Monday, August 29, 2011

Conversations with Crows

While playing with my 1.5 year old son yesterday, I caught him smiling at the crow sitting on our windowsill and chatting with it. Endearing as that scene was, it brought home to me the realisation that I was far far away from such earthly pleasures. Caught up as I am in this crazy running around that I have learnt to call Life, I have drifted far away from golden, magical moments that carry so much joy and bliss. Isn’t this the case with many of you?

Seriously, when was the last time you spent hours counting the stars and wondering what it was like up there ....... walked barefoot on the grass without worrying about the next deadline at work ..... sipped your chai with complete abandon and luxury, without timing yourself to the schedule of the train you need to catch? Why go that far, how many of you woke up today morning cursing the rain, thinking of all that you had to do at the office, and how inconvenient it would be to get to work with this 3-day non-stop rain? Oh no, these are things meant for children, you’ll think, or for people who have nothing to do. Not for busy, important people like you, who have so much to achieve in life. If you spend time star gazing or chai sipping, you will miss the bus to success, riches, fame, or whatever it is that you need to achieve.

I am like that too. I run my life on a tight schedule, and pride myself on a time table that accounts for every possibility in the week. My life is dictated by my to-do list, and nothing gives me a better high than checking off an item from that list. My comprehensive list includes not just my work appointments and tasks, but also items like making calls to friends, taking my children’s studies, catching up on reading! Oh yes, everything has to be planned, every minute accounted for to the last nano-second! Until yesterday, I felt proud of the way I ran my life on clockwork, planning for everything, accounting for every possibility. After all, if one has to achieve a lot in life, one needs to plan, right? But yesterday’s simple visual of watching my baby engrossed in his conversation with the crow brought with it tremendous insight for me. I realised what I was missing out in Life. I was missing out on the spontaneity of living, on experiencing moments that are not only joyous and blissful, but also bring with them their own wisdom and learning.

So yesterday, I made a promise to myself. A promise to be alive to the surprise and joy that every moment in Life has to offer, to be open to unexpected situations that are beyond my planner, and accept them gracefully, allowing myself to learn the lessons that it has to teach me. A promise to stare dreamily at the rain that I so loved as a child, to be spontaneous, and yes, to talk to the crows!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Working parents: How to manage your kids

This was published in Complete Wellbeing in February / March 2010

Ajay and Manasi both have demanding careers that take a lot of their time, focus and attention. Also parents to a five-year old and a three-year old, they struggle to make time for their kids. Manasi is accomplished in managing her varied roles with efficiency. Ajay, a supportive husband and a caring father, is always there when Manasi can’t be. Between them, they manage to see to it that their children are never de-prioritised. Yet, they often wonder if this is enough. Both fear that they are not spending enough time with the children.

You are not alone

If Ajay and Manasi’s situation touches a chord in you, then you are not alone. There are many working couples facing a similar plight. In such a situation, giving adequate time, love and attention to kids can often be a perennial struggle. How do we manage to be our best, both as parents and as professionals? Many couples are today riddled with this question.

Behind the confident exterior is a mind riddled with self-doubt--are we doing the right thing? Many of us young parents of today have learnt to live with this constant guilt; it’s in fact become a way of life for us. Yet, it burns us up from within, eats us up, and is constantly there, at the back of our minds.

Tips for working parents

Is there any way to break this vicious cycle? Sure there is. With a little rearrangement of schedule and a change in perspective, you will be able to break free of this constant worry about not doing enough for your kids, and for your jobs. Let me give you some tips:

Plan in advance

Work out your childcare plans well in advance, preferably even before your baby is born. This will help you anticipate problems and work out best possible solutions. Evaluate childcare options available to you: parents or in-laws willing and able to care for your children, day care or crèche, or a live-in maid. Jointly discuss what would work best for you as there are pros and cons attached to each of the options. Together you can decide the best option.

Split chores

Parenting is a joint responsibility, and both the mother and the father have a crucial role to play in it. So, divide responsibilities. But also be flexible. There will be times when papa just won’t able to cancel an important meeting though it is his turn to take the children to their sports class. At such times, mom may need to chip in. Such adjustments are critical, as there will often be times when you will experience a clash of priorities.

Manage your time well

Maintain a daily planner and a to-do list, which can direct your day, week and month. Not only will it give you a perspective on the tasks before you, but it will also enable you to anticipate the amount of time and effort that will be required of you. Plan your schedule especially around the children’s school calendar; mark out their holidays, exams, open days, PTA meetings. Once you mark these out in advance, you can plan your schedule at work accordingly, to the extent possible to you. It is also helpful to take your spouse’s schedule and calendar into account when planning your own schedule.

Stop hankering for perfection

Give up the idea of becoming a 'Super Mom' or 'Super Dad' and a 'Super Employee'. This does not mean that you submit mediocre work at office, or that it’s okay to ignore your kids--far from it. On the contrary, you have to constantly strive to give your best at both places. However, you also need to be prepared for occasional compromises and adjustments. There are invariably going to be situations when your kid falls sick on the day of a crucial presentation at work. At such times, you will have to take tough decisions. Sit down calmly, assess your priorities, and decide what is more important at that point in time. Once the decision is taken, stop feeling guilty about it. The fact remains that you cannot be at two places at the same time.

Rope in support from your family

Not just your partner, but your in-laws, parents, and siblings can become your support systems when you need them. Build relationships with them that are mutually satisfying, so that they are there for you whenever you need them.

Build bonds with other parents

Often, you will find that parents of your child’s classmates are in the same boat as you. If you have a good relationship with them, you can split school-related responsibilities--such as having a car pool. This will also enable you to have a better idea of what is happening in school.

Teach your children the value of independence

Raise children to be independent. Explain to them the nature of your work, why it is important to you, as well as your value to the organisation you work for. Teach them to do things for themselves, so that the time that you spend with them is indeed quality time. Often, we hide our struggles and efforts from our children. Instead, make them aware of it. This will inculcate sensitivity and awareness in them. They will learn to treat you and your work, as well as work in general, seriously.

Find creative ways to spend time with your kids

It is important that you spend time with your kids as often as you can. You can have a casual conversation, discussing your day, in the kitchen, while you are cooking the evening meal. You can call up your child during a break to have a general chat, or just check on how she is doing. You can just bond with her while discussing the latest car models as you wash the car together every Sunday. There are plenty of opportunities of spending time with your children. You just have to be open to finding them.

Communicate frequently

Always keep communication open with your child--no matter how old he or she is. Make a habit of leaving notes for your children, which they can read when the return home from school or tuition classes, discuss things with them, ask them how they feel about things. Most importantly, listen to them when they talk.

Manage your guilt

Many parents feel so guilty about the fact that they don’t spend enough time with their kids that they often end up overcompensating. Overcompensation can be in the form of material things or in giving in to every wish, desire and demand that the child makes. Alternately, some parents in the fear of not spoiling the child become too strict. It’s important to be natural as parents, and follow your instincts, rather than allow guilt to drive your reactions and responses.

Enjoy their innocence

Most important of all, enjoy the time you spend with your children without allowing guilt to come into the picture. Remember, you are doing your best for the child, you are the parent, and you love your children. Cherish the bond you share with them, and give your best, and it will be enough. Your child will learn to value you, respect you as a parent as well as a person, and you would have done a great job at parenthood.

Helping children face the challenges they face

Despite all our efforts, as children of working parents, our children face certain unique challenges. The better prepared we are in anticipating them, the better we will be able to help our children tide over these challenges.


How to meet it: Most children, especially younger ones, will often tell their mothers to leave their jobs, when they see other parents [especially moms] picking up their friends at school. "Why can’t you come to pick me up like so-and-so's mom does?" is a common enough wail that most working women have heard. This feeling is even more intense for the only child.

Peer influence

How to meet it: Children of working parents are more susceptible to peer influence, since parents are not physically around to monitor their activities on a regular basis. Thus, parents need to zealously guard against unhealthy peer influence. It is important to know who your child’s friends are and what they do when they are together.

Distractions and bad habits

How to meet it: As children grow up, it is important that parents keep an eye on the amount of time they spend watching TV, surfing the Internet, or playing computer/mobile/console games. While these activities are mere distractions at best, at worst they can be addictive, and can take your child’s mind and attention away from studies and healthy peer relationships.

Alienation and strained parent-child relations

How to meet it: Children of working parents can become detached and alienated from their parents, if care is not taken to communicate with them on a regular basis. They become used to having independence; they can at times be resentful of parents not being around for them and can cut themselves off from them emotionally. The best way to guard against this is to always make it a point to be connected with them on an emotional level, no matter how busy your schedule.

Personal safety

How to meet it: As working parents, we are not around all the time to safeguard our child. Our children are at an increased risk if they are by themselves at home, with a maid or in a day-care centre. Make sure you have the right references and identification for the help you hire. Never leave the kids by themselves, if the place you live in has any security or safety hazard. Leave all possible emergency numbers with the children. Do surprise checks by arriving early at the day-care or at home just to monitor the goings-on.

SAMINDARA Hardikar -Sawant

Friday, April 15, 2011

Taming the Tornado: A Parent Manual to Manage the ADHD Child

A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is common enough in modern times. With increased awareness among doctors, teachers and parents, many children today are getting diagnosed. However, diagnosis is simply the first step. For parents of a child with ADHD, this is just the beginning of a long, and often, arduous journey. With little knowledge and plenty of misconceptions, parents find themselves running from school counsellor to psychiatrist, to alternative medicine healers to behaviour modification experts. In the process, there is confusion and helplessness, and often enough, parents tend to give up.

The sole purpose of this book is to help parents in this journey. Using simple language, plenty of examples, and illustrations, we aim to educate parents about what ADHD is all about, how the diagnosis is made, what aspect of the child’s life will get impacted. Most importantly, it hopes to provide parents with a clear road map of how parents can manage their child and his disorder in the best possible manner, so that raising the child continues to remain the joy it should be, and not become a burden.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Birthday, Disha!

Four Girls, One Dream --- that of setting up a complete mental health center in Mumbai. This was what brought the four of us together to create Disha in the March of 1999. Studying together since our junior college in D.G.Ruparel College, the four of us --- Shital, Mugdha, Anuradha, and myself, Samindara had always been friends. We became good friends in our final year, when we specialized in Psychology. The Psychology Lab in Ruparel was the place where we truly bonded. This bond further strengthened in the course of our MA at the University Campus in Kalina, where Shital, Anu and Mugdha specialized in Counseling Psychology, while I specialized in Clinical Psychology. It was during our second year of MA that we realized that the same dream resided in each of our hearts. That was when we decided that some day, we would start a counseling center of our own …….

Well, after our MA, each of us was eager to set off on our professional paths. I went on to join a school as a school counselor, while Anu and Mugdha joined a counseling center as psychologists. Shital, also a serious danseuse took a short break to focus on her dance exams. During a get together at Shital’s house once, we all got to talking about how we felt confined in our work places, how we could not do the things we wanted to do. Suddenly we felt, why not try to set up our own center? We got to brainstorming about ideas. Several of our friends were also there, among them Kavita, Sunita, Teju, and Ravi, who later went on to become Shital’s life partner. All of the above contributed with several valuable ideas and thoughts.

Once the seed was sowed, things just started falling into place. And on 7th March 1999, Disha came into being. With whole hearted support from our family members, friends, teachers and professors, we started work at a small place near Citylight Theater in Mahim. We started with a miniscule capital of Rs. 40000/-, most of which we used for buying relevant psychometric tests. But what we lacked in capital, we more than made up in blessings, good will, support and above all, the will to work hard and make Disha a success!

From there to today, 12 years later, Disha has come a long way. Today, in addition to us 4, Disha has a staff of 5, and several other associate consultants, who happily work for us as and when needed. Our services, which started with aptitude testing and career guidance and individual psychotherapy, today cover the entire spectrum of services in mental health, ranging from clinical assessments, in-depth vocational guidance, workshops for various target groups, individual and group psychotherapy, assessments for the gifted, the hyperactive and the autistic children, corporate assessments, and many more programs. We also provide our services to several well known schools and colleges in Mumbai and our corporate client list includes well known companies such as Pepsi, Larsen & Toubro, Hindustan Lever Research Center, Kesari Tours, Ranbaxy Laboratories, Reliance Energy and so forth.

But it has not been all smooth sailing. Along the way, mistakes have been made, and bitter lessons have been learnt. All of us had the knowledge of our field, but how to become entrepreneurs is something we have learnt along the way. There has been many an occasion where our strength has been tested; one occasion particularly stands out in my mind. It was an October day 4 years ago, when we had done very poor business, there was no work, and no money to pay next month’s rent. It was a dismal day . . . and a nadir for us. However, it also turned out to be a turning point, because we refocused ourselves and with renewed vigor started working towards getting Disha back on feet. And from that point, I am happy to say, Disha has only moved from strength to strength. On introspection, we have realized that ups and downs are part of any business. But if an organization has a committed team and a strong value system, business losses can’t really make much of a dent in an organization’s long term functioning.

There have been other mistakes as well. We were too trusting, and thus allowed ourselves to be vulnerable to being cheated. We found it difficult to demand payment from errant clients, we under quoted and consequently suffered losses. We were, and continue to be, poor in our marketing abilities, and always find it difficult to blow our own trumpet, a skill that is vital in today’s competitive market. But God has been kind on us. Most of our business has been generated through word of mouth, and we’ve often had repeat business from satisfied customers.

People have often asked us ….. how do four women manage to run a business? Don’t you’ll ever get into fights? Fights, not really! Arguments, plenty! We regularly have our share of differences, and there have been many major decisions over which we have locked horns with each other. But like I said earlier, we have a very clear value system, and that acts as our guiding star, where any major decision is to be taken. Anything that clashes with our values and ethical principles is rejected, and there are never two ways about it. I can say with pride that though there have been plenty of opportunities to take short cuts and make profits, we have NEVER been tempted by those. That is our strength, and has always been. As for other differences, we believe in taking team decisions, and usually go ahead with what the majority thinks is right. So yes, we do have our differences, but we always manage to resolve them in mature manner. For each of us, the priority is very clearly Disha and Disha’s success. So the differences are really pertaining to maybe how things should be done, and these get resolved along the way. Further, it helps that we are not only business colleagues, but also the best of friends.

None of this would have been possible had we not had the support of our family members. All of us were single when we started Disha, and our parents and siblings provided us with unstinting support as well as practical help. The initial capital of course came from our parents, and our siblings chipped in not only with ideas and advice but also with the actual setting up of Disha. All four of us were also lucky to be married to partners and into families who were appreciative and supportive of our venture. As business has grown, so have our responsibilities and we often reach home late, travel outstation, and more often than not, carry work home. Though living in joint families, our in-laws have always been understanding and have in fact gone out of their ways to support us. As for our husbands, they have been our backbone, our strength in trying times. I can truly say that Disha’s success is not simply the success of us four. The foundation of our success is laid in this love, understanding and support that we have received from our family, friends, and well wishers.