Thursday, October 23, 2014

Raising a Moral Child

My daughter just turned two, and she has already started showing signs of compassion and love. Yesterday, when I was bringing in the groceries she stopped, and offered me her hand for support. The other day when she was out playing in the backyard, and I was inside, she kept on coming back to kiss me.

We have tried to be very positive around her, highlighting positive behavior, and ignoring tantrums, willing them to obsolesce. It takes an effort to raise a moral child. Here are some tips from an article published in the NY Times.

  • By age 2, children experience some moral emotions, enforced by right and wrong.
  • Praise is more effective than rewards. 
    • "Rewards run the risk of leading children to be kind only when a carrot is offered, whereas praise communicates that sharing is intrinsically worthwhile for its own sake."
  • What kind of praise should be given?
    • Their character should be praised instead of their actions. This helps them in internalizing it as a part of their character.
    • "When our actions become a reflection of our character, we lean more heavily toward the moral and generous choices. Over time it can become part of us."
    • "Tying generosity to character appears to matter most around age 8, when children may be starting to crystallize notions of identity."
  • "When children cause harm, they typically feel one of two moral emotions: shame or guilt."
    • "Shame is the feeling that I am a bad person, whereas guilt is the feeling that I have done a bad thing."
    • "Shame is a negative judgment about the core self, which is devastating: Shame makes children feel small and worthless, and they respond either by lashing out at the target or escaping the situation altogether."
    • "Guilt is a negative judgment about an action, which can be repaired by good behavior. When children feel guilt, they tend to experience remorse and regret, empathize with the person they have harmed, and aim to make it right."
  • "Shame emerges when parents express anger, withdraw their love, or try to assert their power through threats of punishment: Children may begin to believe that they are bad people."
  • Parents should explain to their children:
    • Why the behavior was wrong
    • How it affect others
    • How they can rectify the situation
  • The appropriate response should be: 
    • “You’re a good person, even if you did a bad thing, and I know you can do better.”
  • "The beauty of expressing disappointment is that it communicates disapproval of the bad behavior, coupled with high expectations and the potential for improvement."

Friday, May 16, 2014

La Meme Histoire - The Same Story

She had existed and now she did not. Not at all, as if not ever. And people hurried around, as if this outrageous fact could be overcome by making sensible arrangements. He, too, obeyed the custom, signing where he was told to sign, arranging — as they said — for the remains... 
And before long he found himself outside, pretending that he had as ordinary and good reason as anybody else to put one foot ahead of the other. 
What he carried with him, all he carried with him, was a lack, something like a lack of air, of proper behavior in his lungs, a difficulty he supposed would go on forever.
Alice Munro, "Dear Life"

The children of Pakistani diaspora are well aware of the dreaded middle of the night long distance calls that are usually bearers of bad news. I experienced one such call, which informed us of my aunt's passing. She was in her 30's, had three kids, and died of ovarian cancer. We were in Russia at that time, in the early parts of the blissful 90's. We couldn't make long distance calls from our landline, so my parents got up, got dressed, and took the metro to my father's work to call my mother's family in Pakistan.

I was in elementary school when this happened. I believe, at this point in my life, the ramifications of death in my mind were limited to the following realities. I understood that her passing meant that her kids had lost their mother. We will never see her again. Her suffering is over. And, she has gone to heaven.

Her death, didn't make me think of my parents' mortality. It didn't instigate the fear that just like my cousins, I might also lose my parents one day. Or, what if my mom, or any other female member of  our family, might also get ovarian cancer.

But, losing my grandparents, within the span of last three years, and losing an entire one generation of my family, has instigated a new found fear of losing my own parents. In 2012, I lost my Dadhie (father's mom), in 2013 my Dadha (father's dad). My Dadha was never the same after losing his wife, my Dadhi. He became reclusive, and passed away a couple of months after her death.

Just a few days ago (Mother's Day to be exact) I lost my Nanni, mom's mom. My Nanni, who lost her husband, my Nanna, almost 25 years ago, missed him every day, and really loved him till her dying breath. Theirs was a legendary love story that my mom really enjoyed telling us. They used to go on morning strolls together. It was always refreshing and reassuring to witness my Nanni's devotion for my Nanna.
Yes. When we get married, I thought, Oh, we will have a long time together. I thought to myself, Thirty years at least, maybe forty. Fifty, if we are lucky. Why not? But time, it is like charm. You never have as much as you think.
Khaled Hosseini, "And the Mountains Echoed" 

The sad thing about relationships is that we usually get so busy with our daily quotidian that we forget to take a moment to appreciate the mundanity of day to day life. You see, relationships just like life also go through a cycle. In the beginning relationships are exciting, there is the whole element of mystery involved.  The two people are practically unknown to each other, which gives them the opportunity to present the best versions of themselves, the version they wish they were all the time. But, as the time progresses we all fall into the pattern of our usual-old-less-alluring-selves. Someone ordinary.

But those who want happiness, find beauty and love in the ordinary. Their shared priorities push them forward to achieve other greater milestones of marriage, such as building a home together, and most importantly starting a family. Once the kids come along, the life really starts to revolve around their bedtime, nap times, and meal times. At this stage in life, sometimes couples struggle to find time to see each other as husband and wife.

But life moves on. The kids grow up. You worry about their school, their college, their well-being...And, the next thing you know you are the grandparents now. That's how I see my parents. I don't know when I became the "adult" with a husband and a kid, and when my parents became the "grandparents". Members of the oldest generation of our family.

My own grandparents lived long, healthy, and fulfilling lives. They got to see their great grandchildren. Their lives have taught me the importance of building traditions. For instance, every year for Mother's Day, my sister and I would bake something for my mom, and our mom would make halva (a Pakistani dessert) for her mother. Then we would all get together at my Nanni's house for lunch. That tradition is not there anymore. And, now my grandparents have become a part of my folklore. But, it's our turn to make new traditions, so my kid can also have the same relationship that I had with my grandparents.

Note: The title of this post is borrowed from a Feist song featured in one of my favorite movies, Paris, je t'aime.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


'Life Before Man' is a novel by Margaret Atwood, which I tried reading in my early 20's and found that I was too young to understand the complexities of relationships Atwood eloquently points out here. But, now that I am at the end of my 20's, and after 4+ years of marriage experience under my belt, I felt that I could understand the struggles the three protoganists and narrators of this novel, Elizabeth, Nate, and Lesje experience.

One of the key themes that struck out for me was that we are a product of our past upbringing. Our perception of marriage for better or worse is a reflection of our childhood. The relationship our parents had. The type of home we grew up in. The three characters it seemed couldn't escape the shadow of their childhood.

Elizabeth to me seemed like an evolved version of a woman, who is aware of her emotional shortcomings as a mother, and tries to emulate the idea of what a mother is supposed to be. This reminds me of Albert Camus's 'The Stranger', where the protagonist faces dire consequences, because his reaction to a major loss in his life does not meet the society's approved response.

This book was written in 1979, and it is interesting to note that human feelings regarding marriage and love, in spite of the changing cultural and moral expectations, have not changed much. The actions of Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina may not be as scorned as they were in the 19th century, but these tragic figures would sadly remain deprived of love and eternal bliss even in the 21st century.

In this past decade I have realized that happiness is not a natural state of being, it is actually something that requires work, patience, and most of all dedication.