Guidance, tips, principles and practices in the form of articles which cover a broad range of topics from different devotees around the world.
Sometimes, as parents, we may worry about our service to the community. Indeed, how to find some time to serve the temple between the baby diapers, prasadam preparation and the homework to complete with the elder one? Thus we can feel discouraged or even guilty for not fulfilling our duties perfectly, at home as well as at the temple, thereby forgetting what parenting actually means in our spiritual life.
Faced with these issues, we need to remind ourselves how much parenting is already a wonderful service in itself, in which we can serve the Lord through the jivas He entrusted to us. Our children have been specifically chosen by the Supreme Lord to be with us. Not to be on the thirteen other planets but to be on the earth with us. Not to be in all the other countries but in this one particularly. Not to be in any other families but in ours! For Srila Prabhupada, ‘’a child is a rare gift given by Krishna, but at the same time a great responsibility: every parent has the responsibility to see that his child grows up Krishna conscious.’’ (Letter to Hamsaduta, 15 August, 1967).
Therefore, by becoming parents, we are the first spiritual masters of our children, at an age when they are particularly malleable. In the Srimad Bhagavatam, becoming a parent is set on the same level of choice as becoming a spiritual master:
daivaṁnatatsyānnapatiś ca sasyān–
“One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother or a worshipable demigod.”
Srila Prabhupada, in his purport of this verse, precises that “one can stop birth and death only by returning home, back to Godhead. However, who can go back to Godhead unless he understands the Supreme Lord in truth?”
In bhakti, we come back to Godhead by offering everything to the Supreme Lord. This attitude is required to take care of relatives, whether they are disciples, a wife or children. But understanding the Supreme Lord is never finished. As devotees and with humility, we have decided to engage ourselves completely in this process whereby our knowledge and our love for the Supreme Lord increases every day. And the good news is that on the way, our children are not a burden but they are here to help us!
According to this previous verse, Gopi Gita Devi Dasi – Regional Secretary for Ministry of Education and Vice Principal of TKG Academy Gurukula in Dallas – also develops this point in her course on “Parenting with Bhakti”:
“Becoming a mother or a father is equivalent to becoming a guru. The mother and father are the first gurus of a living entity. Out of millions of families for this soul to take birth in, Sri Krishna has chosen your home for your particular child to reside in. He has very carefully matched up your child’s qualities and desires with yours and has chosen this combination for both of your spiritual and material growth. Each parent should have full confidence in their service”.
So we have to know that our children teach us also. We learn how to be good devotees thanks to their presence. How inspiring it is to notice when they do things well, with love and devotion! They teach us to be patient, always available to serve, not attached to sleep or silence (because if we are attached to these, we suffer a lot as parents!). And when we are puzzled by their behavior, it is often that they have something to teach us. We all have some examples of our children reminding us of some truth at the very moment that we seem to forget it. As the common proverbsays: “Truth comes out of the mouths of babes”.
In some specific circumstances, our children might speak or act relying on values that we taught them, whereas we would not even be able to apply those values in such cases ourselves! They often have some qualities that are similar to our own, and we can be happy about that. But we also have to notice when they have our faults… This can be the time to work on them, sometimes asking for their forgiveness. By seeing us progress on these points, they will be inspired by us and see that the process we propose to them works! After all, the Supreme Lord is the first mother and father. Krishna takes care of every child and every parent. As the parent grows, the child will grow with him.
In that sense, what a wonderful service it is to be a devotee parent and a devotee’s parent! When we feel discouraged, we can try to see and appreciate the lessons our children give us with their innocence and purity. We can see their intelligence, their sensitiveness, their generosity, their different talents, and thank the Supreme Lord for these gifts. We know that the spiritual masters are here to serve us in helping us to go back to Godhead. Like them, we are here to serve our children and help them to go back to Godhead. Thus, if we adopt the right service attitude, detached from sense gratification and from the fruits of our endeavors, we may inspire our children to serve God and His servants, and as guides, take part in their own spiritual journey.
The first 5 years of a child’s life are very important to set the foundation of the parent-child relationship. Chankya Pandit says – “lalanam”, pamper the child for the first 5 years.What is this lalanam? It can be compared to the shaping of a pot. When the clay is wet, the potter shapes the pot. He is gentle but firm, molding it to the desired form he wants. If he is too hard, the pot crumbles.
The point here is restraint. The potter must show great restraint and self-control when shaping the pot. Similarly, in the early years, the parents have to show great restraint when disciplining the child. The more love and tolerance is shown to the child, the more one invests in the relationship with the child, the more one can withdraw afterwards.
So in the early years, self-restraint and tolerance are the basis from which the child is disciplined.
Now the question arises, how can we do this? Just as a potter spins the pot, we also have to put a positive spin to all discipline of young children. One way to do this is positive redirection – If your child is scribbling on the wall – tell her, “Scribbling only on paper” and give them a paper. If they are screaming in the house say “screaming only in the park” and so on.
Introduce the boundaries in a positive manner instead of negative one. Instead of don’ts tell them positive alternate dos. This makes the child feel as if all their desires are being fulfilled but at the same time teaches them what is appropriate and what is not.
The potter’s wheel goes round and round and round and so must your disciplining strategy.
Young children lack self-control. Even if they want to, they sometimes can’t behave appropriately. Sometimes, in the flow of things, they forget what is expected of them. It is our duty to constantly remind them of appropriate behavior. Repeat the rules 1000 times if needed. You have to repeat it till it becomes natural for the child. Due to inattention or carelessness if you let some behavior slide, even once…the child gets the message that it is ok. If he gets that message, the past 900 times that you have repeated something go to waste. The child has learned that it is ok, and he will repeat the misbehavior again. Then you have to start from scratch again. Also, if you don’t enforce the limit consistently, young children get confused. They can’t understand why some behavior is ok at this time and not at other times. Then they resist the parent’s correction. For e.g. if you are introducing a boundary to your child – “eat only from their own plate.” You go to a friend’s house. She is ok if your child eats from her plate. You let him. The child gets confused. He resists future implementation of the limit and snatches from another child’s plate later on in kinder.
Still the potter has to give shape. He has to define the outlines of the child’s character. For this, he needs to impose restrictions or boundaries. Young children need boundaries so that they can navigate safely through the world. Boundaries make them feel safe and loved, not controlled.
These boundaries can range from No running on the roads to no climbing on the furniture. They can include no shouting in the house, to sitting in one place while eating. Everything that a child needs to manage himself must be introduced and implemented. Everything a child needs to navigate the world without harming others and without a sense of self-entitlement must be told.
This is “lalanam” – the parenting in the pampering. A child’s age is actually no excuse for misbehavior.
Young children need routines to help them make sense of their day. Even little babies behave better if there is some structure in their day.
Observe your child’s body clock and rhythms and make sure that their food, sleep and outdoor play needs are met consistently at the same time in the day. Don’t stretch your child by unplanned shopping trips in the middle of the afternoon.
Just like the potter’s wheel, maintain a steady and simple rhythm in your child’s life.
Young children are playful and will do everything if we make a game of it. As adults we have forgotten the art of play. We don’t have to take every misbehavior of the child as a personal attack on our ego or a personal reflection of our parenting.
Just make a game of everything. Play a game of chase to get your kids to the dining table. Play a game of “Krishna says”(Simon says) to get them into bed. Fly them out of the house as little Hanumans. Enjoy the love and laughter that young children bring to your house!