Why should there so many conflicts between parents and children? Why do we become strangers to our children? Why does the relationship become formal? What can’t the relationship with our children be authentic and fulfilling?
I had been a teacher and had mentored kids (young adults) between the age of 18 and 22. This is an explosive age when our children are trying to find their feet and as parents, we find it difficult to let go. The parents argue that the children will make mistakes; they believe that they know what is best for the child and also feel the need to control. On the other hand, the children feel that there is no freedom from parents and that they are too intrusive.
Initially, I used to think that it was an issue of freedom. I used to advise the parents to allow greater freedom and the children were encouraged to appreciate the parent’s anxieties. I later realized that though outwardly the problem seemed to be of freedom, it was not so! It was a question of genuine empathetic understanding. The children tell me “I know my parents love me and are genuinely concerned, but they don’t understand me. I don’t think I am being understood.”
When I approach the parents with this feedback, they are generally not willing to accept the reality. They insist that they understand their children well – after all, they have been seeing them for the last twenty years. They argue that they spend time with their children – take them out for vacations; take interest in their school/ college activities and hobbies. Though the children appreciate all this attention, they want genuine understanding from the parents in their moments of confusion; during decisions of career or education; in their flights of independence; when they make mistakes!
If there is anything close to unconditional love, it is usually the love of the parents for their child. Hence, parents genuinely wish to understand their children. Blame it on the generation gap, changing values and beliefs and the parents find it difficult to put themselves in the shoes of the child. Hence, they unconsciously start pretending that they have understood. It is very easy to sense when a person is genuine and sincere, and when they are not. Very soon the child sees through the pretense and loses trust. They become strangers and the relationship become formal.
Why can’t we be genuine? What is stopping us from being genuinely understanding of our children? I realized the biggest obstacle to genuine understanding was my goal of happiness. My child was a route to my happiness. My hyped-up goal of happiness becomes central for me and is linked to how my child lived, how he behaved and my social image. It was all about I, me and my happiness, and this attitude makes me selfish. When I am selfish, will I be able to be genuinely understanding? No! At best I can put up an act, which is easily seen through.
The only solution was to reject happiness as a goal. My friends ask me “Why does the goal of happiness lead to selfishness; lead to pretending and prevents genuine understanding? When I say No to happiness what do I say Yes to?”
When we SAY NO TO HAPPINESS, we become less selfish and the relationship moves towards authenticity. But it is not as easy as it seems, because this will become just another new technique until we really start appreciating that ‘happiness’ is a hyped-up goal. Even though happiness is elusive, at least it existed as an illusory goal. The paradigm shift of removing happiness as our goal creates a sense of purposelessness. This purpose vacuum has to be filled with an alternate goal because it is impossible for us to live without a goal. Otherwise, we will switch back to our goal of ‘happiness’. This alternate goal is elaborated in the book SAY NO TO HAPPINESS.
Genuine understanding needs genuine empathy. We all know that, but we also know how difficult it is to be genuinely empathetic. The book is about how we can practically implement all that we know theoretically. This approach of ‘SAY NO TO HAPPINESS’ is not only about authentic parenting, but also about leadership, relationships, spirituality – in short, every aspect of our life. It is a counterintuitive approach to living a far more fulfilling life and is founded on my personal experience of jumping out of the happiness paradigm.