By Su Niye
04 April 2016
“My role models are my parents,” my friend Mangal said to me the other day. Mangal’s parents are kind, gentle devout people, of modest economic background. “Like most other parents, mine provided for our basic material needs as best they could, but, more than that, it’s their faith in God and the values they lived by that made them unique among all the parents I know. They were very worshipful people. They hardly fought. And they were very charitable—not just to other people but to animals, too.” Mangal explained. “That’s why I consider them special. It isn’t simply because they were my parents!”
“My father was a B.A., and my mother studied till Class 5. They lived in a small, rented apartment till the end. In the eyes of the world, they weren’t very well ‘educated’ or economically ‘successful’,” Mangal continued. “But, despite that—or maybe because of that—they provided us with a spiritual and value-based approach to life, which is what true education ought to mean if you ask me. They taught us that while we need money and other material things to survive, we should base our lives on a higher purpose. From a very early age onwards, we learnt about God, about how God has created us for a purpose and about how one day we will all return to God. Of course, there were some things that my parents could have done differently or better, but still I would say that I’ve had the closest to what you could call a ‘model childhood’.”
Mangal is a fictional character, but I do know of some people who have had something like the childhood that his account describes. There certainly are people who have been blessed with close to what could be called a ‘model childhood’, because of which, like ‘Mangal’, they regard their parents as their role models.
If someone’s role models are his parents, it is likely that his parents have done a wonderful job of parenting him. It probably indicates that he grew up in a loving home, under the care of parents who provided him not just with food, clothing and the other physical necessities of life, but also with a spiritually-nourishing and emotionally-enriching family environment.
We are multi-dimensional beings, and we have multi-dimensional needs. Our bodies have certain needs—such as for food, water, shelter, exercise and clothing. Our minds have certain needs, which can be met through contemplation, reflection, conversation, reading, writing and access to various means of communication. Our hearts, too, have certain needs—the need for emotional nourishment, for instance, which can be fulfilled through receiving and giving love. And, finally, our souls have their own needs, which can be satisfied only in God.
A model childhood is one in which all these various needs of a child are adequately met and in a balanced manner. A model parent is one who seeks to provide, as adequately as is possible in his or her context, for these different needs of his or her child.
Model parenting is one in which the entire range of a child’s needs—the physical, mental, intellectual emotional and spiritual—are sought to be met in the best possible manner. If one or more of a child’s needs are not met by his parents, or if too much stress is given to some needs while others are given relatively scant attention, the child is likely to grow up physically, psychologically, emotionally or spiritually scarred. Not many children damaged in this manner would consider their parents as their role models.
Like all other what sociologists call ‘ideal types’, model parenting is, of course, something that few, if any, parents in the real world can be expected to provide in the complete sense of the term. Yet, at the same time, it is something that parents can try to work towards. It is useful for parents to examine themselves from time to time to see how close they may be moving towards model parenting in trying to provide for the various needs of their children in a balanced manner. In the process of this self-examination, if they find—as they probably will—that while they might, in their eyes, be excelling in providing for some of these needs, they are neglecting others, they could take steps to correct the imbalance.
For instance, they might discover that while their children study at the supposedly ‘best’ school in town and they get all the food and clothes and toys they could dream of, there is no mention of God in the home and that screaming and fighting is a regular feature in the family. Taking stock of the way they’ve been parenting might lead some parents to realise that while they take their kids on outings often—to parties and expensive restaurants and even occasionally on holidays abroad—they’ve never taken them to a place of worship or even to the neighbourhood park.
They might discover that while they and their children spend endless hours watching TV, not once have they prayed together as a family, and nor have they ever encouraged their children to engage in any sort of charitable activities. Some parents might be particular about their children praying and performing various rituals or about coming first in class, but on reflecting on how far they have been able to meet the other needs of their children they might realise that they haven’t done their task as well as they could have.
This sort of reflection on how far their current parenting styles address all the various needs of their child can prompt parents to realise that there is major work for them to do if they are to get closer to practicing model parenting.
Model parenting is an art, and, like all other art forms, it is something that can be learned. Parents and would-be parents keen on learning the art of model parenting have many sources to turn to today for help. Published accounts of the childhoods of saintly people in different religious traditions are one such valuable source. Religious scriptures are another. A vast corpus of writings on spiritually-oriented, positive, conscious parenting, readily available on the Internet, is a third such source.
In addition, some organizations have begun offering short-term courses on such forms of parenting. The final, and the ultimate, source of help in this regard—as in everything else—is seeking God’s guidance to be the parents that God wants them to.