Editorial: I am not a fun parent — and I am okay with that

Two weeks ago, my kids left for their summer holidays to spend two and a half months with their father. Since then, they’ve taken a road trip, gone camping in Munnar, spent days in the swimming pool, wandered around plucking mangoes, curing jackfruit and hundreds of other things I feared they wouldn’t have considering how the charming small-townness of my summer vacation is fast disappearing.  

In short, they’ve been doing things that I rarely get to do for them or with them. I am the primary parent in our arrangement with the kids seeing their father on holidays and weekends. So, the kids’ experience of me is exactly opposite of who their father is. Basically, I am not the fun parent. I am the parent who sticks to schedule, who deals with the morning chaos of sending them to school. The one who is called in when there’s a problem in school, the one who gives the baths, chastises them for their little sins, who limits candy usage, who grounds them and packs them off to bed by 7 p.m. Like I said, I am not the fun parent. The most fun the kids have with me is when we do small weekend things like a breakfast outing every Saturday after their football lesson, or a play or a performance on the weekend. Or a little giggle fest some time after they come back from school, a little painting, or playing or whatever it is we do when we spend a little time together.

Not being the fun parent is hard. Even when my kids are gone, part of my mind is wondering if they’re eating on time, if they’re sleeping enough, if their nails are being kept clean, if my daughter’s hair is being combed and tied neatly every day. What this naturally does is affect the flow of interaction with your kids, especially if you’re not the most patient person in the room — like me. Love, somehow, translates into firmness, into discipline, into rigour and routine. The idea of love, especially when children don’t have a couple-unit to look towards, then somehow becomes confused with perhaps getting things done on time, getting things done well. Much like how women from abused backgrounds, who were beaten as “because I love you” or “because Papa cares for you”, think abusive marriages are also because their husband loves them.

When I find I have nothing very serious to worry about, I lie awake some nights thinking of what my children’s idea of romantic love and relationships is going to be. Have you thought what it is that your kids will learn from you about the idea of love, of caring? Are they going to see the little things that you and your partner do for each other that aren’t visible? Are they going to see you argue and are they going to see you make up? Do they see you criticise each other constructively, gently, supportively, or do they see you be completely badly behaved around them? And when you answer these questions, are you going to wonder if you are responsible for how their adult relationships turn out? I hope not.

Because, you see, there’s something to be said for becoming an adult. Just like it’s on you to not be badly behaved around minds that are young and impressionable, it is up to your kids, when they grow up, to discern that you made mistakes too; that you too weren’t perfect; that you too had your faults when they were growing up. And which is why I am going to come back where I started: that of being the fun parent. In most households, one parent is almost always the fun parent. Because the burden of real, hard work falls on the other person. Uniquely, when I was growing up, it was my mother who was the fun parent even though she did just about everything for us and the home. She was the gentler one, she was the more accepting and understanding. She was the funnier one, funny in that quiet, non-showy way that only mothers know how to be. None of those blatantly bad dad-jokes that no one else but dad found funny from her. The result of being the fun parent but also the more … workable parent was that I am closer to her than to my father.

When I look back on my experience with my mother, the only lesson I take away from her conduct is to do what you can and be yourself. While she rarely admitted to her mistakes when we were growing up, she was always ready with a laugh, with a silly comeback; she was always doing something that showed us the value of work and housekeeping -- and there is huge value in it, I’ve come to realise. And when I look at myself as a parent, while my temper is short, I am always willing to admit I was wrong, I am always quick to apologise to my kids. I realise that is who I am. I don’t mind laying out my faults for them to see because, you know, kids are ridiculously discerning and they can tell where you falter and are weak even better than you can. Finally, being oneself even with your kids, not hiding your bad habits or your inner self is one of the best things you can do for both yourself and them. For yourself, because you don’t have to go through the trouble of hiding your lies, and for them because they know that even with faults, it’s possible to love and be loved. So I am not the fun parent, big deal. I just make myself happy that I’ll be the parent who nourished their mind and body and soul when they needed it the most.

Speaking of need, Neha from our team wrote this really nice piece on how to tell if you have a favourite child (don’t deny it! We are onto you, remember what I said about being honest earlier?! Psst here’s a little secret. I do too, except it changes every few years.) and what to do about it. We don’t talk much about teenagers on our pages because I think by the time kids reach their teens, parents have more or less found a method of parenting that works for them. But there’s always some kind of problem that life throws at you and you need advice. One of those is the time your teen might be experimenting with sex. It’s a hard thing for most parents to face but I am telling you, in today’s times, it’s best you face it and deal with it.

Makes you feel as though pregnancy compared to your child’s teens was just a joyride, huh? Well, it is. Some of us might have had bad experiences but in most cases, it’s a time of great joy. One of our readers tells us her five reasons for why pregnancy was awesome. And finally, did you know we get so many questions about women having babies after the age of 30? Even now, with advancement in science and changes in attitude, many women still worry that being 30+ is too old to have a baby. Here’s our take on why it’s totally awesome to be a mum after the age of 30.

Until next week.