First, please ignore the “father” in the headline because this is a story about “parents”. But I couldn’t find a better headline, and thus this one.
Anyways, over the past four days, I’ve read two contrasting stories on the relationship between parents and children.
The first came from Aninda Baruah, who wrote about Google’s new CEO Sundar Pichai, who was born and bred in India. Aninda wrote about how Sundar’s parents sacrificed a lot to ensure that he got all the facilities for education. Almost all the money that his parents had saved was used to buy tickets for Sundar to fly to the US for his scholarship Master’s degree. 
He concluded his story thus…
…Sundar Pichai (or for that matter Satya Nadella, Indra Nooyi, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen), does not just owe his success to his IIT engineering degree, or Stanford University or Google. He owes it to that entire generation, including his parents, that created the culture of extreme personal sacrifice in favour of educating us.
Reading Sundar’s story, I’m sure his parents not only used their money to help their son, but also sacrificed their time to be with him through the most important times of his upbringing.
Anyways, the second story I read was from Devdutt Pattanaik, who wrote about Samba, the son of Lord Krishna and Jambavati. 
From disguising himself as Krishna and duping his father’s junior wives (for which Krishna cursed him), to attempting the kidnapping of Duryodhana’s daughter that led to war between the Kauravas and the Yadavas, Samba lived a chequered life. Samba is seen as a precedent of immoralities or adharma .
Devdutt traces the reason for Samba’s such behaviour to his father Krishna’s neglect. He writes…
Can we wonder if Samba was a product of his father’s neglect? For was not Krishna spending most of his time with Arjuna and the Pandavas and in the politics of Kuru-kshetra? There are hardly any stories of Krishna as father. He is friend, philosopher and guide to Arjuna, but the only stories of father and son are of tension, rage and violence.
You see the contrast in the two stories, separated by almost 5,000 years? Both showcase the relationship between a parent and child – only that the first one is of sacrifice (Sundar) and the second one of neglect (Samba). And see the consequences of both.
When parents spend time guiding their children well, the results could be amazing (both for parents and children). And when parents neglect their children, the results could be disastrous.
And we are seeing more cases of neglect these days, mostly from well-meaning parents but who are extremely busy in the ‘work’ side of their lives. As Devdutt writes…
Somewhere along the line we have attached our value and our purpose and our identity to our work and our achievements. Family is not seen as achievement. Children are not seen as purpose. They are seen as obligations, duties, by-products of existence, even collateral damage. In families we don’t feel like valorous heroes. In the 20th century, in the post-Industrialized world, family is seen as emasculating baggage.
…Parenting has been outsourced to maids, teachers, computers, videogames and grandparents….Absent parents rationalize how office is more important than the children: we need the money, the children eventually grow up, surely our needs are also important.
And so many great Krishnas in the workplace discover that they have nurtured Samba at home: sons who either follow destructive paths as they seek attention, or sons who make way away from parents, as they have grown used to not having them around. Who wins? Corporations? More workforce (husbands and wives), more hours (always on smart phones), more attention (telecoms). Corporations were supposed to create wealth for the family. Now families are creating only workers for the corporation. We have many more Krishnas in this generation and maybe many Sambas in the next.
Not Money…Your Child Needs Your Time
Warren Buffett said this to a shareholder in his 2008 meeting…
I tell the students that the most important job you have is being the teacher to your children. You are the ultimate teacher. You are this great big thing that provides warmth and food and everything else while they are learning about the world. And they are not going to change a lot when they get into graduate school…
And you don’t get any rewind button. You don’t get to do it twice. So you have to do your best as a teacher – and you teach by what you do, not by what you say, with these young things.
And by the time they have gotten to this place where they are entering formal school, they have probably learned more from you than they are ever going to learn from anybody else.
I have been working from home over the past four years. And what I have realized staying close to my 10-year old daughter is that the best time she has during the entire day is the time she spends with me, her mother, and her younger brother.
Not any toy, not any visit to the mall, not the cartoon channels, and not even the videogame…all she wants is for her parents to spend some quality time with her.
And believe me, even a child as small as 4-5 years old (I look at my son) understands clearly his priorities in life.
It’s only when we parents flip the priorities to our convenience – first provide them everything that money can buy, and only then give them our time if it’s available – that the child starts to believe that this is the way life is to be lived.
My daughter, who earlier believed that all money that I brought home came from the ATM, now knows the value of money and that it is earned by way of hard work – only because I took out time to explain this to her.
“But you work from home Vishal, and thus have all the time in the world to spend with your child,” you might say. “I don’t have that much time as I work on a job and stay out of home for a large part of my day.”
I understand that, my friend!
But then, not hours or days, what a child needs from her parents are a few minutes of ‘devoted’ time each day. Nothing else would please her!
She won’t need your money or your investments that you are making for her higher education (these are, if at all, bonuses to make her future comfortable).
All she will need is for you to spend some quality time with her – understand what else makes her happy and what makes her sad.
“Vishal is getting philosophical here!” you might wonder. “Why is he telling all this on a platform meant to discuss investing ideas?”
Well, I am writing this because all investment ideas and advice about saving and investing for a child’s future would come to naught if the child’s present is not taken care of well…less financially and more emotionally.
After all, this is what I have learned from my daughter – Children need to know that they are important. They need to know they are loved and they need to know they are secure.
Your pleasure from your new house and your latest pay raise may subside. But the amazing experience you have from the good times you spend with your child will never fade.
Your child needs time with you. She needs your undivided attention. She needs to make happy memories with you. She needs to laugh with you. She needs to learn from you.
And as Buffett said, you don’t get any rewind button. You don’t get to do it twice. So you have to do your best as a parent and teacher – and you teach by what you do, not by what you say, with these young things.
Life can pull you in a thousand directions, and you might ignore it especially when your child is little. But remember – She won’t stay little for long.
A Chinese proverb reads thus…
If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate children.
So, slow down…take some time…give some time…invest some time in your children. It may have unusually great payoffs…as Sundar’s story teaches us (and even without a payoff, you would’ve done a great job).
But What about Your Parents?
Well, this brings me to the other side of the equation, and one that is often neglected – our parents.
It amazes me when I talk to people about their family’s financial priorities. In many cases (and I’m not trying to generalize this), when I ask them what they want to save and invest for, here is the list that is drawn out, and in terms of highest to lowest priorities…
- Children’s education and marriage
- My retirement
- Bigger house
- Foreign holiday
“…and what else?” I ask.
“And what? Nothing else!” they reply.
“What about your parents? Are they not part of your family or financial priorities?”
There’s a silence…mostly followed by “Oh yeah, I forgot that!” explanations.
I can understand the reason behind this irony when children stop counting parents as part of their family (which is largely made up of “me, my wife, and my kids”) and will tell you what I understand…but before that, here’s another story…
“Study hard, Vishal! You have to become ‘something’ in life someday. Don’t waste your time roaming around here and there with your friends. Remember that these are the two most important years of your life. Go and make full use of them.”
These were my father’s words as I was packing my bags. I was going to Bombay to attend an MBA course. This was the year 2001.
I had heard such a sermon from him so many times in my life earlier. Being a civil engineer and a topper from his batch, my father is a well-educated and well-read man. He has been a very caring father, but in those days, I often took his extra care for me as interference in my life’s decisions.
He knew the payback for hard work, despite the fact that he himself could not practice engineering due to the needs of joining the family business. But he was very particular that his son needs to study hard and become “something in life someday”. My mom was no different, always pushing me to achieve higher things in life through hard work and dedication.
I was tired of their tirades and thus an MBA from Bombay was akin to ‘freedom’…from the bondage that I thought my parents had imposed on me. I was weary of the daily rants of “Do this…do that!”
“It’s my life! Why are you worried so much? Let me do things my way, and you stay clear of it!” I would imagine myself telling them at so many times.
Well, this was till the time I became a parent myself.
As I mentioned earlier, I have a daughter of 10 years, and a son of 4, and I can feel the pressure of being a parent – the immense responsibility accompanied by fear that comes from knowing that there’s someone who, if not guided by you carefully, can end up losing her way in this big-big world.
I’m sure the way I felt the pressure of my parents being behind my back, pushing me to ‘behave well, study hard, work harder’, my daughter must already be feeling it.
Let’s Take Care of Our Parents
It’s now that I realize the importance of my parents’ upbringing – the values they taught me, and the way they guided me through life’s think and thins.
And not just me, I can see this realization in a lot of my friends who are going through the same pressure of being parents…the ‘pressure’ that that they mocked at when they were children and ‘bore the brunt’ of their parents’ consistent ranting and lecturing.
It’s now that I feel that grown-up children must change their views on parenting and treat their parents exactly the way they want to get treated at their children’s hand. I know it sounds selfish, but there’s no other way for this world to get its lost love and compassion back.
“Your parents, they give you your life, but then they try to give you their life,” said Chuck Palahniuk, the noted American fiction novelist.
In today’s world, where people are so tied up in work that they can see and think nothing but themselves, the parent-child relationship is standing at the brink of a deep crisis – and that’s what I understand is the reason why many of us children keep our parents out of your financial priorities.
As a young, modern society, we seem to have lost a huge part of our compassion towards our parents. We’ve become insensitive to the core values we were taught as children. Like me, even you must have been raised by parents who believed in the validity of a handshake and touching elders’ feet, and the importance of treating others as they themselves expected to be treated.
But tragically, as our parents age, they are faced with the realization and loss of these basic rules that binds our lives.
Just step back and reflect on the dignity that is owed to your ageing parents. Keep in mind what is hard for us as children, is ten-fold harder for our parents. Know that the process of growing old brings with it moments of freedom and joy, but it also carries fear and loss of personal worth.
The “what if’s” of life has become a reality and the ageing parents find themselves torn between living an independent life, and being dependent on their children.
Remember they never left us alone or afraid, and never ignored us as children. Instead, they always kept us close at hand and heart…always watching us carefully…always present for us though all our pains and trouble…always there.
When the roles reverse (like for me and maybe you, it has already reversed), we must remember to love and treat our parents with dignity and honour — for without them, we would be nothing.
We must change the way we treat our parents – physically, emotionally, financially – by preserving their dignity as they surrender to their ageing body and weakening soul.
This is probably the best gift of gratitude we as children can offer to them. After all, most of what we’ve learned…we’ve learned from our parents. If for nothing else, they have earned the right to earn our compassion, our gratitude, and a place in our financial priorities.
I can imagine a world where every child respects his parents and gets respect from his/her child. It would indeed be a wonderful world!
What do you say?
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