Raising Happy Kids

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Leo Tolstoy’s immortal classic Anna Karenina begins with these unforgettable words – words which ricochet in my mind  whenever anyone  talks of happy or unhappy families.

So what makes a happy family? Well, a number of  aspects but one feature that is common to all families which are happy and hence, effective is the bonding between the parents. If the mother and father share a relationship of love, respect, trust and mutual concern the family unit is sure to be a contented one. On the other hand, if the  home is a battle ground of egos and mistrust you can be certain that the family is going to be unhappy and the children emotionally bruised.

I speak from personal experience. My parents were very good looking (the ideal made-for-each-other type), highly educated and with a liberal outlook. My father was a professor and my mother a talented writer. On the outside ours was  a ‘happy family’. But in actuality it was anything but that. Every few days there were skirmishes and every few months a full scale war.

My sister and I would be either reading or chatting in our room at night when suddenly we would hear raised voices.

“I think they have started again,” my sister, who was older, would mumble. The slinging match would morph into screaming and yelling and breaking of stuff. This would continue late in the night as the two of us would sit huddled together, hoping and praying for a truce – since peace was an outlandish fantasy. These battles would be followed by a long period of silence and our house (I could never dare call it a home) would resemble a mausoleum. The eerie calm before the next storm was as agonising as the  full scale war itself.

One evening I returned home and found my parents and my sister sitting in the garden joking and laughing, like ‘normal families’ – I just stood there, soaking in the scene, imploring the almighty to freezeframe the moment. This scene remained etched in my memory for a long, long time and I would often revisit it in my reveries.

I remember my sister once telling my parents, “Both of  you are charismatic and brilliant – My friend  Beena envies me so much. Her father is a pot-bellied business man who is not even a graduate and her mother is a house-wife who can’t speak a word of English. Beena is even ashamed to call them for PTA meetings. But I would any day exchange you two for them. At least they love and respect each other. Their house is like a home unlike our place which resembles a battle field.”

The impact of  her words lasted a few days and then it was back to the basics. This went on till I was 14 and then my parents separated. The wound is still festering  on my mind, heart and soul. I know for as long as I live the scars will not heal.

If you want to raise positive kids give them a positive environment at home. This fact simply is not negotiable. Whatever may be your differences – try to talk it over and sort them out. I know it is not easy – specially in the present times with both parents in high pressure jobs, myriad responsibilities at home and hardly any help available. You will have to swallow your ego, make a lot of compromises and  learn to make adjustments by the hour. But when you see your kids growing up as healthy and balanced children, believe me it will all be worth it.

The key word here is communication. The parents have to keep talking to each other – any breakdown in communication is a sure shot recipe for disaster. My wife Madhavi and I work for the Rourkela Steel Plant. Our offices are in the same complex and we go to work and come back together. Our visits to the club for swimming or socialising are also in each other’s company.  Sometimes people ask us whether we get bored living in each other’s pockets 24/7. Well, we never felt it. One reason being we have always lived like friends. Yes, we have had our scuffles, clashes, combats and conflicts. But we have followed one cardinal principle – to never, ever stop communicating with each other – to never allow the violence of silence to blow us apart.

As Zig Ziglar, best selling author and motivational speaker says in his book, Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World, “There is no way I can oversell the importance of husbands and wives talking to each other….There are many opportunities, even when both husbands and wives work, for them to engage in small talk, which is so important to the health of the relationship and extremely important to the growth and stability of the child. The evening paper, the nightly news, the daily or nightly soap opera – you name it. None of them holds a candle to the importance of the husband and wife communicating with each other, especially in the presence of the child. When the child hears the happy, informed, loving chatter of husband and wife, he has a sense of security. He feels a part of a caring family.”

So, dear mum and dad, what are you waiting for: drop that ego, smother that pride, smudge that conceit and reach out to each other with trust and togetherness, care and concern, love and respect and watch your little ones morph into happy adults.

Finally, I would like to end with this brilliant quote which says it all, “Lucky parents who have fine children usually have lucky children who have fine parents,” – James A. Brewer.

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