The following is an edited excerpt from an interview of Swami which appeared in the Spring 2003 issue of Chinmaya Kasi.
Parenting is a difficult task. it is interesting that parents want me to speak on the subject. When I give them certain advice they say, "Swamiji, that is alright for you to say, but only if you had children of your own would you understand our situation!" Even though I don't have children of my own, I was also born and brought up in a family. So, I, too, have seen what family life is like.
How to care for children, especially those in their teens, who can be very rebellious, revolting and resistant? This question cannot be answered in a general manner. Every individual is unique, and no set of rules can really be effective all the time. A man said, "Before marriage, I had six theories about raising children. Now, after marriage, I have six children and no theories."
The first thing that is required when you face any problem in life is that you have to keep cool. Calm down and relax. There is no use getting agitated or over-anxious. The second thing to know is that the problem you are facing is a common problem. For example, when a doctor sees a patient, he doesn't get upset, because he has seen many such cases. Every patient thinks his or her case is unique and the most serious and that the doctor should immediately attend to it. The doctor, on the other hand, remains very calm and collected.
Whenever you feel that your children are misbehaving, please think of your own teenage years. I don't think that there is any person who was not rebellious while growing up. Some people may have rebelled at the mental level--some form of resistance must have manifested at one time or another.
Your worries are not because all children in general are misbehaving, but because your children are misbehaving. Let's go to a subtler level. First, it appears that the worry is for children in general. Then you realize that the worry is for your child. Still subtler is the fact that the action of your child has direct repercussions on you and your image.
The mother and father are only the suppliers of the physical body for the jiva (soul) to live in. They don't give birth to the jiva. The one who takes care of the child in the womb will also take care of the troubles later on. We seem to have an unnecessary sense of doership. Kahlil Gibran in his book The Prophet states that children come through you, they don't belong to you, like the arrow which travels through the bow but does not belong to it; it just follows its own course.
Parents must play the role of an instrument. Gurudev, Swami Chinmayananda, said that your role is like that of a gardener. You do not create the seed or the soil. The potential power is already in the seed. The role of the gardener is to prepare the soil properly, to sow the seeds at the right time and to give them the required amount of water, shade and sunlight --to provide a conducive environment for the seeds to grow. If the seeds have something in them, they will sprout. But if the seeds are roasted, or if the soil is not right, or there is too much rain or too little, then what can the gardener do?
Children say that you are hypocrites, that you have double standards, one for yourselves and another for your children. If we want them to be cultured, we, too, have to follow the same rules. We must start with ourselves first. The child starts its learning process while he or she is in the mother's womb. Imparting culture to our children is the most important thing, but we must begin with ourselves. That is why Pujya Gurudev used to say, "Culture cannot be taught; it can only be caught."
Do not impose your ideas on your children. If you have failed to achieve something in your life, you feel that you want to experience and enjoy that achievement indirectly through your children. We should allow the children to grow on their own. Nobody likes taking orders, commands or advice from others. We should not make the children feel that we are teaching or advising them. Instead, the ideas should seem to come from within themselves.
As a parent, you should be sensitive to your children's reactions and determine if his behavior has suddenly changed or if he is simply following the growing pattern. When children go through various stages of childhood, teenage and young adulthood, certain mental and physical changes take place. Sometimes we give undue importance to these changes and worry too much. We must remember that it is only a passing phase.
In a home I once visited, the host had two sons. The parents told their children, "Now Swamiji is here. Ask him whatever you want to know." The children immediately replied, "We don't have any questions." I told the parents to leave them alone. After breakfast, I went to the boys and asked them, "What is your hobby?" "We like to play baseball, " was the reply. I said, "Please teach me about baseball." Immediately they became enthusiastic about educating me on baseball. They showed me some pictures and videos. Slowly they began asking me all about religion and culture. This shows that if you take an interest in their interests, slowly a rapport will build with the child.
Children say, "Swamiji, there is no limit to what our parents expect from us! They want us to become first-class sportsmen, first-class musicians, first-class artists, first-class dancers, first-class students and first-class professionals!" Don't you think you are asking too much of them?
There is a Sanskrit verse that deals with parenting: "Play with your children up to the age of five. The next ten years, be strict with them, discipline them and educate them. When they turn sixteen years old, treat them like your friends." Once the right vision and values are given, they will follow them to a large extent.
The Lord is the Inner Controller. Pray to Him to change your child's mind and inspire him. If you pray and remain calm, things will change--and for the better. I wish all your children a very bright future.