Friday 7 February 2020

Resilience, Reinvention and other such Random Ramblings

I have been counting. In the last 44 years, I have lived in 30 distinct places. 30 places I have called home at various points in time. The number is staggering and even absurd. What were my parents thinking?!!!

I counted the places we've lived in after we got married. The count is 10. My 14-year-old has lived in 7 houses/apartments. We've basically moved him to a new place every 2 years. What were we thinking?!!! Since I am still counting, he's studied in 7 schools up until now. Guess he's not making my record of 12 schools. I'm not sure whether that is a good thing :) 

I've been thinking a lot about resilience, and courage, and risk-taking ability. I did not grow up with friends I knew from kindergarten. Of course, my parents did not deliberately set out to change my school almost every year, but that's what happened. There have been only 3 years when I have not been the new girl in class. So every year that I moved schools, I was the one with no friends, no associations, no frame of reference, starting at the bottom of the social ladder. Making friends quickly was the first job in every new school, a task an introverted kid is singularly unfit for. Yet I shudder to think how much more introverted I might have developed to be if I had stayed cocooned in the security of the same home/city/school. 

It's hard to pinpoint the exact emotional state from so long ago. I am pretty sure there were some miserable lonely times. I do remember hating every move, the terror and uncertainty of the unknown never lessening with the passage of years. The ability to mask it under a veneer of confidence, however, increased exponentially. Over a period of time, even the aforesaid fear of the unknown largely evaporated. One just got braver, and more resilient. 

Hindsight is always 20-20 :) I read a beautiful quote somewhere - "I will forgive myself for not having the foresight to know what I now know in hindsight". Looking back, I would not change any of the experiences I underwent. As they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger! And this gives me a lot of strength and consolation as I think about my kids. Especially Ads, who even as a baby and a toddler, was one of the most cautious, scared kids around. For many years, minor changes in his schedule would lead to full-blown tantrums. That his ability to handle change was weak, was obvious to us very early on. A lot of our parenting with him has involved forcing him into uncomfortable situations (however, this is not why we moved all over India and to and fro from the US!). 

Willy-nilly, it happened. We see the results now, in his quiet confidence, courage and resilience. When we moved from India in 2018, I was very very anxious about his ability to handle this big transition. Having seen him tackle it head-on and just do what it takes to integrate and come out ahead, I'll be sure not to suffer unnecessary sleepless nights next time around!

A big part of the parental contract is protecting your kids from the vicissitudes of life. To the extent that we can, all of us want our kids to have a safe untroubled childhood. But exposing them to change, uncertainty, failure - this is part of the parental contract too. This gen will come of age in a VUCA world, and they need all the tools they can equip themselves with. And for most of us, we need to consciously build in challenges, experiences and situations that force our kids to go out of their comfort zone in a controlled environment, when we are watching over them. Because soon enough, we won't be there to stand guard and they will have to navigate this chaotic world on their own. 

Some concrete examples of conscious actions we have taken/are taking to inculcate independence and resilience in our kids:
1. Independent living - Do chores around the house. Picking up their stuff, folding their clean clothes, throwing soiled clothes in the laundry, making their beds and keeping their rooms clean are expected. It's their job to clean the table every night after dinner and help in clearing up the dishes. I've been working on training Ads to chop veggies and iron his own clothes, but it's a WIP.
2. Academics - I haven't as much as glanced at their homework or test prep for many years now, unless it is voluntarily offered up for inspection, and their grades thus far have been great (positive correlation or causation?!!!) Keeping on top of schoolwork, studying for tests, exams etc, getting decent grades, is their job and their job only. Occasionally I will help out if there is a big project looming. This happens maybe once a year. 
3. Empathy - Cultivate an attitude of gratitude and reinforce the importance of empathy. We have made a lot of strides in the first one and are still working on the second. A regular family volunteering activity would go a long way to promote empathy and this is a personal goal for me this year.
4. Self-care - Exercise and be mindful. Again, WIP. Ads has been doing well on this and he exercises every single day and has a daily meditation routine. We are working with Y on this as well.
5. Socialization - Communicate, make plans, ask for help. We do a lot of this when we travel in Latin America, where it is Ads' job to walk up to random people and ask for directions, opening and closing times, and other general stuff which clueless travellers need to know :) Ordering in restaurants is another way for kids to communicate their own choices. We have to do more of this, including making them shop for groceries and check out with minimal assistance from us.

I feel like this list keeps increasing in length, and every week I can think of something else that I need to teach my children. Life is complex, and it will only get more so as they enter college, and the workforce, and the demands of the real world. As I keep reminding Ads, grades don't matter that much, but it's all the other stuff you learn at this age that is key - how to be independent, organized, socially savvy, brave and empathetic - to be a success at living. I'm not sure he totally buys into what he considers my mumbo-jumbo though!! 


  1. Very useful post Aparna. Enjoyed reading it and made mental notes too!
    I am a total introvert but have always been able to make like minded friends everywhere. I think introverts probably just cannot be friends and be chatty with everyone all the time since it drains their energy.

    1. Thank you Aarthy. It's been a while! Agree with you about the introvert bit too....


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