They say you can fail at anything, but not at parenting. And that’s true, to a degree because life is topsy turvy for most of us and nobody really seems to have found the perfect formula to hold it all together. But we got to try. There are no two ways about it.
Which is why this book–Is Your Child Ready To Face The World?– by Professor Anupam Sibal, Senior Pediatrician and Group Medical Director, Apollo Hospitals Group, seems all the more relevant, today. In this handy parenting Bible, he guides us through these troubled waters, with aplomb and elan.
A strict sermon? No.
An easy flowing conversation? Yes.
The first time I met Dr Sibal was many years ago, when I was a junior reporter in the features department of the Hindustan Times newspaper, Delhi. And while, health was never one of my beats (it was largely glamour and lifestyle), I jumped at a chance to do something different.
Its been more than a decade since that article was published and in all the years that I have known him, I have always been struck by his extremely good manners and humility and the desire to help. This book exemplifies all that he is about, both as a person and as a professional.
Here, he reminds us of one of the basic tenets of parenting that we all know but usually sideline such as talk to your child, listen to him/her and spend time with them. Despite his hands on approach, he, however, never diminishes the important role of the mother in raising the child.
To know more, of course, you have to read his book that was first published in 2015 and went on to become a national best seller.
While most parenting books sermonise and make us feel inadequate, this book not only tugged at my emotions but also inspired me to become a better parent the moment I started reading it. Simply, because it’s inspirational, aspirational and yet not so far fetched that we can’t do it. So, while we draw from the pool of resources that our parents bequeathed us with, it is more important to not get overwhelmed and trust your own instincts as you parent your child.
In a nutshell, these are the values I learnt. Be a friend. Listen. Guide. Encourage. Never impose your will; instead create a want or a need in the child so that he or she will do all it requires to achieve goals; for it must be their dreams and not yours that they will work towards. Throughout the book, Dr Sibal talks about great personalities like Lincoln, Obama, Mother Teresa, Sachin Tendulkar and many more to drive home a point on his son’s young impressionable mind. He also uses his own personal examples and people around him to reinforce the values.
While, at many times, we feel that we are getting a peek into this very personal relationship as Dr Sibal, the father talks, guides and explains things to his son Devaang, we can also feel the many influences that have made him into such a successful person. The struggles are normal, one that every parent would identify with.
Getting inside a childs head is not easy but once they allow you in; you stay there and help them to take flight. Lead by example, not by words. Walk the talk is the motto; all made easy in the book in the form of 18 virtues that we need to inculcate.
And most importantly it’s never too late to create a bond. Never so late that you give up. As Amitabh Bachchan, in his foreword says, “It is all about mindful parenting.”
BOOK REVIEW: Is Your Child Ready to Face the World?
Author: Dr Anupam Sibal
Penguin Books (Rs 250)
Q. Dr Sibal, do tell us about your growing up years…
A. I grew up in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir. My father served in the Indian Army and my mother is a homemaker. Being the only child, I have shared some great moments with my cousins and my childhood was filled with picnics, shikhara rides and outings.
My favourite memories, however, are having a great time each summer with a house full of guests from all over the country and abroad. With my mother I could take a lot of liberties. With my father I needed to be careful as he tried to instill a sense of discipline. Here, I would like to mention a couple of life lessons that my father taught me that shaped my thinking, “Never believe anything you hear about yourself, unless it is said to your face’, ‘Always try to share others’ sorrows; sharing their joy is optional.’
Q. You cite a lot of examples of great men in the book….you are a voracious reader I presume. What advice would you give parents who don’t have such a store of information?
A. Children need to be interested in what a parent is trying to get across. To capture their imagination, one needs to weave a discussion that they would find exciting. One way to do this is to use examples of well-known people that the child might be interested in. Examples from history and incidents that a child might have witnessed can be used. The key is to structure the engagement around the child’s interest. Children are remarkably perceptive. Their eyes keenly observe, ears intently listen and minds keenly process what their environment has to offer. These experiences at a young age leave a lifelong impression.
This is something parents should never forget. Jim Hansen said so rightly, “They (your children) don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” As the child gets older a meaningful dialogue should commence to instill values. Movies, visits to museums, books, magazines, and numerous activities (sports, family outings) can provide the stage for this dialogue. And these days, with the internet at hand, a lot of information is just a click away.
Q. Was there any time when you felt you were failing as a parent?
A. Let me here quote from my book, “When it comes to being a father, it really doesn’t matter whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation, a sports star, an army officer, an engineer, a farmer or an information technology professional. For your child, you are just a father. Nothing more, nothing less.” And yes, there were many moments when I felt I was failing as a parent. Finding time in a packed day is a challenge for every parent. I just needed to remind myself that I had to find the time. I needed to adapt and be flexible to generate extra time while doing everything else.
As I look back, I do have the satisfaction of having tried, despite my shortcomings; having tried to discharge my duty as a father to prepare him to face the world. As a doctor, with emergencies to handle, night calls, hospital rounds on holidays and Sundays, finding the time was not easy.
Q. A lot of parents I know, feel a lot of guilt at not doing enough. Parents of special needs kids, like myself who have to balance two kids with different sensibilities. What advice would you give us?
A. Parenting is always tough. The thought of shouldering the huge responsibility of parenthood can be daunting. Undoubtedly, it is more challenging when you are a parent to a child with special needs. We must however always remember that as parents we give a 100% and that’s what counts. Guilt has no role to play in parenting. And here I give some tips from my book.
- Accept the fact that when we are not perfect how can we expect our children to be perfect. We need to accept the mistakes our children make and their flaws with grace.
- Don’t expect your child to live your dreams. Every child has his or her own dreams.
- Understand what makes your child happy. Once you discover that, and you start doing things that make your child happy, the relationship will become very positive.
Q. Lastly, will there be a sequel to this book? Perhaps written by your son Devaang, as to what he felt about your extremely intelligent and friendly parenting style?
A. I like your idea. As of now I am looking at the opportunities for getting the book translated into other languages. I have been giving talks in schools and speaking at educational conferences. I would like to interact with educationists as much as I can. The idea is to reach a large cross section of parents to be able to make a small difference.
I have no idea if Devaang, my son, who is currently doing an MBA at Columbia Business School , New York, would like to write a book. I also do not know how he found my parenting style.
But if there’s something I can say, it is that my son and I are best friends for life.