This happened a couple of years back but I remember the day in vivid detail because that day, we had a conversation that just about every parent has had with their children.
Did that lead your imagination to gallop at full speed? In case you’ve jumped to the conclusion that I meant the birds and the bees, as much as I hate to break the bubble, the birds and the bees are not what I’m talking about here.
One afternoon, Pecan came home from school, looking rather subdued and thoughtful. What followed was a series of firsts. He did not barge in through the front door, he did not make it seem like a typhoon had just visited our household. He rather quietly went in, put his stuff away, washed his hands (without being reminded !), drank his milk in one go without peppering the milk-drinking session with tidbits of conversation from his school day, ate his afternoon snack with nary a murmur and actually finished his snack in record time.
By this time, I was certain that something was definitely cooking. This was not the Pecan we usually saw. Something was on his mind, he was mulling over something and in typical Pecan style, he was ordering and framing things right before he would get around to quizzing us on whatever it was that was bugging him.
The temptation to prod around for answers was inviting, the pull was tremendous but I did refrain from doing so because with Pecan, prodding around for information would just serve to drive him into a shell, rather than bring things out. He would come to us with it when he was ready and until then, the best thing to do, knowing him, would be to wait it out (and sweat it out, because life is never easy with Pecan throwing questions at you).
Wait for long, we did not have to, because the first question was dropped in a quiet voice that evening, when Macadamia called out to him for our evening prayers. She did not get a response from Pecan, who turned around and asked me “Can I ask you a question?”. “Brace yourself ! Here it comes !”, I remember thinking. “Is there really a God?” he asked, in an uncharacteristically quiet voice. Not wanting to mince words, I did say to him that I did believe in the existence of an entity, an Universal Force, if you may – a Force that has been given the name “God” – for easier reference, I guess.
“How do you know there is a God or a force called God? You can’t see God, you can’t hear God, so how is one to believe that there is a God?” came the second volley. “How else do you explain Creation?” I asked him. “How else do you explain the life in this Universe, how do you explain its sustenance and the fact that every species knows exactly what it needs to do , some as soon as they are born?”
“Could that not be science at work?” asked Pecan.
I did realize that I had to tread very carefully here. Not because I did not want to explain or give him answers to his questions to the best of my ability but because of the fact that we, as parents, have never imposed our beliefs in their entirety on The Nutty Siblings.
In our books, they are not expected to follow what we believe in, unless they do so from their heart, unless they do so because they are convinced that they are doing the right thing. We do believe that children need to be given a leeway, the freedom within which they can project their thoughts, their arguments, their reasoning and rationale behind their behaviour, opinions and judgment and most importantly on whether to place their faith in something or not to.
We, as adults, very easily fall for the misnomer that states a parent or an adult knows more about things than does a child. This can’t be farther away from the truth, many a times. It is one thing parenting has taught us. Adults need to “listen” more to what children have to say rather than dictate what they need to do, every step of the way.
“If there is a God, why is there so much fighting and strife in this world ?” asked Pecan, his thoughts now beginning to flow freely and his logic and reasoning beginning to gain strength and momentum, further fuelled by the lucidity of his thoughts.
It is indeed difficult to explain concepts like God and faith without overshadowing their conviction, their beliefs at that point of time in their lives, with some of our views, as adults, as parents, which no doubt, have a lot more shades than would a child’s outlook of this complex issue.
While it is easy to give them answers which would get them to believe in something or not believe in something the way we want them to, I, for one, do believe that it is much better for them to battle their own arguments and arrive at conclusions.
What this fosters is the need for information, the need for knowledge and it drives them to seek solutions to situations. Rather than presenting them with ready answers in the form of pills which can be swallowed and forgotten, experience has taught us that is it always better to let kids do quite a bit of the spadework by themselves.
Parents would always be around to ensure that they do not step on a mine in the process but leave the digging to them. In digging for something, they might just about come across a great many roots under the soil which would lead them to actually think and come up with questions and eventually, equitable equations after having had many a discussion with their parents. That it leaves the parents feeling like they have been through five rounds in a washing machine by the time one such discussion is done and over with, is a completely different matter though J.
That evening, we did tell him about our concept of faith. We told him that to have faith or to place your faith in something means to place your trust in someone or something. It could be a person, it could be an invisible, inaudible entity (in his books) like God, it could be one of your beliefs – something that you stand by strongly and something that you are sure will stand by you, at all times.
“Does God break people’s trust ?” asked Pecan. “Yeah. I know what he means” piped Macadamia. “Times when there are things like earthquakes, many people die, there is so much destruction. What have those people done to deserve something like that ?” they queried, now having joined forces.
Yet again, we were down to a very difficult concept. We came down to a concept that is rather blindingly clear, if I may say to but yet, not palpable. This was the one tenet that we had always placed our faith in, yet, explaining it to the kids took this to a whole new level.
“What goes around, comes around. You do good to someone, it somehow finds its way back to you and the same principle works the other way around as well – you do bad to someone, it does come back to you sometime, somehow.
We do strongly believe in this concept because our teacher in this regard has been none other than life itself. It is not tangible nor concrete, yet, this belief has taken hold and is here to stay in our minds because we chose to put our “faith” in it. Having seen, read and personally realized that Karma and the effects of Karma are not just wisps of imagination and that it does really exist has made it infinitely easier for us to “believe”.
Martin Luther King Jr. put it very pithily when he said
“Faith is taking the first step when you don’t even see the whole staircase.”
Packaging all the above in terminology and examples that children can understand, grasp and more importantly, put to use in arriving at their own conclusions is a completely different ballgame, though. The realization that these are the things they will put to use in arriving at their own set of ideals and beliefs is indeed a sobering thought that makes parents more clear-headed, I would say.
As adults, all of us have seen much more of life than our children have. This has given us enough perspective to realize that life is not entirely composed of blacks and whites, in a spectrum of colours. There are those innumerable greys that abound. In fact, are not most of the situations we face, a grey of one sort or the other? That spectrum of being worldly wise, fortunately or unfortunately, is much wider in adults.
Children, in their purity of heart and the innocence that they are blessed with, tend to believe in single colours. Until life comes along with its bag of experiences, to teach them that there are mixed colours to be contended with too.
Until they come across the mixed shades in this massive continuum that we call life, there is bound to be a clash in beliefs, there is bound to be confusion, there is bound to be doubt. It is indeed a good thing because it makes them think and delve deeper, into themselves and their inner minds and in doing so, they evolve.
When we were kids, there was no explanation given for rules laid down. If our parents said “this is the way it is”, that was about the closest we were going to get, to an explanation. It was an unspoken law – something that was not meant to be questioned, something that was not meant to be mulled over or debated, something that was absolutely not to be negated, by way of words, deeds or actions.
With parenting becoming more insightful, with parents becoming more perceptive and understanding and with children becoming ever more astute, discerning and aware, the equations are indeed changing, as they rightly should.
More open and receptive parenting makes it a lot easier for children to come up to their parents with questions whenever there is an element of confusion or a clash of beliefs. As a parent, I’ve realized only too often that it is not always easy to answer them, in a way that covers the whole picture, in a way that encompasses all the shades, in a way that balances all the components and aspects, at one go. What we have been doing all along, what we continue to do, is put all those pieces of this giant jigsaw puzzle we call life, in perspective, piece by piece.
Like Joyce Maynard once said, makes so much sense in situations like these :
“It is not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.”
Gauri Venkitaraman dons many hats – a wife, a mom, a teacher and many more. Working as a full-time English teacher in HongKong, Gauri also raises and nurtures two terrors, affectionately known as The Nutty Siblings a.k.a Macadamia, a teen and Pecan, the ten-year old who behaves like he is fifteen. Gauri’s family means the world to her. Life is a lively roller coaster ride and we, as a family, aim to enjoy the ride together. http://tiny-tidbits.blogspot.hk/ is where Gauri pens down her thoughts and musings, in an attempt to preserve memories for posterity