Thoughts on fear, conditioning and parenting

It’s been more than a month since I came here. Sorry! Life ….. got in the way. We’re beginning to see some semblance of a routine, school’s going well, I’ve begun working a good 6 – 8 hours a day with at least 2 – 3 of it at the startup. I’ve been hitting the gym more frequently than I give myself credit for. Allergy attacks, cold, cough and the works are all becoming normal now with little A and we at least know what to do now if something happens. So it’s all OK people. 🙂 Thanks for asking and thanks for keeping me on my toes about hauling my behind back to this cozy corner of mine.

Now that we’ve gotten the formalities out of the way, I thought I’d tell you what happened today and what’s eating my mind this very minute. A policeman walked into our house at 7 pm. Nope .. I’ve not been that bad while I was away. The usual security and identity verification stuff for passport renewals etc for Daddy A. You can imagine what this did to Little A though. A policeman in our house. The excitement, the fear, the curiosity!!! Well let’s start off by saying she’s been a whiny little thing all day today. Yes she had another allergy attack last night and is down with a nasty cold. I get it. But I had a sleepless night itching her all over while she insisted the entire time – and by entire time I mean from midnight to 7 am that mommy not lean back, sleep or rest. Just as she nodded off each time, she’d open her eyes and say “mommy don’t sleep or rest or lean back. Just Jo Jo me.” She was so aware of my position even an hour into her sleep. So you can imagine when I woke up this morning .. the two of us were having a ‘who’s crankier’ match of the day. No biggie if you guessed who won – she did! By lasting longer of course! Yes … I know who the mom is and who the child is. But that knowledge doesn’t always help especially if you’ve not had a wink of sleep through the night. She screamed non stop straight through a meeting at 5 pm I had, an interview with a potential candidate to be precise!!! She whined her way to the lobby of the building next to our park despite the out of control, windy weather! Did I say something about loving the Bangalore weather on a post somewhere?!?! Did I?! DID I?!?! Did I?!?! Well let’s just say this whole past month has been more like my horrible year at Portland where it was always rainy and grey! So yes … I spent the whole day as cranky as my little girl despite loading myself up on caffeine.

Why is all this relevant you ask?! The policeman .. that policeman. It all comes back to that. I had this evil twinkle in my eye when the policeman walked in at 7 this evening. I was exhausted and in no mood to play ‘Mommy vs. Little A – dinner time’. Dinner’s not a difficult time usually, she’s fine with her food. But I knew all the sickness wasn’t going to make it easy. So I waited for the excitement to sink in to her and the realization that there was a policeman at home after all. Then I used it. Shamelessly. Yes, rather shamelessly. The stories began. She’d been a whiny girl today and had broken all the deals she made with momma. She’d not kept quiet and let amma finish her meeting while accompanying her to the park, she’d not played with pretty P despite being given an M&M, she’d been mean to mommy despite mommy and her making lovely nutella sandwiches with her new playdoh colors. The list was endless. That’s why the policeman had shown up at the doorstep. Yes I’d written this all in my head and used it as a shameless script while the guy was sitting at the dining table checking my husband’s passport. And now … now he wanted to just check to see if she was doing fine with dinner and if she was going to let mommy make a lovely meal for daddy and herself.

Oh ya baby!!! I made roasted eggplant and pepper soup with a peri peri sauce soaked gourd and spicy gouda cheese quesadilla. It was heaaaaaavvvvveeeennnnnnnly. All this while she sat on her high chair for the first time in months .. eating her idlis, a roti and a bowl of rasam rice all by herself. I had a feeling that she knew we were milking the situation. I could tell. There was a bit of disbelief on her face. And a wee bit of an evil twinkle in my eye with a simmering feeling of shamelessness waiting to reveal itself in some way during some conversation with daddy A. But I chose to push it far back and focus on the evil grin and twinkle … heeeheeehaaawwwhawwww. Surprisingly, after the policeman left our place, she didn’t go back to probing about him or discussing her behavior or expressing fear, she just went back to being her happy merry self from yesterday, reading books by herself, entertaining herself for an hour and a half before agreeing to sleep in bed by herself with just dad’s arms around her rather than being rocked or sung to sleep!!!! Oh the joy!

This whole evening brought my back to the topic of fear … something I’ve been thinking about ever since the school teacher asked me to swap with Daddy A for helping little A get initiated into the new place. You can find a ton of literature on parenting that tells you how your children smell your fear or hesitation when dealing with them. I know that my own experience with her school and her teachers telling me to leave and requesting Daddy A to help her transition into the new school had to do with this precise point. I guess in retrospect I was emotional and she smelt it. I have not known how not to be emotional, especially not feel fear since I moved here. I was raised in a household where fear was a key part of how we were groomed and brought up. That was my dad’s approach. Funnily enough, it was coupled in a healthy fashion with ton loads of exciting adventures every single weekend of our childhood. While all the adventure and culture made me the person I am today for the most part, the heavy fear instilled irrational feelings and behavior as well. Took Daddy A 13 years to beat that all out of me. There was a time, as recent as 2 years ago in California, when little A was one and I had been out at a happy hour with the office gang, that I felt that same kind of fear. I’d told Daddy A I’d be back by 10, but lost track of time and came back past midnight, driving down 101N with a little more alcohol in my blood than he’d have liked. When I pulled into the garage I was sweating with fear. I apologized a 100 times, almost cried I think … all that while Daddy A just stared at me wondering what had gotten into me. He said it resembled the days when we were dating and I turned pale white when I was with him and heard a car with a honk similar to my dad’s (which was practically every car on the road). He laughed, suggested that it was probably the alcohol and the freedom to get drunk after one year of breastfeeding that made me as giddy as I was feeling. I was more shocked at the fear I was feeling than my state itself. I reminded myself over and over again that entire week, about the effects of conditioning. My brother and I, we would turn the TV off hastily or hang up the phone, run into our rooms, close the doors and pretend to study when we heard our father’s car being parked 4 floors down. We would read for our exams at midnight, 7 hours before taking the tests, under the sheets without daddy knowing. We would sign to mom to sneak food in even though it was study time and not dinner yet. And all the prayers I said while dating Daddy A and hanging around the city could have just made me a Hindu priestess (the first one of her kind!). All that changed, of course, as soon as I left the country and went to the US. He changed. There was no need for control .. for the most part. And we discovered what a riot daddy was, outside of his responsibilities of raising his children. But the effects have clearly remained long after I’ve taken my last exam, dated my boyfriend or worn pants under my salwar kameez to the movies! I don’t hold grudges against him. I look back very very fondly at my childhood memories. I came back to the country seeking all that for my little girl. But the fear … it’s lasted 31 years. And while I thought Daddy A had gotten rid of that side of me – I now see it in a whole new way in my interactions and relationship with my little girl. I jump and come to her beck and call not because I want to spoil her, but because I’ve been trained to answer instantly when someone calls. I reach out to comfort her when she whines each time because I’ve been trained to pay attention when it’s asked of me. I remember how I used to freeze when I heard my dad call my name, evaluating the tone of his voice. Was it going to be bad or good?!?! It’s the same now. I freeze each time she demands something or is feeling something, evaluating the situation – always with fear. Of course – these scenarios are always true in the not-so-happy situations. The happy ones are a whole different story all together. But the sad, angry or fear filled ones are almost always responded to, with more fear from me I suppose. And with instant attention. I’m sure a lot of her tantrum filled 6 months since we moved, have had something to do with this fear filled mom syndrome. She probably twisted and turned me around her little finger. She was too young to know that mommy had wanted her to feel NO FEAR. NO FEAR growing up. That was the one thing I wanted for my little girl. And it worked out great until we moved here. We would never throw random fears at her – no boogeyman, no scary cats or any random stories when we were back there in California. Today … Today is a whole different story. I’ve broken the one promise I made myself about being a mom.

I’m not proud of what I did today with the policeman. But I’m slowly learning to be in command. I can say No firmly without her challenging me all the time. I can throw a few fears her way while making sure they are harmless. If I notice a repetitive pattern of her fearing something, I run in and fix it immediately. And for other issues that involve the constant never ending ‘amma .. amma .. amma’ .. I try and not respond as though there’s an emergency everytime. I am not at her beck and call. I think she gets that now. I’ve had to learn it the hard way – how to deal with fear, how to not let my past get in the way of my future. I’ve had to learn how to instill a wee bit of healthy fear in my little girl without it being an irrational fear paralyzing her the way lots of things still freeze me. And more importantly, I’ve changed my thoughts on fear and conditioning over the years. I’ve gone from being in a fear filled world to yearning a fear free one for my little girl to finding a balance somewhere in there. And I can enjoy an evil smile once in a while, like the one that was provoked by the policeman incident today without beating myself up.

Parenthood … the things they don’t tell you about it!!!!

5 responses to “Thoughts on fear, conditioning and parenting

  1. There is nothing wrong in a little fear while growing up. You can always explain it to her when she grows up. Only it should’nt get repetitive, as you mentioned. I hate people who scare the kids into eating meals by using ghost stories and kidnappers. They make sure kids lose their courage slowly.

    • Ghost and kidnapping are ridiculous extremes and you’re right .. there are some serious crazies in this country that do that. I’ve heard it too. But I think the lines are quite grey sometimes. Sometimes things I never thought she’d be scared of frighten her but a ton of other things don’t. In general I’m not a fan of even a little fear .. but I’m learning to indulge in little harmless threats when I’m tired I suppose! Always aware and conscious of it though .. we’ll just have to see what happens as she grows up.

      • Yes its a little like trial and error. Each kid is different. And posts like these give us insight into how thoughtfully you need to handle such scenarios and what effect it might have on the kid.

  2. I am not a parent yet so won’t be able to relate to a lot of what you have written here but nonetheless i loved reading your write up. Good to see u back on the blog and am glad you are doing well 🙂

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