Those of you who know me I am a romantic at heart but I definitely don’t subscribe to the kitschy displays of love especially when carried out one day of the year. My question is why not commit to a month long, year long, lifetime of HEART in any relationship – be in work, parents, spouse/ partners/ lover, friendships or children.
Most of my adult life, and more recently through the work I do at Klay, I have had the joy of meeting thousands of families – my own (of course I am not sure my kids or my parents would agree :)), my husband’s, my friends’, employees who work for us and families we support through our childcare facilities. I have also seen and experienced the joys and travails of a sandwiched generation and some more- young children, aging parents, ever demanding jobs and pressures of living in expensive cities as a migrant.
It strikes me that how and what we learn, as our children do, is largely through our own experiences, through schools, what our families teach us (both knowingly and unknowingly) and through our friends and social circles. Even through these wide range of lessons I realize we aren’t taught to deal with what I believe are the 3 important milestones/ events in our lives -as we enter the workforce, as we get married and as we have children. Who hands us handbooks or lessons on these? We learn through horror stories and success stories about what the workplace might look like. Marriage and selection of a partner is not something anyone really advises us on – forget what to expect and what to work on – we really form our notions based on movies and books. On raising children – it can be such a lonely journey when you are working parents in a city far from your parents and families and even if they are around, with the changing context all you know is what you wouldn’t adopt from how your parents brought you up.
Through these 20 odd years of having worked in professional organizations and starting up my own company, a couple of relationships that didn’t work out – one specifically, 18 years (and still at it with our shares of ups and downs) of marriage, amazing supporting parents and in-laws (Indian marriages are marriages of families so the mention of them is crucial :)) and 13 wonderful years of parenting (2 boys aged 13 and 10) – innumerable fights and arguments at/ with all of the above discontent doesn’t come from the lack of love (I would argue love is a chemical reaction but that is for another article) – discontent comes from the lack of HEART.
Honesty- the cornerstone of any relationship – work, spouse, parents, friends, children. It is really critical for you to be honest about how you feel, what you think and even more important for you to foster a relationship where others feel comfortable being honest with you. Saying I see something I dislike it but since it isn’t happening to me I wont do anything about it isn’t good enough – if it is important to your value system it is important to be honest about it.
Expression – so often angst comes from the lack of expression. Over the years I have developed a simple formula – something I learnt largely from my husband and best friend. Say it as you see it. No masking, no hiding. It might hurt/ harm in the short term but if there is honesty and truth to what you are saying and there is comfort in the relationship it will eventually be understood. Even if there isn’t comfort in the relationship stay true to your value system – if it bothers you say it
Appreciation – Most of the lovely people (women more than men) I work with and meet have all these questions of self doubt and self esteem and the burden of balancing everything – am I doing right by my family, by work, by my children – I have gone through years of this myself. Even if (and this is more the exception than the norm) they have supportive families they carry the burden of guilt formed by years of ingraining – benchmarks (stay at home mothers with hot meals), mental images (of how she will be the first one to do it all), public figures (if so and so can do I should be able to do it), movie characters (the perfectly well turned out actresses doing everything so effortlessly – its a movie ladies). Learn to appreciate yourself. More importantly learn to laugh at yourself – self deprecating humor is so liberating and it is a brilliant lesson to teach people around you – “Look, I made a mistake and I can laugh about it” – specially your children. Learn to spend time with and on yourself and things that matter to you. And give the appreciation equally liberally – to the parents who support you. To the work mate who helped you complete a task. To the spouse who you forgot to appreciate in the middle of all the transactional madness of food to be cooked, school PTMs, travel schedules etc. The house help telling me how they make you a saner person. And to your children in liberal, generous portions – tell them about the joy they bring to your life and not only about how they let you down. Remember your image of perfection or the lack of it is what they are taking away as a life lesson so think about this every time you guilt trip yourself, call yourself imperfect, wish you could do more or wish for more.
Respect – I would argue is all relationships but specifically in a marriage this rates way above love. Love is overrated. The shivers down the spine are temporary. Love without respect is selfish or a lie. Respect can be a wonderful foundation to work on for love (if thats what rocks your boat). A mutual respect for what each person brings to a relationship – work, friendship, parents, children and a spouse is critical. If it doesn’t exist express it – work on fixing it – by no means am I saying quit on it. But if it doesn’t come – think about whether this is what you would want in the long run. If there isn’t respect for what you bring to the table it isn’t worth it (I told you I had a simple mantra -say it as you see it)
Trust – Trust is relationship 101. But like my mom said (or was it spiderman :)) with trust comes responsibility (he said “With power… “I think). When you break trust you let the other person down but here’s the thing – you let yourself down. That trust came from respect and is a privilege – treat it with the dignity it deserves and don’t assume that because you got a second chance you don’t have to work harder – you have work to regain it and retain it.
As I let Arjun, my 13 year old, go to boarding school – much to the chagrin of my parents, concern from friends, contempt from others I realized the formula above. I was able to let him go because our relationship has HEART and not just love. I know that as he is away in a far away place coping with things, making independent decisions and becoming a better version of himself he will always know his family has his back and will be a better person for it. And also distance does make the HEART grow fonder 🙂
As for the rom-coms I still watch them – not wondering whether I would ever by kissed like that or whether I will ache for another person the way Harry or Sally did but really wondering if they found HEART after the love (Harry met Sally sequel anyone :))
CEO, Founding Years Learning Solutions (formerly VES)