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Happily Single

5 Dec

lonely-woman‘So you are single’ !/?

A question/remark a single woman hears quite often. The reaction to this differs,- from annoyance to pain to stress to nothing.

‘Singledom’ isn’t a place one would like to be in, especially if you’ve grown up on a steady diet of stories which talks of ‘the happily ever after’ as a validating matrix. Women outside this sphere of ‘coupled existence sometimes get the feeling of being ‘incomplete’

Today the ‘Single woman’ badge is worn not only by unmarried women; Divorcees , Widows, Single moms and women in a loveless marriage all come under this umbrella.

Being Single comes with its own challenges – the smaller ones being, having dinner alone , being an efficient handyman around the house, struggling to zip up your little black dress ….and the bigger ones like tackling loneliness , not having someone to bounce of your decisions with and the innumerable challenges of parenting.

Whatever the challenge ; its up to you to choose to live a life that’s rich, fulfilling and as significant as anybody elses.

A common misperception is that being alone = being lonely.

In fact, the physical state of aloneness [ Solitude] is quite pleasant a feel for those who are comfortable with themselves.

It’s the emotional state of aloneness [Loneliness] that is painful –  a searing kind of pain which come from the inability to relate to another person, the inability to form a connect.

The only panacea to this is investing time to create a network of friends – A safety net . Friends provide the connection and strength that is critical for our wellbeing. Social media does help us keep in touch with friends and strangers alike but its those ‘face to face’ moments that need to be kept alive.

Sometimes we get busy in our own lives and and it seems like we’ve drifted away from friends. Make time and effort to keep your connect with them. Rituals I’ve built to stay in touch, are to have lunch together and spend some time shopping on our respective birthdays [something I thoroughly enjoy] and having standing dates like meeting every second Friday of the month

Even though you find yourself strapped for time, touch base with a weekly call – get to know what’s happening in your friend’s life.

You don’t have to be alone in your struggles…. reach out and ask for advice or a listening ear. Let friends know you rely on them.

Take advantage of your single status – Read, join a class you enjoy, Focus on building a full life , Exercise, Volunteer for a cause you are passionate about.

About being a single parent – yes its challenging, focus on one step at a time, and during times of stress …reach out to friends and family.

Quit spending all your energy wondering if you would have been happier if you had a mate – instead embrace this amazingly wondrous life and know that there will be random moments when you feel down…..and that’s ok. A good film, your favourite comforter and a lil bit of Resilience is all it takes to Bounce back.

 

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Whats your story

26 Nov

“Tell me a little about you” my host asked, turning towards me, sincere, attentive and with a warm smile that lit up her face. “And of course” she continued “no facts”.

Articulate though I was in expressing my thoughts; I found my self fumbling and unsure of what to say. Facts are so much simpler to talk about.

What, I wondered would be appropriate to talk about? My life’s been far from perfect so how much of it do I divulge?

Do I talk of things that make me happy or things that I wish for or about those dark thoughts that lie in the deep recesses of my head which I am constantly trying to broom away into someplace so no one will know?

Maybe I should talk about the how the real me feels. Talk about the times when it looks like I am angry but I am just very sad or the days I appear like I am in a bad mood but what I actually feel is icy cold fear.

What if I spoke about the people in my life, the relationships that drain me and those that infuse me with energy; About how unsure I am of so many things- my internal chaos.

Is it okay to talk about the times I’ve tried to conform to a pattern believing I was not ‘enough’ the way I was?

Do I speak of the time and effort it took me to know and accept my flaws?

Through the midst of all these maybees I have had a thousand joyous moments filled with balance and fulfillment too. Do I speak of them?

Not just me most of us have these moments of joy in the midst of all our travails.

Flawed but Awesome we are….Exactly the way we were meant to be.

Each of us have a story to tell that make us more beautiful than what one can see by just looking at us. A story that blends all our joys ,sadness , insecurities and so much more. A story that makes us uniquely beautiful

Stories that build a bridge from one heart to the other so we are all connected.

Listening to other people’s stories can be inspirational, but telling ours requires courage and the ability to rise above our vulnerability.

Its time we share our stories both for ourselves and others.

For ourselves ….so that we don’t stay imprisoned in our narratives but evolve, learn lessons and broaden our perspectives through the roads we’ve travelled. We don’t really need to be a part of that ‘pity party’ to which we go each day …. instead when we realize that we’ve been through crap and yet kept our heads above water – we are confident of our incredible powers to face the world and all its challenges

For others …. Our stories are a shared experience. One which is uplifting, comforting and even inspiring. That’s Magic right there!

Collective Parenting

21 Nov

villageGone are the days when ‘Family’ meant not only husband, wife and child; but also uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents all living under the same roof. Then, there was always someone to talk to, share resources with, get guidance from, learn acceptance from, make adjustments with and children always had some one to chat and play with.

The family structure is way different today. Due to circumstances or personal reasons young adults prefer to stay alone and shy away from having more than 2 children. Many a time parents are working, and working long hours. The result – Either children spend most of their time at home without adult guidance and supervision or they may be overburdened with too many after school activities. Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common among children and the youth.

Its stressful territory for both the parent and the child. Parents are sometimes not aware nor equipped with skills to deal with the challenges faced by children today. Navigating parenthood can be a daunting experience – Every support is welcome and necessary to ensure that our children grow up with love, attention, positivity and self-confidence.

Recently while watching a group of parents interact it struck me that its here we have a huge reserve of talent and skill. All we need to do is pool in, structure our schedules, work together and look out for each others children.

I ‘de like to call it ‘Collective Parenting’.

Its when 5-7 families who live close to each other get together as a group. Adults in the group being from different backgrounds and having varied interests can play a pivotal role in providing the children with diverse experiences that nurture the ‘Whole Child’.

Devoting some time and effort is all it requires for each parent to be a part of creating a scaffolding system to support our children and youth.

Start by listing out various strengths of the parents, maybe grandparents and various other adult members of the group – like homework support, sports, value building , non judgmental listening , reading ,Creative writing etc.

Next brainstorm on a few activities the group would like to involve itself in. Is it primarily fun activities or new experiences or academic help or value building or creating a safe forum for the children to voice out their fears and challenges?

Once the group is clear on what 3-4 activities are important for them to pursue, create a framework and plan your activities

Focusing on an age group may be helpful as programmes for young children would be quite different from one that serves teens.

Involve youngsters in planning the program. The more involved they are in planning the more interested they will be in participating.

Depending on the needs of the members of the group and the resources available different types of activities could be done like

Reading Time /Story time ;  Art ; Academic skill building; Outdoor games; Field Trips; Community Service projects ; Interacting with professionals from different walks of life; Discussions on topics like friendships , breakups, managing emotions , addictions. The possibilities are unending. Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the program through surveys and make changes according to the needs of the group.

Parents in the group should think of themselves as surrogate caregivers for every child in the group.

There may be teething problems like – jealousy or bickering or misunderstandings but these can be ironed out if every parent in the group keep in mind the idea behind why the group was formed – For our children, because sometimes individual households find it difficult to raise children without connecting with other parents.

Parents could also meet regularly to discuss their own parenting challenges. Its easier to find solutions when you are not on your own.

There is an African proverb which says “It takes a village to raise a child”.

Parenting is ‘Shared Responsibility’. We have a collective responsibility to the children we interact with even if we did not conceive or bear them. In the absence of the extended family we need to step up and be the strength and support for each other.

As the child grows different families will join this village giving and receiving mutual help thus enriching not just all our lives but the lives of our children too. This shared responsibility is also echoed in this Swahili proverb- One hand does not nurse a child.  Lets join hands so that when days are bad and some weeks look very long , you know a caring parent is watching over your child.

 

Parental involvement during the board exams

13 Nov

 

With board exams only a few months away, the veil of anxiety looms heavily over homes where children are in class 10 and 12.

Its not just academic pressure that causes stress in children. Immense competition and living up to parent’s expectation can make the existing stress skyrocket.

What makes worse are the “decrees” Parents lay out for their children – ‘Put aside everything else and concentrate on studies’; ‘No listening to music’ , ‘No watching T.V’, ‘No chatting with friends’, ‘No going out to play’…………etc

Everything that is ‘solace’ to the child is suddenly pulled away without his or her consent making him/her resentful. Now, along with stress there is an additional sense of powerlessness which is overwhelming. Vulnerable as they are, various feelings bubble up inside of them which make them scared and sad and mad. They can lash out at themselves or others , misbehave etc. …..all of which are ways of sending out an SOS that they are hurting.

Although its only natural to want your child to perform well in the exams, it is important to remind yourself that you are just a facilitator in this process.

What does that really mean?

  • Provide a quiet distraction free environment for the child to work.
  • Make sure that nutritious, tasty food is available at home so that they are physically fit and in a good mood.
  • Monitor their sleep. Make sure they get adequate rest.
  • Create a warm and comforting atmosphere at home. Set aside time everyday [preferably dinner time] for light conversations that revolve around various events / topics.
  • If your child is very driven to perform well in the exams and spends long hours in the room studying …..be around to prompt him/her to take breaks, go outdoors, do fun things
  • If your child has too casual an approach towards the exam it can be a source of worry and frustration. There could be various reasons why he/she is unmotivated to study –
  1. Maybe the course work is way too difficult
  2. Maybe he/she doesn’t have the required academic enabling skills like organizing notes , having a study plan, knowing how to study a particular subject ,
  3. Maybe he/she doesn’t think he/she has the ability to successfully clear the examination.

Take help from the teacher to encourage him/her take small steps that will help him feel engaged and empowered to be a part of his success. Avoid threats and nagging which only has a counter-productive effect.

  • Let all your actions/words come from the belief that children want to do well in the examination. They too are struggling with their fears and expectations despite the fact that it appears as if they aren’t bothered.
  • Encourage your child to do one thing everyday [ other than studies] that gives him/her joy and makes him feel energized. Do the same for yourself too.
  • Some “DO NOTS include –
  1. Do not link their entire future to the current exam;
  2. Do not emphasize on the financial sacrifices that have gone into making all his/her classes possible;
  3. Do not keep talking of marks and achievements of neighbours, cousins siblings etc.
  • Assure them of your unconditional love and acceptance.
  • If your child seems overtly anxious, in a persistent low mood, having no appetite , unable to sleep etc – consult your Physician or a Counsellor.

 

Exam time is a period where both parents and children are high strung. Parents need to focus on their own emotional needs too. Share your anxieties and with other parents else all you will be doing is stirring up fears, imaginations and projections. Speak the right words to your children so that the message conveyed to the child always is ‘I am with you’.

 

 

 

The ‘Me’ Generation

7 Nov

Growing up, dinner time was a pleasurable experience.

My mother having quite a number of arrows in her culinary quiver dished out whatever she felt was a wholesome meal for the family. We sat around the table, excited if it was our favourite dish …. else grumbled for a minute but soon got immersed into conversations and all you could then hear was the clinking of glasses and an occasional reprimand from mom to be quiet while we eat.

That’s why I was taken by surprise last week when I witnessed the fuss created by a couple and their child dining beside me at a restaurant.

The child sat sullen faced refusing to eat while the mother kept offering to order various dishes out of the elaborate menu. The father, quite helpless tried diffusing the tension with some humour which got the kid quite annoyed after which he refused to look up from the gadget he had in his hands. The distraught couple soon gulped down a quick meal and left in a hurry.

Such scenes are not very uncommon today. Children today belong to an over-protected, over –pampered and over-indulged generation.

The singular most important aim of most parents is to ensure complete comfort and happiness of their child – so much so that the child begins to grow up with the belief that they are the center of the universe.

Bending backwards parents constantly fulfill every ‘want’ of their child, while also making sure to mow down all perceivable obstacles in their child’s path, that threaten to cause the youngster any discomfort.

Is it then any wonder that our children get a sense of entitlement……. That they believe they should get what they want , when they want !!

Parents spend money and energy to make every event in their child’s lives special and memorable. Extravagant birthday parties, Expensive gifts, lavish holidays- too much, too soon. When every occasion is so special, even the special gets boring and ordinary.

No matter how much they have, they want more – the line between wants and needs blur and we have on our hands children with a grandiose sense of entitlement. Bored quickly these children have still to develop skills like resilience and frustration tolerance. Skills that are imperative as they walk along life’s uneven roads.

If we look at entitlement as learned behavior, are we then ready to redefine our parenting approach… Allow our children and young adults to be resilient, responsible and resourceful?

A few tools that curb the entitlement epidemic include –

Instead of doing things for our children and making life easy and comfortable for them under the umbrella of love, help them develop them age appropriate skills and empower them to step up and take personal responsibility in various areas of their lives.

Teach children strategies to deal with setbacks by equipping them with perseverance for as the English proverb goes – A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

Show them ways to keep track of their ‘to do’ lists.  Let your child face the consequences for his/her forgetfulness.

Cut back on over indulging. Be clear about the difference between giving your child what he ‘needs’ and what you give that are ‘privileges’. Kids don’t need to have all the luxury. It only serves to feed their sense of entitlement. Love and Family time is all that children need.

The ability to delay gratification is crucial for future success. Help them develop this skill.

Parenting isn’t a popularity contest. You don’t need to be your child’s friend. Your child needs a parent figure who sets limits and ground rules. No doubt a few age appropriate decision making can be left to the child but do not cave in to all his/her demands.

Teach them to give back to the less fortunate. Talk to them about the causes that as a family you could support. This brings about a shared sense of purpose and changes their perspective.

Train them to take turns, share, compromise, lose, win and use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’

As parents the onus is on us to challenge our children’s feeling of entitlement – So that when they go into the real world they will be able to make a connection between making an effort and achieve their goals.

Children change the moment parents change their unhelpful parenting practices

 

 

Hidden Truths

22 Oct

‘Speak the truth’ is a phrase I grew up listening to.

Saying what I really think or feel does not always come easy to me. Sometimes you have the truth stuck in your head but when it comes to saying it aloud, you just can’t say it.

You know that what you should be doing is speaking up and yet every time you think of speaking up there is a kind of fear- a numbness which seals your mouth.

Your head tells you to go ahead and talk about it but in the same breath it also tells you not to talk about it.

Why does this happen? Do we consciously choose to keep away the truth from those around us? Is it a lack of confidence or plain struggle between emotions and logic?

I remember while growing up, a lot of intense emotions I kept to myself as I feared I would never be understood. Putting the truth out there makes you vulnerable, open to judgment and leaves you with a kind of uncertainty about what would happen next. That is stressful, and it is that stress that paralyzes you makes you retreat into your shell like a tortoise.

Many a time the truth is hidden, not wilfully but as an unconscious reaction to the things you aren’t quite sure how the world will accept.

As much as it is soothing to keep them under wraps, it is tormenting to live with them. Overwhelmed by them you drift through a life interspaced by many blanks. Your true authentic self never gets to be in the forefront. It floats around like a Life in waiting – Waiting to burst out in its fullness.

Maybe you’ve had a good enough reason to keep quiet about certain matters. As much as it hurt a part of you to not talk about it, it also protected a certain part of you and therefore you decided to hold it back. Maybe you didn’t feel ready to talk about it then. You feared losing out on love or acceptance from those who matter to you? You didn’t want to offend anyone or maybe you feared falling in their eyes? Whatever your reason, it was a valid reason then and you don’t need to blame yourself.

With time it begins to dawn upon you that the only way to feel complete is to align yourself with your feelings. It can be terrifying but there is no other way.

Truth can be painful, but I am not sure what is less painful – telling the truth the way it is or wrapping it up with deception.  Holding back or shading the facts make others feel betrayed, hurt and festers relationships while speaking from your heart can be healing, fosters love and strengthens relationships.

Truths sometimes shocks and even upsets people around us.  Let their discomfort not frazzle you. Everyone has an opinion on how life should be lived. Acknowledge their perspectives but express how you feel in a graceful manner. Of course you need to tame your honesty and consider the impact of your words on others so focus on talking about your feelings while being respectful of theirs.

Telling the truth is definitely an expensive option- an option that brings along with it Freedom – A freedom that comes with being real, both with yourself and your loved ones.

As I gaze into the distance, the magnificent Sea- Link Bridge catches my eye ; along side I see a portion of an unfinished bridge. Looking at both of them I am reminded how similar bridge building and being honest is – A lot of effort; but useless unless its complete, but once complete it makes it so much easier to cross the chasms of our relationships.

 

 

Feeling Heard

11 Oct

‘Listening is one of the most difficult skills on the planet’ said Nicole Lipkin, and  I couldn’t agree with her more.

Having someone listen to you is a rare gift.

Screening out distractions like cellphones continuously messaging or ringing , your own list of a million things to do ,  thoughts and biases that flit through your mind and with all that completely attending to the other person does take a lot of effort.

To be a really good listener you need to understand not just the ‘content’ of what is being said but also the ‘context’ in which the sharing is being done.

Paraphrasing or summarizing what we understand was said by the speaker gives us a clearer understanding of the content spoken, but just the content is not enough.

Listening means paying attention not only to the story being told but also understanding from where it’s coming and the verbal and non verbal ways in which it’s  being told.

Encouraging the person to share more gives you insights into the context from where these feelings and thoughts arise. After all aren’t we a composite of our experiences and influences!

This isn’t easy.  It requires you to shift away from where you are to where the speaker is; give up your opinions and experience his…..and from there listen non judgmentally and empathetically. That’s when you hear not just ‘what’ is being said but also ‘why’ its being said. Its only then that the speaker feels the relief of being completely heard and understood.

Few common mistakes we make while listening are –

Jumping in to give advice- No sooner the first few lines are done we construct a problem that the speaker may be having and get involved in giving well meaning but unsolicited advice. Many a time the speaker is quite capable of finding his solution and all he wants at that moment is to be able to talk to someone.

Sharing your own experiences- This type of listener is present only for the first few lines. He/She then begins to narrate his own life experiences.  Deflecting the topic to your own story leaves the speaker feeling lost and incompetent at handling his issues. Resisting the urge to talk, listening and responding adequately helps us build patience and character.

Minimising the matter – When the speaker talks of his disappointment, many a time the listener reminds him of how things could have been worse. Of course this is a known fact, but, to the speaker his issue is overwhelming and being heard is very validating. Infact  he clams up when he realizes that his issues are not been given center stage

Listening is healing. It sends out the message that says ‘You are important to me , I respect you’. It makes one feel  accepted, understood and valued.

Listening is a skill that requires a great deal of effort and patience. Its capacity can be diminished or strengthened making it a transformative communication tool.

Make time to listen to people, and notice how it changes not just their life but also yours.