A moment of profound understanding struck me like a lightning bolt, 21 years ago.
A few months before my daughter’s birth I found myself in a prenatal clinic, engrossed in a magazine article as I patiently awaited my turn. The details of the magazine or the interviewee escape me now, but the core message of the conversation is etched in my memory.
When asked about managing her rebellious teenage daughter, the mother in the story calmly responded, “I’ve never tried to control her; I merely guide her.”
This statement got me thinking about my own path from being a teenager to an adult. I realized that my parents’ controlling ways had a big impact on my life. Even as a child, I was fiercely independent and trusted my own judgement. I didn’t like being pushed to do things I didn’t want to do, and I felt really bad when I had to.
I knew I had to figure things out for myself, whether it was about my friends, relationships, career choices, or just life. Whenever my parents tried to push me too hard, it didn’t sit right with me, and I would often push back.
Not only did I rebel, but I also felt that I missed out on major learning opportunities because important decisions were made for me. I had unresolved issues and felt incomplete because, in significant moments, I wasn’t able to see things through to their conclusion.
I was eager to learn and experience everything life had to offer. I knew that sometimes, things might get tough, but I didn’t want to hide from that. What I really wanted was to be trusted to handle life’s ups and downs, and to know that I always had a safe place to return to if things got too rough.
Therefore, I resolved to adopt a different approach.
I decided I was going to try my best to equip her with as much knowledge and wisdom as possible. Then, I would step back and trust, hoping that she would be prepared to face her battles. And when she stumbled, I would be there, ready with open arms and a comforting presence, to help her rise again, momentarily shaken, but ultimately stronger.
Here are the 15 lessons I wanted her to learn:
- Relish your solitude.
Step into the world and explore it by yourself. In doing so, you’ll discover who you truly are, what sparks joy in you, and what interests you. Learn to enjoy your own company without needing validation from others. When you’re with others, cherish the moment, but never let their presence define your happiness.
- Immerse yourself in reading.
Books are portals to different universes. Carry one wherever you go and let it be your constant companion.
- Embrace your tears.
Crying is not a sign of weakness but a process of healing. When you feel pain, let your tears flow, understand the source of your sadness, then dry your eyes, breathe, and continue your journey.
- Achieve big by starting small.
Great achievements are just a series of small steps. It’s the journey, not the destination, that truly matters. Enjoy every step you take towards your goal.
- Love wisely.
Love is a deep connection with another soul, not just a superficial attraction. When you fall in love, remember to keep your judgment clear, as love can sometimes cloud our thinking. Enjoy the feeling of love but remain grounded.
- Hide your fear from your adversaries.
There’s a simple story of a wolf and sheep passing one another by, as the wolf passes it feels the fear of the sheep and is far more likely to attack, knowing instantly the sheep is weaker. Walk with an air of confidence and hold your head high, regardless of the opponent. Think stronger and you will immediately feel stronger.
- Embrace your mistakes.
Mistakes are inevitable and the best learning opportunities. Recognize them, learn from them, and then steer in a new direction. Always apologize sincerely when you’re wrong and learn to turn negatives into positives.
- Stay resilient in a changing world.
The world can be tough and full of pain, but don’t let it change your core. Face the harsh realities without losing your empathy and kindness.
- Understand alcohol before consuming it.
Know what you’re drinking, its effects, and the risks involved. If you decide to drink, do it responsibly, and remember to stay in control.
- Don’t take things personally.
You’re only in control of your actions, not others. If someone hurts you, it’s their choice, not a reflection of you. Surround yourself with positivity and don’t allow negativity to affect you.
- Recognize true love.
True love is an action, not just a word. It does not involve cheating, lying, or violence. Always judge love based on actions, not words.
- Learn to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
Don’t sacrifice your happiness for others’ approval. Your time is precious, so live your life to the fullest without guilt, and never compromise your integrity.
- Make a career from your passion.
With enough passion, dedication, and discipline, you can achieve your goals and dreams. Since you’ll be spending a significant part of your life working, make sure it’s something you love.
- Live in the present.
The past is for reflection, and the future is uncertain. Embrace each moment, stay aware, and experience every emotion life offers.
- Don’t suppress your emotions.
Feel your emotions, understand them, and then let them go. Holding on to past hurts or worrying about the future can overwhelm you. Live in the present because that’s the only moment that truly matters.
Sitting in that clinic, I never anticipated that my child would teach me more than I could ever impart to her.
I wasn’t perfect and still have moments of self-doubt. I didn’t shield her in a cocoon of safety and security and sometimes, I wonder if I’ve given her too much freedom as I observe the unique and wild bloom she has grown into. She has faced adversities and challenges societal norms, as she walks the road less traveled. Yet, she’s wise beyond her years, incredibly creative, and a joy to be around. People are instinctively drawn to her.
Parenting often involves a fair share of worry, questioning if we’ve done our best for the life we brought into the world.
I think one of the greatest lessons I learned over the years is that although she is my child, we are not the same, and I cannot make life decisions for her. I will always be there to advise, guide and comfort her, but ultimately, her life is her own and so I take a tentative step back and allow her freedom to live it.
Kahlil Gibran encapsulates this sentiment beautifully in his poem:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love, but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday.”