Making your children see a role model in you

— Malsawmi Jacob

When my daughter (I will refer to her as “Baby” in this article, since that’s the way I call her) was in college, she volunteered with a wild life rescue organisation in Bangalore. Whenever she got a call about a baby bird fallen off its nest or a hurt animal, she would rush to the rescue and drop it off at a centre in Bannerghetta Road, where they were taken care of. She rode in her battered, second hand kinetic all over the city.

One evening, she came back with a wounded baby kite. It was already dark, too late for going to Bannerghetta Road from our Cooke Town residence. She watched over her ward, keeping up through the night and feeding it every hour or so. Sadly, the creature died in the morning despite the loving care.

On another occasion, Baby spotted an abused pet dog. It was kept in a cage on the roadside, obviously starved. She reported the case to CUPA (Compassion Unlimited Plus Action) for animals. Saving it was a long process – reporting to the police, finding the owners, etc. The animal shelter was overcrowded, so she looked for someone to adopt it. Finally, she had the satisfaction of finding a good home for the poor dog.

I’m not an animal lover. Though I like to watch them play around, I certainly don’t have the patience to spend time on taking care of them. I used to wonder how this child of mine, who kept her room messy and hated getting up in the morning, could be so kind, patient and self-sacrificing for the cause of the dumb creatures.The clue to the mystery unfolded in an unexpected way.

Baby finished college, left home and went far away. We disagreed a lot on issues and lifestyle choices. After she left the country, phone calls became less frequent and e-mails became the main means of communication between us. One day, in a longish mail, she discussed her philosophy of life. One part of it went something like:

“Long ago, you and me were walking together on the road, we saw a street puppy fallen in the drain. You went and pulled it out. People standing around sniggered and laughed at you. I was ten years old, at an age when it’s embarrassing to attract any attention. I was embarrassed and stood aside. But I’ve never forgotten that incident. Maybe that’s why I took up the cause of animals later in life.”

Just one little incident. It took only a few minutes to execute. We never even talked about it afterwards. But its impact was deep. I am thankful it was a positive one. There probably were other instances that gave her a negative influence too. I’m sorry about those.

“Example speaks louder than words” is a saying we are familiar with. Yet do we take it seriously? Or, what kind of examples are we giving to our children?On another occasion, someone had asked me to write an article on the topic,

“Bringing up Children” for their magazine. “I don’t think I’m fit to write on that, I haven’t disciplined my children very well,” I said. Baby, aged eleven then, overheard me. “We at least help you with house-works,” she remarked. She was right. Both my children, Baby and her elder brother, helped a lot with works at home as we had no servants. They laid the table for meals, cleared it after meals, washed dishes, and did whatever was needed within their abilities. With joy, I still recall incidents of my two children singing and working together; my son washing the dishes while my daughter dries and keeps them in the cupboard. During school holidays, my teenaged son regularly swept the veranda and the steps. A neighbour’s servant mistook him to be our servant!

Lending a hand with house works came naturally to them as they saw their father and mother doing those works. We did not have to tell them. But there were things I often told them but did not succeed in making them do. For example, did I say my daughter keep her room messy? Well, so did my son. The reason: their mother was messy around the house.

Believe it or not, I used to repeatedly tell them to tidy up, lectured them on the advantages and necessity of having a neat surrounding, and even screamed that the mess was driving me crazy. It did not work. They were deaf to my words and kept following my example!

There were books lying around in the sitting room, on the beds, just about anywhere. Once taken out of the shelf, the books were very reluctant to get back even after they had been read from cover to cover! Talking of books, reading was another habit my children picked up from their parents. Now that they are grown up, they update me on newer good books.

There is also the concern of human equality. My husband is fiercely against caste and class distinctions. The children have not only inherited this attitude, but have gone a step further. They cannot bear to see servants, labourers and poor workers treated unfairly, and even butt in where others would think it none of their business.

All in all, more than the things we do or fail to do, the most important thing in life, I believe, are the core values. What kind of humans we are deep down. Children imbibe these from their parents or from the environment in which they grow up. On the other hand, children are also individuals. Two of them growing up in the same family, in the same environment, may turn out quite different from each other. In extreme cases, one may become a philanthropist while another turns out to be a criminal.

Parents should beware of taking all the credit or all the blame on themselves in such cases. In the end, we can only do our best and leave the rest to God.

About the Author
Malsawmi Jacob is a poet, writer, and former lecturer in English. Her first novel ZORAMI A redemption song was published in April, 2015. Malsawmi now resides in Bangalore with her husband.

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