How To Be A Ridiculously Likable Parent

Inch by Inch, day by day. This upside-down approach really works. Parenting at its finest.

Karthik Rajan
Sep 11, 2019 · 5 min read
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Photo by Japheth Mast

Not starting with a ‘why’ question puzzled me.

Why are you angry? It is not good for you” — I do not remember my mom ever saying that. Now, as a parent of young girls, it seemed the natural thing to do. So, I followed up with my mom.

When I posed this question to her on the phone, I could sense she was pleased. Instead of answering me, she asked a question, “well, what do you recall as my first words?”

I thought for a moment and shared, “Will you ever throw what you have in your hand, will you?” or “Will you ever shout like that, will you?” (loosely translated from Tamil, with a thundering echo on the second “will you.”)

She chuckled and added, “I am glad you did. My focus was on grilling in you an awareness of how you will likely react before you react. So, I repeated your act in words, after the incident. Anger is a difficult expression of emotion. Being aware that you are angry is more important than anger itself. The best way to do that is the awareness of your first actions when you are angry. That would help you in the long term. That was my thought. I am sure it paid rich dividends.”

The last sentence she spoke with utter conviction. It made me ponder.

I was connecting the dots.

Awareness is one thing, A greedy algorithm is a different ball game.

I was at lunch with someone on my team, a couple of summers ago. In a moment of candor, he asked, “I have not seen you raise your voice, how is that?” I shared as a matter of fact, “when I get angry, the words that echo in my head if you raise your voice, you have to do 10 times more in return to make it up? I quickly figure it is not worth the effort to raise my voice.” My teammate’s reaction was one of surprise. I did not understand why he was surprised, now, I chuckle.

Those were my mom’s words when I was a teenager. In my most vulnerable moment of anger, she did not preach, she instilled in me the most greedy algorithm — what is in it for me long term.

And, I did not even realize it, until I became a parent. Learning without being aware that you are taught is simply amazing.

I marveled at her ability to transition from creating awareness to a “what is in it for me” — when teenage hormones ran high.

Praise: Reality of life is somewhere in between.

Now, I was intrigued. I switched gears from anger to praise. I asked my mom a pointed question that was simmering in my head for decades, “Many in your generation did not praise your kids directly. It could have been encouraging.”

That topic was a coffee table discussion among my friends during college days. Many of us resolved that we will be different (from our parents) by being more vocal in acknowledging good acts of generation next.

I could sense my mother was smiling at the other end — a full effervescent smile. “Do you recall me sharing your good work with others? ”

“Yes, I remember that”, I said.

She added, “Praising directly is like a sugar rush, great in the short run and hard to sustain in the long run.” She continued, “sharing children’s acts with others, within the child earshot was my preferred approach. Why? It shares with the child that such incidents may or may not happen when a third person is involved. If they (such incidents) happen, savor it. If they don’t, it is part of life. The most important of all, it shares with the child that we live in a society, there are more folks than the cocoon of your parents.”

Bring it all together

When I put my phone down, all I could think of — my coffee table discussions as a college student were too myopic. “praise kids or hold back” — the two extremes are too simplistic. The world isn’t. Without missing a beat, she had added, “what is true for kids, is true for people at work too.” She would know. She was an entrepreneur and a successful one at that, in her days when small business entrepreneurs needed to slug it out during license raj eras of India.

Contrarian, wise and non-conformist are words that come to mind when I picture my mom’s thinking. Adam Grant, Wharton Professor, has many non-conformist stories in his book — originals. She is an original in my life who imbibed her mother’s spirit, her father’s resolve and made it her own -in her success as a parent and entrepreneur. A woman who bucked the conventions and looked at the world of anger and praise differently and acted on it. A woman who grew up in small village in a Tamil speaking household on the banks of Cauvery river in South India. It has given me immense pleasure, as her translator, to share her thoughts with the world.

On a more personal note, things I did instinctively as a parent made more sense now.

A couple of years ago, I was on skype with her. Just like many grandparents, my mother was interested in things that really matter in life. She asked about my elder daughter’s schooling. I was parroting what my then 7-year-old’s teacher had shared. My daughter was a few feet away doing her own thing. As the conversation related to her, I looked at her fleetingly. Her face grabbed my attention- every inch was brimming with unlimited joy. She was riveted in the words I was sharing with her grandmom. The greatness of children is that they express their hearts on their faces.

My daughter had heard the whole conversation before as her teacher had shared it in front of her. What is so different about a factual parroting to her grandmom that brings unlimited joy to a child’s face? A joy that transcends a genuine thanks to you from her own parents when a chore is done well.

Now, the wiser me knows a little better.

Inch by Inch, day by day. Parenting at its finest.


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