'Let's go for a swim, mom!'
When was the last time you ate a meal with your family, and laughed about what happened through the day? As packed lifestyles threaten to crowd out any opportunity to bond with your loved ones, and conversation is reduced to idle banter over the sound of the television, parents and children are finding creative ways to spend time with each other - over a race on the skating rink, while jiving at a dance class, and even during a lap at the pool
It is a windy Thursday morning, and tiny raindrops are creating waves on the surface of Ozone Swimming Pool in Goregaon. In one corner of the pool, 40 year-old Shweta Raikar and her 15 year-old daughter, Ruchita, are giggling. Shweta would never have stepped into a swimming pool a month ago. She was hydrophobic since childhood and never went swimming with her friends, preferring to sit by the pool as a mere spectator. Until last month. “Out of the blue, Ruchita solemnly informed me that she was going to teach me how to swim,” says Raikar, taking a slow, deep breath.
She puts on a black swimming cap, and helps Ruchita wear her water goggles. Slowly, she breaks into a breaststroke and swims towards the deep end, while a watchful Ruchita follows closely behind. An employee at an insurance company, Shweta works 10 to 12 hours a day from Monday to Saturday. Taking swimming lessons once a week from her daughter, then, has become a way to spend time together, which is otherwise tough. “During the week, our schedules are completely different,” she explains. “We make the most of whatever time we get together,” says the Malad resident. That also includes a private Bollyhop dance class twice a week, or a pottery workshop once in a while.
While Shweta comes home pretty late every day, so does Ruchita, a Class 12 Science student. “That’s why, rather than sitting at home and having a quiet dinner, we indulge in adventurous things on Sunday,” smiles Ruchita. Shweta sees this as a different sort of parenting. “As parents, we have to evolve and step into our teenagers’ shoes to understand them better. I talk to my daughter like a friend — we discuss her studies, boys and almost every topic under the sun — instead of asking her about her day, which bores children today.” The mother-daughter duo also conducted an art workshop for underprivileged children during Ruchita’s summer vacations in April — another attempt to reach out to each other in ways that add more value than distracted chitchat while watching TV. “Those who could afford the fees, paid. I asked Ruchita whether she would like to donate the proceeds, and she chose Welfare for Stray Dogs,” smiles Raikar. Shweta and Ruchita aren’t the only ones. As the BlackBerry take over dinnertime and bonding takes a backseat to the pressures of tuitions, work and a stressful lifestyle, parent-child duos across the city are finding new ways to carve out quality time to spend with each other.
Shall we dance?
Take 61 year-old Joaquim Sequiera. The retired investment executive was looking for inspiration in a ballroom dance class at JJ Rodrigues Cours De Dance, Colaba. “My wife Hilda and I signed up for ballroom dancing last month, and realised it was a lot of fun. I encouraged my 21 year-old daughter, Charmaine, and 15 year-old son, Vernon to join as well. Before I married, I had great interest in English songs and dancing, and now, I am fulfilling that wish with my family,” says the retired Santacruz resident. The family now learns Jive, Rock and Roll and Fox Trot together, twice or thrice a week.
And it is the mood in the classroom that Sequiera loves. “Can you be angry while dancing? It is impossible. It gives me pleasure to see my family smiling and calm, and dancing gracefully,” says Sequiera. He laughs, adding “This also gives us the edge when we have to dance at parties.” When Charmaine first heard the proposal, she was not so keen, she tells us. “It was my dad’s idea, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, it turned out to be fun. Now, all four of us have one thing in common — dance. So, we also have a lot to talk about. We attend a lot of parties and now, we have a blast at each because we know how to perform different steps and styles in accordance with the music,” smiles the student of St Andrews College.
Thirty year-old Shirin Amrute and her seven year-old son Aryan don’t dance — instead they put on their skates and chase each other across the skating rink at Atria Mall every week. A PR executive, the Thane resident often stays over at her parents’ home, to make her commute to her Churchgate office easier, while her son stays with her husband Hemant. “But, we make up for it prettywell,” smiles Amrute, who confesses she turns into a kid with her son Aryan. “We miss eating dinner together, as my work hours are different every day. But I make it a point to accompany Aryan to the ice-skating rink, which is his current favourite playground. I don’t want to be the mother who stands outside the rink, watching her child.
I want to be his buddy, and experience the fun together,” says Amrute, who understands that children have their own areas of interest separate from their parents. “I don’t want to be the mother who tells her child not to do this and that. When we do these crazy activities, I notice that Aryan responds to me much better. He expresses his feelings and takes suggestions from me. Similarly, my husband makes an effort to spend time with him at our farmhouse in Yeoor every week, as Aryan loves climbing trees. Though we may not have regular sit-down dinners, this, I think, is an awesome replacement.” It’s hard to disagree.
Harish Shetty, visiting psychiatrist at Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital, Powai, agrees. Family time, he says, was “first assassinated when the television launched.” He continues, “Meal timings varied with the shows on television — children wanted to see their cartoons, housewives their soaps, and fathers the news channels. Today, parents are picking a sport, eating out, going window-shopping and finding creative ways to bridge the distance. Family dinners used to be a traditional way to bond, but who has the time anymore? Everyone has a different schedule.”
Juhu-based psychotherapist Dr Anjali Chhabria seconds him. “Families don’t have time to eat and share a meal together anymore. But it is a must to find bonding time. When people look back at their childhood, they will not remember how much their father spent on them, but they will remember that their father took them to the beach. Dinner or not, family time should be created without fail,” Chhabria concludes. A similar thought seems to have taken root in Shweta’s mind, as she steps out of the changing room with Ruchita. The mother-daughter duo, smiling and sharing an inside joke, are already planning their next ‘bonding activity’. “How about an adventurous trek next week?” asks Shweta. And we can only guess Ruchita’s answer.