic shield” in parenting
– forgiveness and how to set a forgiving atmosphere at home
– how girls are different from boys
– adolescence and how to deal with sibling rivalry
“A creative treasure for parents. You will be able to relate to these moments that make parenting such a challenging yet rewarding experience.”
~ Yew Kam Keong, Ph. D (Dr. YKK), international speaker and best-selling author on creativity
“I wish I had the chance to read this book years ago … It has definitely changed the way I think about the role of a parent.”
~ Chris Bunkall, mother of a 22-year-old