My Voice - 2019


Parenting is Tough: Here is What Makes It Even Harder

By Vidya Murlidhar

“Don't worry about the outside. It's what's inside that counts" - an axiom I often find myself repeating to my son, who is being torpedoed around in the throes of teenage angst. He stands in front of the mirror staring at his lanky body, sparse stubble and the giant zit on his forehead bewildered, wondering if he is cool. Can he go the dance with the ugly protrusion on his forehead?

“You are magnificent. That zit… your looks do not define you. Go have a blast." I tell him. I want my children to grow up with a positive mindset and a resilient spirit, basking in the glorious sense of who they truly are. Not in fear or lack. Yet…

I also struggle to live by the truths I want them to believe.

When my son comes to a glittery Indian party dressed in sweatpants, I give him a piercing look. 'You're coming like this?' my gaze implies.

“You need to change your clothes" I say trying to sound placid though deep within aggravation runs amuck.

“It's ok Mom. It's what inside you that matters," he says wryly. He makes his intent perfectly clear. His outfit is going to stay the same. I want to retort back but then I was the one who had reiterated the words to him time and again.

When I tell my kids they are masterpieces, I say it without an iota of doubt in my heart. I truly believe that, but sadly I worry about how the world judges me as a parent. If we walk into that big party with my son shoddily dressed, what if the people there think that I don't care about him enough? That I am not a good mother. Isn't his appearance a reflection on my parenting? So, while I want my children to radiate a self-esteem that cannot be touched by the harshness of the world's judgments, I still struggle with mine as a mother.

As the bitter truth stands, I do not walk the walk.

Follow your own heart

'Dream Big and Always Follow Your Heart" - another golden rule I often repeat to my kids. I want them to live their lives with zest and zeal, purpose and passion, create their own unique path and not just follow the beaten paved ways of society. Yet…

When my son comes home from school and informs me he no longer wants to try out for the tennis team but quit tennis altogether, disappointment is writ large on my face.

“But why? You have been playing for years and are talented, you should take it seriously."

“I'm not interested in competitive sports," he replies nonchalantly. So much time and money spent on years of tennis education. For this? I try to convince him, “being on the tennis team will look good on your college application."

He shrugs his shoulders. “I don't enjoy it anymore. I am supposed to follow my heart right?"

My lips stay sealed.

Even though I want my children to forge their own shiny paths, I feel secure when they follow the herd on an established route. After all, the bumps on a well-trodden path are familiar.

Practice what you preach

“It's the journey that matters, not the destination—a mantra that I hope will be the crux of my parenting. I do not want my kids to fret about results. Ever. They should never be afraid to try. Failures are an inevitable part of their learning curve and will help them grow. Yet...

When my son's team finishes at the bottom of his event in the Science Olympiad my muted response is, “It's ok to lose but did you try hard enough? Maybe you should have put in a little more effort?"

His face falls as he quips, “Well, you're the one who suggested I compete in a new event this time. Not our fault that the bridge we built collapsed right before the event!"

Later when my daughter sends me a message from college to say she bagged a prized internship, my first reaction is “I'm so proud of you." Then I proceed to tell everyone I know about her achievement. I make it quite obvious that it's my children's achievements that make my pride swell. But if I want them to not be deterred by failure, I must on my part take pride in their failures too, mustn't I? All my son needed at that point in time was a warm hug that suggested, “I love you no matter what" not a negative reaction.

There is much I have to change about my attitude before I can expect my children to grow up to be the best versions of themselves. Every time they fling a little sarcasm my way, they reflect the schism between how I want them to be and the way I am. I am learning though, slowly.

This is why, when my son lets me know that he is going to receive an academic award in school—even though my reflex reaction is “I'm so proud of you"—as an afterthought I also add, “Ah -But you know that I would be proud of you regardless…even if you didn't win an award."

Parenting is tough as it is. What makes it Herculean is when you also have to practice what you preach.

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Vidya Murlidhar's articles have been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Mothers Always Write, Grown and Flown, Life Positive and other places.