Want to be a better parent?

A different kind of coach Maya Cockeram holds workshops on parenting
By Smriti Daniel

Dr. Maya Cockeram doesn’t claim to be a perfect parent. In fact, she takes great care to emphasise that she’s very much a work in progress. She would probably tell you that all parents must be, if they are to raise their children well. As one of the few parenting coaches in Sri Lanka, Maya has taken it upon herself to help local parents find answers to the hard questions: how does one establish a relationship of love and trust with a child, so that they listen when you talk, and trust you to listen when they talk?

How do you broach the subject of sex with your child and then that of sex abuse? How do you discipline a child or deal with a rebellious teen? How do you ensure that your children grow up feeling loved and confident in themselves?

At the heart of Maya’s philosophy seems to be a great respect for the contribution our parents make to us as children. Having graduated from the University of Birmingham in the U.K, Maya left a career in medicine to become a stay-at-home mum. Though she would later work as a councillor and lecturer, these were part-time jobs. She and her husband Steve, who is also a doctor, shared a conviction that the best thing they could do for their children was to ensure that one of them was always on hand.

Emphasising that the first three years of a child’s life are particularly crucial, Maya says, “I believe children should be brought up by someone who loves them.” How children are raised can shape the course of their lives: people overindulged as children have been found to make poor spouses; others suffering from depression have found its roots in childhood neglect, says Maya.

Hands on: Maya Cockeram

Despite this, being a stay-at-home mother is not always something women would choose for themselves, particularly when financial considerations mean all hands are required on deck – two incomes can make life a great deal easier. Maya herself remembers having a very difficult time raising her two kids on a budget in the U.K, particularly without the assistance of an extended family. She describes occasionally struggling with loneliness, boredom and exhaustion but says, “I would tell myself, this is my job now....I’m doing it for a reason.” In retrospect, she considers the decision well made: she believes her bond with her children is all the more profound for it and that they have thrived as a result, maturing into capable, confident youngsters.

Serving as her guides have been her own experience and the words of experts and researchers in the field. “I read and research so I know what I’m doing is the right thing for them,” she says citing sources like ‘Unconditional Parenting’ by Alfie Kohn, ‘How Much is Enough?’ by Jean Illsley Clarke, M.A., ‘The Five Love Languages of Children’ by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell MD and the Dr. Sears website among dozens of others. “This isn’t my whim and fancy, this is evidence-based, found in long-term research studies that show what works best for children.”

The workshop she conducts provides an interesting combination of parenting philosophy and practical wisdom – but like any art, the skill only comes with practice. Disciplining your child effectively requires that you first discipline yourself. Psychologists have put forward the hypothesis that there four styles of parenting – authoritarian parenting, permissive parenting, neglectful parenting and authoritative parenting. In long-term studies, children with authoritative parents have been shown to thrive. Broadly speaking, it’s about balancing firmness with love, allowing discipline to be something that actually nurtures your child and setting guidelines they can count on.

Authoritarian parents, may sound less appealing than permissive parents who allow their children greater leeway – but according to the research the children of permissive parents are more likely to be unhappy, says Maya. Authoritative parenting takes effort and thought but the payoff though appears to be worth it.

Speaking of the onset of the terrible teens, Maya explains, “Children who had a strong connection with their family and with their parents, and who had values instilled into them are less vulnerable to peer pressure.” That’s good news in rapidly evolving times when parents are struggling to understand the contexts their children operate in daily.

“It’s a completely different world now. So many parents don’t understand internet safety for instance,” says Maya, pointing to things like cell phones that allow for internet access being given to young kids. Instead she herself chooses to heavily censor T.V watching and internet usage, and says she and her husband spend a lot of time simply doing things with their kids as a family.

Making this time isn’t always easy, which is why she encourages the parents in her courses to kill two birds with one stone and teach their children to be more independent. “Teach them to lay out their own clothes or lay the table, to clean up after their pets, to feed themselves and do some chores around the house,” she advises. As far as take home messages go, it’s quite a comforting thought: doing what is best for your kids is often the best thing you could do for yourself.

Maya’s parenting workshop is a part of Mums in Colombo. To learn more or sign up for future programmes, join the Facebook group:

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