Me, my child and my instinct – by Chaitali Dasgupta

Chaitali is my sister and has a three year old daughter. Her daughter goes to school. This piece she wrote reflects how beliefs need to be questioned to see whether our parenting is coming from conditioned responses or from a beginner’s mind taking into account the child’s unique needs at present. I felt this piece could go on my blog as it questions some vital beliefs many have about parenting like our parents did!

As a mother I like to follow my instincts when it comes to my child. When I am a mother to my child I am closest to nature. And like all animals in nature I too like to follow my instincts. My instinct tells me that my child is feeling unwell, or that she is unhappy, or disappointed or hurt or angry even if she is not showing obvious signs. My instinct tells me that she does not want to eat anymore even though she has eaten only half of what is on her plate. My instinct tells me what food she would like to eat at a particular moment, or what activity she would like to do on a particular day. Yes, there are times when I have been wrong but then instincts also push us towards learning from our mistakes.

Every child is unique and has unique tastes, abilities, talents, likes and dislikes. Every child has his/her own time and pace of learning and acquiring skills, has his or her preferences whether it be for food, music, art, activities etc. If I follow what my mother did when I was small then I am not listening to my child and her needs. I am listening to my mother and what my childhood needs were. Suggestions are welcome but whether they are workable for my child is something that a parent needs to determine and determine with awareness. 

So called good habits, food habits are some of the areas where I often find parents getting tensed and worried about. Some such habits may be good but being good does not mean that my child has to fall in line with them. She might, she might not. She might develop the habit today or tomorrow or years from now or may be never. She might develop other healthy and alternative habits which are conducive to her body and nature.

Now instinct is something that we are all born with. But it gets lost in the chaos of the voices that keep telling us what to do, how to behave, what to wear, what to eat, how to walk, how to talk, how to sit, how to stand, how not to fall, not to make mistakes but always be right. It gets lost in trying to keep up with social or family norms, in trying to please our elders. Our own insecurities and fears prevent us from distinguishing our needs from our child’s.

 But the good news is we can revive our instincts.  All that a parent needs to do is use his/her senses . Listen, watch, feel  and be aware of your child’s needs and desires. Reviving the instinct comes by spending time with your child, by involving yourself in her activities, in her play; by trying to be with her and see her through her different moods and emotions- be it in joy or sorrow-, by allowing her preferences, likes and dislikes to surface so that you can give her that which will push her towards her best.

Reviving the instinct requires making mistakes and learning from them, experiencing different ways of doing things and not getting stuck with old methods, being able to listen to suggestions but at the same being able to use your intelligence to make the choice or decision that is apt for your child irrespective of whether the said suggestions had worked for you, your siblings or even 100 other kids before.

Reviving the instinct requires you to acknowledge the fact that your child is as unique as you were as a child. It requires that you have the courage to allow your child’s uniqueness to grow and flourish instead of molding her into age old repetitive patterns and behaviours. It requires courage to say ‘No, my child does not want to …’ or ‘No, my child does not like to…’ or ‘No,my child will do it if it is required of her or if she wants to’ or ‘No, my child is not yet ready for this.’ Or ‘No, I will have to speak to her first.’ Often we are hesitant to say these because we feel it will upset others or we try to please others or we feel embarrassed to put our child’s feelings ahead of familial or societal values and norms.

Listen to your child, talk to your child, watch her emotions, understand her preferences, feel her joy and sorrow, become an active participant of her fascinating world of play and excitement, feel the rhythm of her mood, make mistakes along with her and discover along with her. Sometimes we may become overindulgent in our attempt to be an involved parent but if we can do all these by being an observer to our child’s needs we can maintain the balance between indulgence and involvement.

As a parent, a mother I am everyday allowing my instincts to grow sharper and sharper. Many a times I do fall and make mistakes but then that is what growing up is all about. In the process I am growing up as a human being and so is my daughter. I am reviving my instincts and keeping the instinct in my daughter alive.