It has been a hectic year. As if parents didn’t have enough reasons to stress about, the last year has put us through combat training for parenting. Parents BTT (before 2020) would seek counselling for their children being shy or sad, distracted or defiant. AP (after pandemic) our problems have gotten more specific, related to screen time, mood swings, uptake in junk food consumption and lethargy. Parents report that their children are addicted to television or gaming, that they are easily and often irritated, refuse healthy food and physical exercise. Never have so many mothers complained about children gaining weight, not being interested in playing or even their usual hobbies.
In a therapy session, go through meticulous speedy scribbling, which takes me back to the time when I was writing my post-graduate exam at breakneck speed. In the sessions, I usually do a quick processing of the concerns shared, ruling out diagnosable conditions, taking into account history while building rapport, scanning for solutions in my head and packing the session with a lot of input. I try to touch upon a parent’s consciousness and end with strategies to strengthen the bond with their children and ways to invest in the relationship.
On top of that, all this is punctuated with a lot of information on neurobiology, psychology, spirituality and sharing of personal experiences. Seven out of ten, times I get told off with, “We know all this and have tried all this, but it doesn’t work.” Really now?
It is not rare for me to be told, “Doctor, we have tried everything under the sun and given up and called you”, or “We thought that we might as well give this a try as well.” Basically I am used to being told that I have been called upon as the absolute last option, with minuscule amount of hope and faith, by parents who have diligently consulted other doctors, tarot cards readers, spiritual gurus, energy readers, priests and pastors, finally calling out of resignation. Yet this is not the struggle that I am talking about. This is a piece of cake!
My struggle begins with: “We have tried all this”, “ I know this” or “ I have done this, but it doesn’t work.” I can’t deny that some parents truly try, at times try too hard and genuinely experience tremendous amounts of stress. And yet parents telling me off or knowing more than me is not the problem. The real problem is the lack of understanding which parents demonstrate. Parenting is not a stepwise manual to build, construct or repair children. It is not a set of rules that are to be applied for desired consequences. So, applying superficially-accepted to-dos gleaned from the internet, trying things for a few weeks or months may not work.
Parenting is a journey, an experience, a way of giving, a daily investment, a lifetime of learning and evolving, as our children and their needs emerge and progress. It requires consistent persistent swift changes, accommodation, and evolution of our attitudes and personalities. It is a painfully slow and endless process of raising a connection, nurturing a culture and constructing a solid emotional support system till we continue to be parents.
So how can we say, when our children are still five or even twelve that we have tried everything? We have not yet faced every situation or tested every aspect of parenting. The twists and turns in parenting unfold with time with new experiences everyday as our children grow, flourish or stumble.
Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.