An exclusive excerpt from Active Parenting- How to raise children with boundless potential by RamG Vallath (Published by HarperCollins, 2021) , an essential read for every parent – whether parents of toddlers or teenagers
The Goal of Parenting
‘I want to create a recipe for great parenting,’ I told one of the mothers I was interviewing for this book. She looked at me, trying not to be disrespectful, but her eyes clearly conveying, ‘You idiot, how can there be one recipe when the ingredients can be as different as jaggery and cheese?’ She politely went on to say that maybe ‘recipe’ wasn’t the right term to use. She, or rather her unspoken thought, was right, of course. A recipe assumes standard ingredients that need to be processed in a standard way. With parenting, there is no standard ingredient. Each child is unique and can vary from one extreme to the other on so many different levels. What I can do is share a broad guideline on the strategies and techniques that are most likely to help mould a child towards a set of possible attributes as an adult. Just like in cooking there are guidelines such as ‘do not put excess salt’ or ‘if you want the water to boil faster, keep the lid on’ or ‘overcooking can spoil the flavour’, which are generally applicable to all recipes irrespective of the ingredients, in parenting too, these guidelines can be designed to be applicable to most children. Initially, what I set out to do was exactly what I said in the prologue.
Share the strategies and techniques employed by my parents that directly led to my possessing the traits that, in turn, led to me becoming extraordinarily resilient and happy even in the face of extraordinary difficulties. Please note I am not bragging. I have addressed hundreds of thousands of students and professionals on how to build those traits and written a book that became a bestseller. But as I started writing the narrative for this book, I realized that trying to create a broad set of guidelines that can work on most children will require more than just one person’s experience, however relevant it is. Thus, what started as a simple recounting of my story became a mammoth exercise that took about two years of extensive research and upskilling.
In these two years, I interviewed dozens of parents to understand their challenges, the questions they faced, what worked for them, what didn’t, and what kind of an adult they want their child to become. I also met some incredibly successful people—by the commonly used yardsticks of ‘success’. I am lucky that I have a huge network to draw from, because of the following reasons. I studied in IIT and XLRI and have friends who are highly successful in the corporate world and the engineering field. I spent twenty years as a corporate professional, about ten of them at CXO levels. Today I am the co-founder of an engineering start-up, and this brings me in touch with other start-up founders, venture capitalists, partners of private equity funds and a bunch of great engineers.
I also worked and currently consult in the school education sector part-time, bringing out a great science magazine as chief editor, which puts me in touch with renowned scientists, motivated teachers and other educators. I am a patient with multiple disorders and have gone through some cutting-edge clinicals trials, and I am a part of multiple volunteer forums that put me in touch with great doctors and NGO workers as well as some incredibly brave patients. As a motivational speaker who has spoken in over fifty schools, I have personally met around 40,000 children. So, I am well networked—to put it modestly. Apart from interviewing these successful people, I have spent time researching child psychology and neurology, even enrolling for an online diploma in the former. As a coach, I have helped people navigate difficult situations. I am privy to their challenges and struggles and understand what behaviour leads to happiness and success and what doesn’t. Most importantly, I am a person who reflects deeply and I put together and analyse all the information I get from all these diverse experiences.
This book is now much more than the narration of my life and the parenting that made me—at least in some respects— successful. It is the presentation of a model for parenting that is the output of the above research. It is full of examples and scientifically researched facts. I have shared a few examples from my life that I feel are relevant today, because these are examples that I personally experienced and hence can vouch for.
A starting point is the answer to the question, ‘What do parents want their children to be when they grow up?’ Each of the dozens of parents I interviewed came up with a list of adjectives when asked this. The list had adjectives that varied from ‘rich’ and ‘successful’ on one side to ‘happy’ and ‘compassionate’ on the other. However, most of them had a few common attributes that were right at the top of their priorities: happiness, empathy and social consciousness. Most of these parents also confessed that their parenting is driven more by firefighting rather than working towards a plan to build those attributes. If most parents agree on what attributes their children should grow up with, isn’t it important to have a strategy around achieving that and then executing said strategy?
You see, the first thing to remember about parenting is that it is like batting in a test match, not a T20 match. Instead of throwing one’s bat about hoping for a boundary in every ball since the game is short, one needs to deliberately make a long-term plan and bat with patience, planning and the aim of building a solid long innings, putting a lot of thought into how to play each type of ball and also pace your innings. Parenting has to address long-term values and behaviour of children: focusing only on making them ‘behave’ to have peace of mind in the short term is bound to backfire eventually. Every interaction with a child can be converted into an opportunity for growth if the parents have a well-thought-out plan and they use every opportunity to instil the right values. In short, effective parenting has to be ever active.
Effective parents are mindful of what attributes their children should possess as grown-ups. They know what values and traits will get them there and are constantly aware that their actions can have an impact on their child in the long and/or short term. So they try and act in the most appropriate way under every circumstance. This is what I call active parenting.
In contrast, there are parents who are passive. They are not driven by a clear picture of what kind of people they want their children to be. They are totally or partly unaware or unconcerned about the impact their actions have on their children. Hence, they do not proactively mould their children to inculcate the right values and traits. They only react to each situation that develops. Reactive parenting leads to short-term fixes rather than long-term character building. Some of these fixes fetch a six, but some of them can get you (and the child) eliminated—sometimes irreversibly.
Excerpted with permission from respective author and publisher Active Parenting- How to raise children with boundless potential by RamG Vallath (Published by HarperCollins, 2021)
ABOUT THE BOOK
What do you want your child to be?
There is no one way to raise a child. Each child is unique and can vary in so many ways in abilities and behaviour from others. RamG Vallath, indebted to his own parents for an upbringing that has helped him overcome great challenges and difficulties, set out to meet numerous parents to work out some common guidelines that could help raise children with boundless potential. This book is the result. As with his previous bestseller, From Ouch to Oops, this too is bound to reach out to and move its readers, and leave lessons of lasting use in what is one of the most important tasks a parent undertakes: raising a child to be a healthy, resilient, positive adult.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ramgopal Vallath is an IITian, a tech company co-founder, a much sought-after motivational speaker and the author of the best-selling autobiography From Ouch to Oops. He has inspired over 50,000 children with his talks and his life story is a chapter in one of the eighth-class textbooks for CBSE students.