With the passage of time, I have come to realize that while parents are the most important influencers of their children, the reverse is also true. It is not far-fetched to say that I grew up after the birth of my two daughters and my character, judgement and personality have been played, plied and shaped by them.
The shift occured as soon as I conceived. Being responsible for another human being is life-changing.
As my children grew into little talkers, they looked forward to bedtime story sessions. “Naan vallarndha kadhai sollava (story of younger days)?” I’d ask them, and launch into some funny anecdote from my own early years. As I told them stories, I delved into my past and learned to blend fiction with fact to lend my stories humor and relevance. It was heady to see them laugh at my stories.
My children helped me appreciate the little details that we take for granted. When their faces radiated with interest on seeing a flower or a tiny animal or a funny incident on television, their enthusiasm would infect me, and experiences took on new meaning when seen through their eyes.
I found myself worrying about their education well before their school going age. Was I guilty of the Pushy Parent Syndrome? Possibly. I read the small print about admission criteria, explored and looked for resources to find the best schools with good ratings in good neighborhoods. Before long I was an ace researcher with a decided bent towards analysis.
Of course, I also lost my patience with them. But, the next morning when they’d come and hug me, having forgotten all about the previous day’s incident, it made me realize that life is all about moving on. We build up grievances about things that have happened and worry about things that may never happen. Our children often put things into perspective.
Recently, at a get together, we discussed how each of us had changed and what we had personally discovered about ourselves since becoming parents. The exercise was revealing. I realize that we do sometimes have to struggle to be patient, biting our tongue when necessary, forcing ourselves to slow down to accommodate our children’s slower pace. Patience is one of the greatest gifts that my children have taught me. I learned to be firm without raising my voice and coaxing and cajoling them when necessary as well as negotiating boundaries and trade-offs.
On my birthday some years ago, my daughters suggested going to Olive Garden for dinner. I would have preferred to go to Saravana Bhavan, but I compromised knowing that they preferred Italian food. As the years rolled by I began to appreciate the cuisines of the world and today, I am more inclined to opt for Sweet Tomatoes than Saravana Bhavan.
Preparing meals for kids has always been challenging for me. In my attempt to accommodate their young palates, I download, experimented, re-discovered and re-invented recipes, all of which are the hallmarks of a good chef.
While chaperoning my children to their swimming lessons, math lessons, music lessons and language lessons, I have learned the intricacies of each subject by osmosis. My appreciation for music increased as my children grew in years and skill. Both my children were hesitant to learn swimming and avoided getting into the water on some pretext or the other. It was only when I got into the pool with them, that I managed to persuade them to join me. It felt a bit odd swimming with four and five year olds. But I had a purpose and I was determined to succeed.
And then there’s the Internet. A majority of children in the United States are enhancing their parents’ technology and Internet awareness and knowledge of the digital economy, according to a study commissioned by hpshopping.com, Hewlett-Packard Company’s award-winning e-commerce site.
Approximately two-thirds of the 635 parents surveyed across the United States reported that their children show them something new on the computer, such as how to complete research online or how to install and use software and hardware. Sixty-two percent of children show their parents new web sites to explore, while 40 percent show their parents how to work on projects online, such as craft-making or creating photo albums.
“Although parents are generally thought of as the teachers, hpshopping.com’s research has confirmed a different theory,” said Shen Li, general manager, hpshopping.com. “In the digital age, children know more than or as much as their parents about technology and the Internet. They are driving their parents to learn more.”
It is no exaggeration to say that I grew up because of my children, to keep pace with them and to share in their experiences.
Now that my children have left the nest to continue their own education, I sit reflecting on how much I miss them, and as I traverse back in time, I savor the lessons they’ve taught me.
Sudha Chandrasekaran is a writer based in India.