By Mallika Chopra
When I found out that I was pregnant several years ago, it was one of the happiest and most exciting moments of my life. I was awed by the fact that I had a living being growing inside of me. I spent hours visualizing what my baby would look like, talking and singing to her, caressing her, and beginning to plan for our new family with my husband, Sumant.
However, as my love for my baby grew with each new day, so did my apprehension about whether or not I would be a good mother. Would I know how to take care of my baby? How would I contribute to her happiness or unhappiness? How could I make sure that she treated others well, that she felt secure, that she was on the right path? What was the right path? I became overwhelmed thinking about the responsibility of being a good parent.
It was at this time that I appreciated, probably at the deepest and most sincere level, how grateful I was to my parents, Rita and Deepak Chopra, for the security, patience, love, and support they had given me growing up. For much of my life, people have asked me, "What was it like growing up as Deepak Chopra's kid?" or "How did your parents teach you and your brother, Gotham, spiritual values and ideas when you were children?" Of course, for Gotham and me, our father was always just our father, and Mom was Mom. We never analyzed what it was like to grow up with them or how that was different from others.
But in the context of becoming a parent, I started to think more about the way in which my parents taught us, how they made us feel loved, and how easy it was for us to communicate. Because of my father's work as a spiritual teacher and writer and his eagerness to impart his knowledge to us, I understood at a young age how love and compassion set the foundations for everything else in life.
Gotham and I did have a wonderful childhood -- not only because of the fascinating people we met, but because we were taught to look at the world with magical eyes, curiosity, and passion. Perhaps because of this background, during my pregnancy I was inspired to make commitments to myself about how I could emulate what I had learned from my parents, as well as from other family members, ancestors, friends and from my own experiences in life. My hope was to give Tara a childhood filled with wonder, magic, adventure, and mystery. And I felt intuitively that the time to start was while she still a part of me -- I somehow knew she would be listening.
My desire to bond with my baby reflected what I knew scientifically, that the love and support a child feels -- perhaps even in the womb -- results in specific biological outcomes for health, self-respect, confidence, and behavior. And intellectually, I knew that my baby and I were connected at every level. But now, I actually began to experience my unborn baby as an extension of myself, of my body, of my mind, and of my soul.
So I started to write down promises to myself and to her. These promises were inspired by all the love and hope that I felt for her and by the anticipation of who she was going to become. As I wrote, I realized that each promise was inspired by something that I myself had actually experienced or learned. I started to write down the stories, memories, and lessons that I wanted to share with Tara as she grew up, as well as the values and intentions I myself needed to be reminded of as I faced the challenges of parenting. The result was that I could feel our bond grow and deepen as I wrote. This bond only strengthened after Tara was born and continues to evolve as she grows. I see that my love for Tara is reflected in her love for me. I know that we are constantly growing and coevolving.
Tara is now two years old. With her birth and the ensuing year, my writing project was pushed to the side as I immersed myself in actually being a mother. I have loved mothering Tara more than anything else I have ever done in my life. I have also realized that some of it comes naturally and that other parts of it are hard -- very hard. You need patience, determination, and understanding. And frankly, some of the original promises that I had made to Tara were not really practical (i.e. I promise to never say no to you.)
As Tara became more interactive, learning day by day and soaking up the environment around her, I opened up my promises and decided to focus on them again. I wanted to remind myself of the commitments I had made to her when she was born, and I was inspired to write even more promises. A few weeks after I opened the promises, I also discovered that I was pregnant again! Hardly a coincidence, my passion for the project was driven by the love for Tara and my new baby, Leela, who was growing inside of me.
I have realized through this process that the bond between a parent and child is one of the most important bonds between two beings. Parenting today comes in many guises with unique challenges, from single parents to those managing divorce or separation, to parents from different cultures, adoptive parents, those who are older or younger than the norm, and those who are managing full-time jobs or daily pressures. But no matter where we fall on the parenting spectrum, we are all bonded by the role we play in shaping the innocent minds of tomorrow. As parents, we have the ability to create new global citizens who have the power to change the world. In a world that is often colored by fear and violence, this role becomes all the more important. If we all make promises to teach our children love, respect, honor, and acceptance, then we are playing our parts in creating a safer, more secure, and more nurturing world for them to live in.
I promise to hold you, but never hold on to you.
When you look at me with your big eyes, searching for a hug, a kiss, comfort, and security, my heart melts with joy. I am there in an instant, knowing that today you turn to me for everything. I yearn to hold you, protect you, and nurture you. And while it makes me whole to meet your needs, I must constantly remind myself that I am really only your guide for a short time. You are on your own journey, a bud that will blossom into its own brilliant flower.
I know there will come a time when you will no longer look to me for all your needs, when you must search for your own answers, when you will want to wander around the world and collect your own treasures. I know there will come a time when I have to let go and admit that you are old enough to make your own decisions and determine your own actions.
I promise you that I will let go and give you the freedom to grow and become your own person. And whenever you want my advice, my embrace, and my smile, I will be there for you. I will always answer your call, and I will always be there as an anchor when you need me. And while I know at times it will be hard for me to hold back, I will respect your freedom and give you wings to fly freely with confidence, joy, and security.
I promise to show you how values can be the basis for genuine success.
An important lesson that our parents taught us when we were young was to develop a sense of values that could drive everything else we did in our lives. These values were not dictated or told to us, but rather, like all children, we watched how our parents treated others and themselves.
As we grew older, my father encouraged Gotham and me to begin a process of actually defining our values. This exercise made our value system a conscious part of our everyday thinking and activities. As we grew up, our values drove our academic, professional, and personal decisions and relationships.
Every morning as part of our meditation, we would think about the most valuable experiences that we wanted to have during the day. These experiences could include friendship, love, peace, harmony, laughter, creativity, intuition, discovery, and more. When we were silent and truly listened to our hearts, we always found that our most valued experiences were ones that made us feel good, happy, secure, and loved.
We would then take a few seconds to contemplate how we could find and nurture these experiences. Inevitably, the process of discovering our experiences would entail giving, sharing, or creating those experiences with others. This created a dynamic where we always felt connected to others and motivated to treat others in the same way that we would want to be treated. It also created a vision that engaged others who wanted success and fulfillment as much as we did. And most important, it allowed us to shape our own destinies, focusing on the experiences that would keep us inspired, creative, and passionate about each new day.
As parents, we hope we can instill values in our children that will give them confidence and inspire them to treat others with love and respect. The simple exercise described above is a powerful way to help children listen to what makes them feel good and then seek out and share those feelings with others in their world.
Name ten values that you hold most dear. Promise your child that you will teach these values to him or her by your own example.
I promise to remind you that there are many perspectives to any situation.
When Sumant was two-and-a-half years old, he went for his first expedition with his father. It was a big trip for his dad -- the first time he was going to spend several hours completely alone with his baby. He decided to take Sumant to the zoo.
Sumant was so excited when they reached the park. His father bought him a balloon and sat him upon his shoulders, and they went from one animal to the other. They reviewed all the appropriate animal sounds. They pointed out the brilliant colors on the parrots and the lovely feathers on the peacocks. Sumant's father then gave him a wonderful treat; they took a ride on an elephant around the park. It was one of the most special afternoons his father had ever spent.
When they arrived home, Sumant's mother came running out to the car. She grabbed Sumant, giving him hugs and kisses and asking if he had fun. Sumant was licking a lollipop, and he showed his mother the stuffed monkey that his father had bought him. His father beamed with pride, knowing that he had treated his son to an ultimate day of fun and learning. He was excited to hear Sumant's tales of the day.
"Tell Mama all that you saw," his father coaxed.
Sumant beamed with pride and responded, "Rocks, Mama. So many rocks."
Copyright © Mallika Chopra. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC. Reprinted from: 100 Promises to My Baby by Mallika Chopra. Copyright © Mallika Chopra. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098.