For working moms with 7-12 year olds

I am probably the wrong person to be saying this, but this one is a message for young working mothers who have children in the age group of 7-12 years.

This is the time when you find your child becoming a little independent and being able to finally manage without you. For most us, it is like being able to breathe in peace after 8-9 years of having a little creature constantly hanging around us.

Please don’t get me wrong, I have two boys, one 17 and the other 10 years old and I love them to bits. I look forward to sharing their world with them, their stories of their school hours, about the unfair treatment meted out to them when they don’t get selected for the school team, the insights they get while playing their favourite online games… I love all of it.

Too much to do as a working mother
Yet, being a working mother, I have responsibilities at work, meetings to attend and deadlines to keep. At times, the endless trips to the school for PTA meets, open days, prayer performances can crowd my schedule to no end. When my first son was growing up, I often put his school performances and activities as a second priority, telling myself I would make it the next time.

“Will definitely make it next time!”

During his later school years, I realized the performances and calls to the school become few and far between. There are activities that you want to be a part of, but the school does not feel the need to have parents involved. Also, as children cross the 11-12 years mark, they prefer to hang out with their friends more than with you.

High school is a different ball game
They don’t want you interacting endlessly with their teachers, or friends. In high school, I barely knew my son’s friends, and had a nodding acquaintance with their parents. It is a different phase then. Your focus as a parent gradually begins to shift more towards your child’s academic performance and while in the early years of high school – sports and theatre are fun, you find yourself consciously shifting tracks towards academics.

Things will change soon!
The simple joyous relationship you have with your children while they are under 12, when you are still taking care of their studies, monitoring their books, having a close communication with their teachers – all undergoes a change in the higher classes.

Keeping these changes in mind, I strongly recommend that you attend as many of your child’s programs and events in the primary school as you can. It is the time you will see your child shine on stage, perform with no inhibitions, enjoy every moment of the activity without worrying about the fact that someone else got a better part to play than him. The years of primary school are precious, and if you have a single child, please do make time for your little one. If you have a second child, you will learn from your experience the first time around, and try and make up while the second one is growing up. I know I am doing that and loving it.

Why involvement is important
Your child will soon be a teenager, set out to define his / her individuality; and will begin the journey to being an adult. Sweet innocent moments of early school years are what will remain in your heart for life. So collect as many memories as you can, cherish them and celebrate them.

On occasions when you can’t make it, wear a smile, hug your little one and wish him / her luck for the Big Day. Remember for you, it may be one more leave from work, for the child, it could be his biggest performance till date!

Cheers.  

~ Bharti Athray

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Why are the popular Hindu temples a scene of chaos?

I was part of an interesting discussion recently during my spiritual class: why is it that the Hindu temples are usually marked by crowds rushing, pushing and crushing each other, especially when the same crowd cam behave in a thoroughly civilised manner at a gurudwara, at a metro station and overseas. This discussion went on for quite a while, with most of us in the group accusing the Hindu devotees of being undisciplined.

Later in the evening, as the conversation continued to run through my mind, I remembered an interesting fact about historical and specifically religious architecture that I had read during the course of my newsletter writing work.

A look at ancient religions and architecture
In a paper published on religion and comparative architecture, I remember reading the distinction the researchers had made between the architecture of ancient cultures like Aztec and Mayan civilisations of Mexico, and the later Christian and Islamic architecture.

The paper stated that Aztec temples were built as tall towering mounds of stone, that were imposing from the ground level, and these temples had a special place at the top that was reserved for the priest and / or the royalty. Many of these ancient civilisations tend to trace the genealogy of the ruling family / priest directly from their gods and powerful spirits. These were civilisations that ruled with an iron hand, where the masses were usually poor farmers and were dependent on the king to protect their land and cattle. Here the places of worship made a clear distinction between the ‘chosen ones of god’ and the ordinary man. No ordinary man dared to cross these lines and climb up to the pedestal reserved for the king and the queen, the blessed ones.

Temple architecture creates space for the elite
The architecture of these civilisations clearly depicts the select elite and the masses. This distinction can also be seen in the structure of Hindu temples, where the sanctum  is separated from ordinary devotees. At the heart of the temple, where the holy consecrated idol of the presiding deity is placed, only the appointed priests, the local nobility or trustees are allowed.

For the rest of us, the darshan has to be taken from a distance, with the area for the gods clearly cordoned off. In many ancient temples, the idols are placed in tiny, dimly lit spaces and the idol can only been seen in sections during the aarti (showing of the lamp to the god).

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Basic Floor Plan of Hindu Temple Architecture

Church and mosque architecture: more democratic
In contrast to these places of worship, the Churches and mosques are more democratic in architecture. They typically comprise of tall entrances that open onto  vast halls where large number of worshippers can pray at one go. In case of the Church, a large cross is usually placed at a height and can be viewed by church goers easily from all corners of the church. There is no need for them to rush to the front and queue up to see their Lord.

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Typical Floor Plan of Church

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Typical Floor plan of a Mosque

Here’s is what the Encyclopaedia Britannica says about the architecture of different places of worship.Temples, churches, mosques, and synagogues serve as places of worship and as shelters for the images, relics, and holy areas of the cult. In the older religions, the temple was not always designed for communal use. In ancient Egypt and India it was considered the residence of the deity, and entrance into the sanctum was prohibited or reserved for priests; in ancient Greece it contained an accessible cult image, but services were held outside the main facade; and in the ancient Near East and in the Mayan and Aztec architecture of ancient Mexico, where the temple was erected at the summit of pyramidal mounds, only privileged members of the community were allowed to approach.Few existing religions are so exclusive. Beliefs as dissimilar as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are based on communal participation in rites held inside each religion’s place of worship. The buildings have even evolved into similar plans, because of a common requirement that the maximum number of worshippers be able to face the focal point of the service (the mosque’s “point” is the wall facing the direction of Mecca, the city of Muhammad’s birth and therefore the most sacred of all Islamic religious sites).

Data Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/architecture/Religious-architecture

The traditions continue into today
The architectural differences are telling remarks in stone how these different lines of worship have been conceptualised and not surprisingly, continue to be followed to this day. Today, the modern Hindu temple goer approaches these ancient temples and their ways of worship with his ideas of modern equality and a more liberal approach to gods and religion. Not surprisingly, here the process of waiting in the queues for the darshan, and the near chaos that follows in many popular temples, are unappealing to him. The fact is, these temples and their priests follow the traditional Hindu concept of religion and temples – where the god was for the elite and the chosen ones.

The rush, the pushing and pulling, the brief glimpses of the idol, the sense that we have had a beautiful darshan despite the crowds – all of these notions and ideas arise from the very initial idea of what the Hindu religion became during the brahmanical era – the religion of the learned few.

An insight, not a defense
This article does not aim or seek to argue whether this stance of the Hindu temples is correct, or otherwise. The purpose is to take a more analytical look at the customs and traditions that have been handed down through the generations, and better understand why certain things are done in a certain way.

Our traditions, mythologies and methods of worship emerge from our stories of origin and how we relate to our Gods. There can be no right or wrong way in doing that. It is merely a matter of understanding the relationship and being at peace with it. Comparing it to some other religion or some other way of worship is like your child coming home one day and saying, ‘Mom, you are too strict with me. I like the way K’s mom behaves with him. I wish you could be the same.’

It’s the child’s opinion based on what he has observed, he definitely has not stayed in that home or seen how that parent behaves under pressure. Each parent is usually right in their perspective of how they are bringing up their children: they seek to provide security, love, food, care and a better tomorrow for their family. Some parents are strict, others are liberal. And both of them can bring up equally beautiful and well-adjusted children.

In my opinion, religion, with its leaders and prophets are pretty much the same. They all want the best for their followers, they just have different rules and methods of discipline.

So the next time you are amidst chaos at a popular temple for a darshan, please don’t blame the other worshippers for being undisciplined. It is how we have been taught to relate to our gods – that we are being blessed to receive the darshan, that it is a gift to be cherished, and it’s not freely available. No wonder, there is a rush to receive the darshan.

~ Bharti Athray

A morning with Sherry

The fresh morning sunlight glided into the office and there was a pleasant buzz around the space. The clock showed 9.30 am and slowly the staff started walking in. It is going to be a busy day, but a satisfying one, thought Sherry to herself. She loved this office, she has always been one of those people who was proud of the work she did. She was happy when there was loads of stuff to be done, articles to be written, poems to be composed.

She breathed in deeply of the fresh air as she looked out at the sea that waved to her from beyond her window. The sea took her back to memories of her earlier life as an advertising writer. It brought a wry smile to her face and she wondered why it has taken her so long to shift to creative writing. She could have done it at any stage in her life, and yet she had wasted so many years writing ads, and brochures – often rehashing some old content of clients. At the time, she believed that was what being a writer was all about.

But then slowly as a sense of disappointment, a sense of lack lustre routine began to gnaw away at her, something within her pushed her to create something new and she did. She began writing short stories as she had during her college days, she committed to creating a book of poems, a book of well researched articles on teenage suicides and why the teens are such a highly criticized species of the human race.

It was in these projects, these assignments that she discovered her voice, found the person she had lost touch with decades ago. She didn’t quite recollect when that last time was, but the more she wrote and easier it became to have conversations with this inner being. Silence was the secret. That was a huge challenge to Sherry; in her earlier advertising life, she was used to chaos and phone calls all day. She longed for a few moments of peace when her mind was not jumping around looking for things to do or say.

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But over time, as she opted increasingly to write for herself, to create in the true sense of the word, she began to find peace. She could work for hours at end without feeling the need to exchange words with her colleagues. There was a stillness around her, within her. She felt she had even begun to move slower afraid of disturbing the inner stillness that had been gotten with so much difficulty.

Slowly, her thoughts came back to her room, to the sea. Having had her fill of the lovely visions of nature, she got her cup of filter coffee, sat at her machine and began her day’s work.

~ Bharti Athray

Write your own script

Shakespeare said it, the Gita says it: All the world’s a stage and we are but actors here.
I think an important aspect of this saying that often gets left out is the fact that as actors, we get to write out our own role. You can choose the characteristics, the script, your response as you enact the role. What you do not have control over is the plot, so don’t worry about the plot. Just focus on how the character you are playing will respond to the various incidences and events in the plot, for what happens next in the plot will really be defined by your response.
Amazing thought, isn’t it? Talk about interactive movies and films, it does not get better than this!

The problem with this play of life is we get too hung up on the plot, we try to pre-empt the events in the plot and when things do not unravel as per our thinking, we get upset. We forget we are not in control of the plot, we are in control only of our character and how that character will interact and respond to the situation and to the other actors in the scene. We cannot influence the other actors in a very serious way either. They all come with their own ideas of how they want to play out their characters, and how they want to write their script.

When you come on the stage, you are a little lost and you look for someone to guide you on what needs to be done in the play. So you get to choose your mentors, these people become your parents, your siblings, your teachers and your friends. Slowly, you get a grip and perspective on how that play works, how it moves forward, and gradually you move away from their influence and their way of looking at the world. You form your own opinions and define your own script. And then you are on a roll, looking at experiences your way, responding as you see fit and so on.

We are but actors here.

The problems in the play begin when we forget that we are actors, we get attached to the props on the stage, especially when the plot defines that the props must belong to someone else in a given scene. Then we want the prop, and if the plot does not allow this, we get upset again.

When you are performing you need to keep reminding yourself that the things that you see on stage are merely props. Maybe in the next scene, you will get that pretty prop, or may be you never will. If you are able to successfully distance yourself from the elements on stage, get into character without getting entangled, play out the emotions well, you would have lived a rich life that also feels satisfying. But for those of us who mistake our roles for the reality, we are in for a bad time. It is like going to watch a tragedy and crying all through the film and continuing to cry even after you have returned home. Somewhere you have forgotten that this tragedy was merely a film and nothing more.

Every time you feel like you are in the midst of a situation that you can’t handle, remember it is just a scene and it will change soon. As for defining your character, pick characters from Shakespeare, Gita or history, find someone you resonate with and play out your role as your role model would. It just makes life so much simpler.

~ Bharti Athray

How to get your child off digital entertainment.

There is so much discussion these days on children being over-exposed to television and digital entertainment. There are constant discussions on how we need to stop our children from excessive consumption of these devices. I have found that if you clearly define the timings when your child can use the digital devices, and control your own consumption of these devices, it is not that difficult to reduce their usage of digital devices.
Give your children and their friends games that will keep them engaged, give them a challenge, and it seems they don’t really miss the idiot box. That was a pleasant surprise for me on one of the recent rainy evenings. Three young boys, full of energy sitting together building towers out of Jenga blocks, and not once did they mention the TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This incident made me wonder whether the fault lies in us, not giving them enough opportunity to play together, fight with each other… make amends, upset each other. May be when you put children together they no longer need other devices to entertain them!
May be instead of enrolling them for endless classes and tuitions, we should just let them hang out together, play with real friends, and build bonds that will last them a lifetime.
That short stint on a weekend evening revived in me the hope that all was not lost, and that our children are not really that different from us. They too, like we did at their age love being together, playing the fool, ganging up and enjoying each other’s company. To more such unplugged evenings and indoor playtimes!

~Bharti Athray

Is your teen’s art teacher stifling him?

Personally, I love drawing, painting and crafting things with my hands. I think that is what really makes me ‘Me!’ My teen has seen me do it, and as a child I always encouraged him to take up painting, even sent him to a drawing class that he thought was boring.

As he grew into his teens, his interest in drawing dropped completely, instead he nurtured a new interest in music, sports and took up parkour very seriously for almost 2 years. As the academic pressure of the higher classes set in, he had little time for the outdoors. Then, all of a sudden he began drawing – weird teenage stuff of course, but there he was… making pen and ink drawings in his books, telling me stories around what he drew and often referring to Dali, our favourite artist, for his inspiration. He would go through Dali’s coffee table book for hours, trying to understand the imagery and the connects. And days later, I would see some shadow of the great painter’s work in his own work.

No, he does not paint like Dali, a long way from there still, but he is trying to think like him, follow his thought process, connect different ideas and create a new piece. All of this happened after Std. VIII, when art was dropped in school as a subject of study.

‘So what exactly do your paintings and poems really say, kid?’ I asked him. ‘Oh, lots, they talk about how I am feeling in that moment, sometimes I try to write like my favourite song writers, other times I imagine I am writing for the next Spoken Word event, where I will perform my piece…’ he says passionately.

From the parent’s eyes

This was interesting for me to observe as a parent. You see, he was not a particularly good art student, could never colour within the lines, his water color paintings were often marred by patches of too much water or too little of it… and his human figures right through school were well… different. He and his art teacher did not quite hit it off, and he struggled with grades in the art exams. It was sad for me to see that as I had hoped he would grow up to love art as much as I did… but obviously, that was not to be.

So his new avatar where he began to draw and look up art books and try his hand at painting came as a surprise to me. During the last years of school when he was supposed to be studying and practicing for good grades in Maths and Science, he would buy himself sketch books and spend hours drawing, sketching and perfecting his art pieces. And with my love for the same, I could not help but sit down with him and guide him on how to get a certain angle right… not that I am a studied artist, but I have learnt a few tricks and tips along the way.

Rediscovering art

He recently completed a beautiful oil painting on canvas, it is gorgeous. He is proud of it too. This piece made me realize that in the last few years, he had been denying his creative expression through this medium. His relation with his art teacher and having been given marks that clearly showed that he was not ‘artistic’ had made him stay away from drawing, colours, paint… the works.

Once there was no judging, he found this to be a great way to express himself and found a voice all his own. His works have images combined with words and icons that he sees in his fav music videos all rolled into one.

I learnt: Art is a medium of expression, not just a profession

This experience has taught me that we ought not to judge our children by the syllabus that has been set out by the schools. There has to be a wider, more open participation and encouragement for the young minds and hearts to be able to express themselves. Not everyone is going to be a professional artist, not everyone needs to colour within the lines; but I do believe each child at every age must be encouraged to express himself through art. This is where they learn to discover themselves and deal with their emotions.

Where freedom of expression is threatened, thinking slowly dies

Let us remember that it is the dictatorial governments who stop their creative citizens from expressing themselves. The writers, the painters, the theatre performers, the singers  – they are the bravest citizens of a country for they dare to state things as they see them, for they have little to lose. These creatives are committed to their vision of the world, to have their distinctive view of all that is happening around them and they dare to say and do things that normal people don’t. The governments that are trying to control the masses, and stop them from thinking, clamp the freedom of expression; and societies where this is done face a slow down. They stop progressing, and over decades one can see a definite collapse of their social, economic and political systems (read: Communist Societies)

The future belongs to creative innovators, not repeaters!

As parents and teachers, we should take this aspect of creative expression seriously. What is taught in schools is what we already know : grammar for language, a certain method of writing, drawing singing… yes, it is important to learn the basics, but let us also use the creative spaces to teach our children to think for themselves, let them use these media to explore their personalities, to define what freedom really means to them… after all, the future really belongs to those who will be able to bring different ideas together, not those who can repeat that has already been defined. For that we have AI and bots…

I am glad my teen has gone from being a consumer of art to being a creator….

How to keep your teen safe on social media

Right, so here we are talking about one of the most pressing issues of our times: Social media and teens. It is a topic that all adults know needs to be addressed, and one that the teens believe, their parents should stay away from.

Attend any PTA meeting in school, and you will hear the teachers warn you of the dangers of letting young children access social media without adequate parental guidance. There is the fear of stalking, of having online relationships with adults who are upto no good, the danger of cyber bullying, the fear of your child creating a digital trail that may come back to haunt him in later years when he starts applying to universities or for jobs… the concerns are endless.

But the flip side: this is the technology of the future, everybody is on it. Your child’s future academic institute will look for blogs and Facebook communities that your child has set up, invested time in or nurtured, the networks they make here are ones that can connect them to their future mentors, they follow their icons, study and observe how these social media celebrities have become icons and hope to do so themselves.

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Understanding the power of social media
The young people today are not just dreamers, they dream big, and they are brave, very brave, I think. To them, failure as a concept does not exist. What social media has done for us as a society is made us realize that you don’t have to win the Nobel Prize to be considered successful. Each community has its success stories, consisting of passionate people who wanted to make a difference. Social media brings these young achievers and doers to the fore, inspiring others in their age group to do the same.

You hear their interviews on radio, they perform at local clubs, some of them travel across the nation or even the world, sharing their passion and their stories, in the process building a network of followers and becoming more famous and thereby, according to the traditional standards, successful.

Can I make social media work for my teen?
These positives make me ask the question, what should I do about social media and my child being on it. If he spends too much time on it, it affects his academics; if I take his access away, I fear he is being left behind. As a parent, how do I strike a balance?

Some of the answers by experts dealing with children and teens can be a route that you may want to adopt:

  • First and foremost acknowledge that your child will have a social media presence. In this day and age to expect otherwise is living in a fool’s paradise. We fear social media as we are not very comfortable navigating this digital world. Your teen knows it well in terms of how it functions technically, how the various networks are connected and how people using it to their advantage.
  • Set up your own social media accounts and ask your teen to help you understand how the different media work. Most teens are happy to teach you as it makes them feel you appreciate their inputs instead of constantly telling them that they don’t know anything.
  • Speak to your teen about the real world dangers when you were a teen, how you were advised to remain safe and how the safe rules apply online. Eg: Don’t speak to strangers, don’t share your information with people you don’t know, don’t be rude to peers even the ones you don’t get along with… explain to him / her that apart from their friends viewing their social media posts, there are also known adults who could be checking them out, like teachers and their friends’ parents.
  • Teach him to mind his language: Content posted online by young teens can appear out of line, brash or even vulgar to adults who are not used to the lingo teens use between themselves. This can easily be misconstrued and spoil a teen’s reputation. I have found it important to explain to my teen to use his language very carefully on social media keeping in mind that the other child’s parents may be accessing his / her friend’s account. Being aware of this fact ensures the social media conversation remain publicly acceptable.
  • Follow your teen on social media, but as an observer: Ask your teen if he is ok with you following him on social media accounts. Most teens do not have a problem with that as long as you don’t keep commenting on each post. A ‘Like’ once in a while is appreciated. Being very vocal in a space that he shares with his friends is like inviting his friends to come over and sitting in the room while they want to share their private stories.
    You would not do that in real life, so don’t do it online. Give the child his / her space, you are just following the account to keep an eye on his / her activities.
  • Follow his close friends, but don’t invade their privacy: My teen helped me set up my Instagram account and also asked his close friends to be my first followers. This encouraged me start posting regularly and his friends would regularly ‘Like’ my posts, making me feel good. This also let me follow them and watch the activities on his friends’ pages. Please note, the same rules of online conduct apply for friends’ account: comment as little as possible, Likes are ok, it makes them feel good, but comments can make them feel as though you are invading their privacy. So tread carefully.

Social media and rocky parent-child relationships
Next question: What if my teen does not share his social media account / does not accept me as a friend? Yes, this could happen if you and your teen tend to argue and disagree about almost everything. I would suggest two things:

  • Chat with your teen, help him understand that you have his best interests at heart.
  • If that doesn’t work, ask an adult family member whom your teen connects with and is a trustworthy person to help out. See if your teen accepts his or her friend requests, and let the adult be your teen’s guide in his social media journey.

Surviving Parenting in the digital age
Yes, it is difficult to be a good parent and be liked by your teen these days. But I don’t worry too much about being liked. You see, while at this time your teen may think you are being archaic and old-fashioned, you need to remember you are only trying to keep your teen safe. Just don’t put the rules down with an iron hand, as that simply does not work with today’s generation.

They believe they are grown ups, and deserve to be treated as such. But as I have mentioned in my earlier articles on this blog, you need to understand that they are not always thinking straight or logically. Put your rules in place, share your perspective, listen to them and walk with them mentally to a solution that works for both of you.

Don’t make every discussion with your teen a power struggle and an ego conflict. It is not. You are still dealing with a child, who currently is reacting like a toddler. So have patience, guide him, love him and let him know that no matter what happens in the world of social media, you still will be his most ardent follower.

~ Bharti Athray