The family is the oldest social unit in this world. It is, in fact, a society in miniature. And it is the duty of each generation to pass on the torch of civilization to the next.
Most parents love and cherish their children. There is no sacrifice a loving parent is not prepared to make for the well-being and happiness of his children. Unfortunately, modern materialistic influences and pressures have now made the burden of parenthood greater than ever before. It even threatens to tear the family apart, the most fundamental social structure which had been formed by the human race before the dawn of civilization.
Pressure on Parents
There are many causes for this. First of all, the economic pattern during the last two hundred years has changed drastically from agriculture to industry. No longer does the family operate as an economic unit on the farm. The parents work away from their children who are generally referred to as 'latch-key' children and only return home after office hours. The nature of their work requires them to be time conscious and they are rewarded according to their work performance. During a time of recession, they are exposed to the insecurity of either being laid off or getting a reduction in pay.
Children are exposed to a wide range of expectations, consumption patterns and demands by their peers in school or other activities featured in advertisements through the mass media which parents are being pressured to meet. In addition, parents are sometimes being evaluated by critical children who are better educated than themselves. They may not even have very much in common with their children to strike a simple conversation. This rift between parents and children is known as the generation gap.
These changes place great pressure on parents, many of whom seem unable to cope with the psychological demands. Besides all these, the two world wars of this century have created frightening experiences which many have gone through and which have caused whole nations to change their views about a benevolent God who cares for all the creatures he made. In this age of science and technology, such concepts propagated by many religions have been found to contradict mankind's own experiences and modern scientific discoveries.
Pressure on Children
Most parents have their worldly expectations and will feel a sense of failure or inadequacy if their children do not live up to them. Great emphasis is place on materialistic attainment and scoring points before their friends and neighbours, while spiritual values are sadly neglected. Unfortunately, their children fall victim to these psychological pressures. They are encouraged to excel in their studies, to secure jobs that pay well, to climb up the social ladder, and to accumulate as much wealth as possible. Many parents do not place too much value on virtues such as gratitude, honesty, integrity, kindness, consideration and tolerance. The pursuit of wealth and worldly success are far more important to them.
Due to such social pressures, parents, either rightly or wrongly, and without thinking of the consequences, encourage and even force their children to work hard and compete for the so-called 'success'. They imposed their value systems on their children who are under pressure to be smart, to be popular and to excel. They are under the impression that success means the ability to compete, conquer and quell opposition, ignoring the need to establish an inner harmony with oneself.
Whether the children have the interest or not, they are expected to attend classes on computers, music, ballet, swimming, and so on, under the misguided belief that such activities are very important for success and happiness. There is nothing wrong in pursuing such healthy activities if the children are interested, have the required talents, or if they are meant to enrich their child's awareness of themselves and the world around. The cultural activities and accomplishments are necessary to make a human being more cultured. A richer understanding of the beauty of life should help children become more understanding, more compassionate, and appreciative of the beauty of nature around them.
It is natural for parents to see their own features and characteristics reflected in their children.
It is important to differentiate between what is necessary and what is not. Success and happiness do not lie in mastering such accomplishments alone. Parents should not place the children under such pressure - to be brilliant beyond their capabilities, to be leaders when they are not ready for leadership, or to be star athletes when they have no sporting attributes. As a result of unrealistic goals, children are prematurely forced into a world of adult pressures and responsibilities. The outcome: they are always tired and listless. They are not able to enjoy the carefree life of childhood. These pressures have also the undesirable consequence of giving rise to emotional insecurity in their adulthood. Let us not transfer our ambitions to them and rob them of their childhood.
A parent should be aware of the potential within his child - of what he can accomplish in the future in his own way and in his own good time. Children are not mature enough to plan for the distant future. You cannot expect a primary school student to set his sights on going to university, deciding his career, or about his marriage. But one thing is certain. There is no such thing as a 'useless child'. Every human being has some talent, some potential. An academically 'stupid' child may be born 'natural' in motor mechanics or cooking. It is, therefore, the duty of parents to recognize what a child is good in, his aptitudes, to pay particular attention to such gifts or talents, and encourage the child to develop them for the good of society and the child's sense of fulfilment. Try to train the children according to their mentality to do something which they can do for their living.
Parents must re-evaluate their priorities. It has become fashionable for parents to compare the academic achievements of their children with other parents. By all means encourage the child to excel in his studies, but a child should not be evaluated only on the basis of his academic achievement. We must accept him for what he is, and not what we expect him to be. Yet, this is what all parents are unconsciously guilty of. All this does not mean parents should allow their children to grow up without training or to aim for excellence. They should be encouraged to excel, after taking into account their aptitudes, inclinations, and abilities. Human beings are not all born equal, so parents must recognize their children's potentials and help them to excel in those areas in which their potential is strong.
Parents should try to recognize the natural ability of their children instead of imposing their ideas on them. Not all children are born to be engineers and doctors. Yet, when given every encouragement and support, their aptitudes will develop and they can grow to their fullest potential.
Once a boy who was gifted in poetry was born into a poor family. He would spontaneously speak in verses even when conversing with others. His talent impressed many people but not his father, who being uneducated, was not able to appreciate his son's talent. One day when his son replied to him in poetry, he became very angry and started beating the boy. While he was being caned, he replied to his father in poetry.
'Dear father, please,
Cane me if you must;
But poetry is the gift I was born with,
It's a gift I did not ask for
Nor is it one that I could lose;
Allow me, dear father, to use it at least.'
Set good example for children
Parents should ensure that their children be given a good education, and also be equipped with a strong ethical and moral code of conduct. It is only with good ethical and spiritual training that a child can grow to realize his true potential.
Parents have to teach and guide their children not only by precept but also by example. Teach them how to fulfil their duties and responsibilities and to show their gratitude to elders and parents. It is by example that children learn and remember best.
********* Bring back the basket ********
Once there was a young couple who lived with the husband's father. This old man was very troublesome as he was always bad tempered and never stopped complaining. Finally the couple decided to get rid of him. The man put his father in a large basket which he slung over his shoulder. As he was preparing to leave the house, the man's son, a little boy aged ten asked, 'Father, where are you taking grandfather?' The man explained that he was going to leave him for a while out in the mountains to fend for himself. The boy kept silent as he watched his father walking away and suddenly he shouted, 'Father, don't forget to bring the basket back.' Surprised, the man stopped and asked the boy why? The boy replied, 'Well, I'll need the basket to carry you away when you are old yourself.' The man then quickly brought his father back to the house and ever since took care of him well and attended to all his father's needs.
There are some narrow minded parents who commit certain immoral things and use vulgar words at home.
Parents must take special care when they are going to do something in the presence of their children.
The following poem on raising children offers some practical points on the art of raising children.
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, he learns to find love in the world.
Many carefree parents allow their children to behave as they wish without imparting them any moral guidance. It is questionable whether parents can succeed in teaching their children after they reach adulthood when it is too late. Instead of day dreaming all the day long positive action should be given in teaching them love, respect, harmony and above all to be citizens of the world.
One source of worry for parents is the thought that their children are not very obedient or filial. They worry that their children will not care for them when they are old. They also fear that their children will bring them shame and unhappiness through their misbehaviour thus spoiling the good name of the family. As a rule, parental love is greater than filial love. One cannot expect immature and inexperienced children to be as dutiful and loving as their parents. Until and unless they themselves become parents, only then will they realize the value of parents and their love.
There are cases where parents have given their best to educate their children and teach them good values, but these efforts have all been thrown to the wind due to the stubborn and rebellious nature of their children. There are some incorrigible children, born to the best of parents. In such event, parents need not be remorseful as they have already done their parental duties expected of them. Parents should develop an understanding to change what they can and to accept what they cannot.
Khalil Gibran has written a few meaningful lines for parents to contemplate, as to who your children are :
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life's
longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they
belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
The Buddha had the same thing said in the Dhammapada. A person with limited wisdom may think that his children and wealth belong to him. But even that he himself is not his own, what more to speak of children and wealth. How can he believe that he owns them when he cannot control or prevent the changes that his children and wealth will have to undergo.
Some parents place demands on their married children, who have their own problems, and are themselves under tremendous pressure in society. When parents complain about their children's ingratitude it only succeeds in keeping them away due to guilt and shame. But if parents develop the virtue of equanimity, they will remain calm and not make undue demands on their children. This will bring a greater sense of closeness and understanding between parents and children and create the desired oneness in the family.
Parents in Modern Society
One of the saddest things about modern society is the lack of parental love which children in highly industrialized countries suffer from. When a couple gets married, they usually plan to have a number of children. And once the child is born, parents are morally obliged to care for him to the best of their ability. Parents are responsible to see that a child is not only satisfied materially; the spiritual and psychological aspects are very important too.
The provision of material comfort is of secondary importance when compared to the provision of parental love and attention. We know of many parents from the not-so-well-to-do families who have brought up their children well with plenty of love. On the other hand many rich families have provided every material comfort for their children but have deprived them of parental love. Such children will grow up devoid of any psychological and moral development.
Extracted from "How To Live Without Fear And Worry" written by Venerable Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Nayaka Thero.
This book is distributed free by Singapore Buddhist Meditation Centre.