Reach out to the men in your life

Why won't they say what's bothering them? Radhika Sangam brings you good advice on how to kick it with the men in your family!

The Men in Your Family

Ok, so there are some things that work generally, such as respect, compassion and communication. But how you bond with your 60-year-old dad is quite different from how you bond with your 6-year-old son. Here are some specific suggestions to strengthen your relationship with the menfolk in your clan.

Your Brother

Make Him Your Best Friend: Your brother's the guy friend who'll always be on your side. Don't miss his insights into the strange ways of guys, or the chance to run things by a more dispassionate, objective listener than your excitable best friend. My two older brothers, Sandeep and Sandesh, are my best guy friends in the whole world.They were always very good about having a little sister trailing around behind them, wanting to do everything they did! It's lovely to have friends who are guys with whom you can be as open as you like, whom you can seek advice from and to give advice to, in turn,' says actor and author Sonali Kulkarni.

Touch Base From Time to Time: When you get married, have children, work and travel, it's easy to let the threads of old rakhis unravel. But remember, your brother is the only one who knows your life, your parents, your home, your funny haircuts, your weird diets, what you looked like with braces on and in your chubby phase. A social networking website is great for those who travel constantly. Another great option is to add your brother on the chat contact menu of the email ID you use the most. That way you can catch up whenever you're both signed into your respective email at the same time. Ever since I got married, I have been working harder at maintaining my relationship with both my brothers. I personally write to them and make them cards, says Sonali.

Love His Family: Hard to swallow, but true. If you want your relationship with your brother to thrive, you can't be mean to his wife. My bhabhis have become my new female best friends. Some sisters try to show off their influence with their brothers by saying that they were there first. They say things such as, My brother never wears yellow, don't try to make him wear that colour! "But your brother may be open to trying yellow now, with his new wife," says Sonali. It's important to make friends with the entire unit. You must grow and change with life, adds the award-winning actor. If your brother's chosen a girl to be his life-partner, there must be something about her that strikes a chord with him. Find a common bond with his family and see how beautifully it all works together.

Don't Pry! Girls have a high comfort level with their brothers because they've grown up together, so they often forget to maintain boundaries. But just because you're a sister, you mustn't believe you have a right to know everything about your brother's life!' says Sonali. Sharing silly little things, such as a private joke or a nickname nobody else knows, will help foster closeness between the new couple. Do give them the required space, and respect their privacy.

Your Husband

Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve: Your marriage is one of the most important relationships in your life. Therefore, your husband is one of the most important men in your life. Let him know, through little ways and extravagant gestures, that you really care. On our anniversary, we had a small candlelight dinner on the gazebo.The whole family participated, but it was a couple thing. I involved the children for the arrangements. Our daughter helped make the pizza. Our son arranged the music on the laptop, and the children only served us dinner. But I told them they needed to leave us alone after that.My husband said, I knew you'd do something like this! says 39-year-old Kamakshi Madan, Pune-based wife, mother of two and co-owner of a decor store.

Do Not Trash Him In Public: Someone asked a married woman, Do you wake up grumpy in the morning? Pat came the reply -'No, I let him sleep!' When married women gather, complaints of grumpy, unromantic, lazy husbands who leave wet towels on the bed abound.This may seem like a natural conversational cue to give your friends and colleagues a blow-by-blow account of your latest fight with your husband. But zip it.Who doesn't fight with their husband? Everybody fights! When there are two strong individuals in a marriage, you are bound to have difference of opinion. But when you're out, respect your spouse. Remember that this is the father of your children that you are talking about, says Kamakshi.If you let it all out, you'll simply become a hot topic of gossip for everybody.Spilling the beans on your personal life solves nothing- it'll just give mean-minded people the chance to titter at your expense always.

Work At Staying Connected: My husband and I run two different stores, and often travel independently -we're growing as individuals every day. We could each easily go our own way, but then what's the point in being married? You have to keep working on your marriage, all the time. We make it a point to talk every day. As you grow older, your ideas get fixed. But being flexible to accommodate your spouse's opinions helps. It's good to grow with each other,says Kamakshi. Unless you're a tube of Fevikwick, don't expect instant bonding. Not even if you're living in the same house. Make an effort to keep aside uninterrupted couple-time to talk about your day and share your ideas and plans. Catch up after the children have gone to bed. Meet up during the office lunch-break on weekdays, or simply sit down together for an early-morning cuppa before your children wake up. Spend some "your time" once in a while.Stay clear of spilling the beans on your marriage in front of others.

Your Dad

Be Demonstrative: Men of your father's generation are likely to clam up on their feelings, but that doesn't mean they don't love the attention as much as a doting, gushing granny, or an alwayssmiling aunt. Give him a hug whenever you can, even if he's not used to it. He won't say much, but nothing feels as nice a warm hug from a loving daughter!

Nidhi Thapar, director of a school in Jabalpur says, 'I'm very close to my dad. He doesn't really express his wishes or demands. I've learnt to observe his behaviour and respond to what I see he wants. I have made it a compulsory habit to call every day, no matter where I am. I always end the conversation by saying "love you, Pa". He doesn't say anything in return, but I think you do need to say these things often.

Knowledge Transfers: Ask your dad to teach you some of the things you wish you knew, such as repairing a fuse, changing a car tyre or buying a plane ticket. Bonding over such activities is also a great way of breaking through your own mental barriers about your occassional "limitations" as a woman. A quid pro quo is equally good. On the other hand, you can offer to teach him some "killer" presentationmaking skills, and watch your proud papa show off to his colleagues all that his clever daughter taught him!

Make Life After Retirement Busy And Fun: Dads who've worked all their lives find retirement difficult. Staying at home all-day long, sudden loss of the "breadwinner" tag and having nothing to do may make them feel quite useless. Sometimes, he might slip into depression and remain aloof. You can help! Get your dad to start golfing with his buddies, join the NGO he has always wanted to help, sign up for a book club, start attending yoga classes or even take up with a bridge or card-playing group. Don't push, just let him pick the activity he likes the best. If he is more into responsibility, ask him if he'd like to take on dropping the children to the school and also picking them up (depending on his age and health), or paying the bills online. He might also like to take up a hobby. This can be a great time to help him bond with your own family as well. Make sure your children have every opportunity to see what a wonderful guy your dad is! My dad loves icecream. So whenever I go over, I ensure that the freezer's full of icecream. In fact, the first thing I do is make icecream myself, and I'm very particular about us sitting down at the end of the meal and eating it together!says Nidhi. Fathers and daughters always share a special bond, so make sure you maintian it in a special way. See Family News on more ways to bond better with your dad.

Your Son

Don't Expect Him Not To Have Feelings: We think boys are so tough! But the need for love and understanding is the same for all children, regardless of age. Yes, you'd expect them to be emotionally stronger, but they do feel things as much as girls do. They're just as sensitive, but they don't show it. They're taught from an early age that big boys don't cry,'says Sweety Jyoti Bulsara, Student Counsellor at St Mary's School, Pune. So, don't ride rough shod over your son's feelings. If he seems moody or troubled, find out what's wrong. If he's being bullied or having emotional issues, telling him to "man up" will not solve anything. Remember, making a child's troubles disappear is what moms are for.

Involve Him In Your Life: Boys need to feel like they're a part of your life. So don't shoo them away when you are making chapattis. I try to cultivate a better understanding with my son by involving him in whatever I do. Even if it is a household chore such as folding clothes, I don't say "This isn't a boy's job" because I believe boys need to know how a home is run, too. Then we start chatting as we work. I have plenty of warm heart-to-heart conversations with him that way,' says Sirisha Tangirala, Chennai-based HR executive, mom and home-maker. If your hands are busy but your mind's in an overdrive, though, your son will pick up on that. So don't make the sharing a superficial experience. Keep him in the loop, or he'll assume that he's done something to make mamma mad. If I'm worried or upset, I tell my son about it. I usually say something like, "I had a rough day at work" or "I had a difference of opinion with my colleague; that's why my mood's off". I don't go into details, but he understands. I don't want him to think that he's done something to make me angry,' says Sirisha.

It's Okay To Be Human: Be a "Both Feet on the Ground Mom" and not a "Pedestal Mom." Don't aspire to be the enigmatic figure whom your son puts on a pedestal and worships. Sooner or later, the high pedestal will come crashing down, and your son will be upset to find that his mother is a human being like anyone else.

Be realistic; you'll put less strain on yourself - and also make your son's childhood more carefree, fun-filled and secure.I try to relate to my son as a friend. If I get annoyed at something else and take it out on him, I make it a point to say sorry. All of us make mistakes. Where's the harm in admitting it if you're wrong?' says Sirisha wisely.

Have Fun His Way Sometimes: So, Pokemons are kind of lame, and action movies are pretty loud. But try to be a part of the things your son enjoys, even in a small way. I don't play PSP games, but I sit along with my son, suggest some controls he can use, and try to participate in them because he loves them so much,' says Sirisha.

I also do outings with just me and my two children. When there's just the three of us around (her husband travels a lot) we go to the restaurant of their choice and enjoy our little meal.

Bottomline: If a water-slide is what makes your boy's day, give it a whirl yourself. You never know, slowly you might end up loving it just as much as he does!Boys need to feel they're part of your life. So involve them in the house chores too.

With A Teen

Tired of unexplained sulks and monosyllablic answers? Expert Sweety Jyoti Bulsara, who's counselled hundreds of children as a counsellor at the St. Mary's School, Pune, offers some constructive suggestions for teens. 'The ability to listen without judgment is vital. We're always telling guardians to listen with their mouths shut and their minds open. No child is going to tell his mom or guardian everything. But you must make your teenager feel that he's safe and that he can tell you anything. Go out together to spend special "you-him time" with just you and him. The teen may be a little quiet initially. But eventually, he'll end up sharing things. He may begin to bounce ideas off you to see your reaction. But children ultimately make their own decisions. It's hard as a parent or guardian not to jump in and tell them exactly what you think they should do. Make a gentlem suggestion if you like. But for older teens, just listen.

What Works With All Guys

Being a good, honourable person. Forget what people say about how nice girls finish last. A relationship is not the same as a rat-race. Men have huge regard for women who do the right thing for the right reasons. Husbands respect wives who're honest and trustworthy; dads are proud of daughters with integrity; brothers have special affection for kind and loving sisters; and sons truly look up to moms whose moral compass points true north.

Meanness, backbiting, undercutting others and cynicism are qualities which will make a man wish he wasn't part of the same family as you. Being a "bad girl" is for silly teenagers - in the grown-up world, you need to be one of the good guys to succeed at relationships.

A Few Other Things

Don't nag, because men have a short attention span for conversation. Repeating yourself will only make you a big bore. Keep on with the whining, and all men (from boyhood upwards) will tune you out. Try to say something in a way that makes an impact instead, so that the man you're talking to actually gets interested enough to listen. If he still doesn't react, he's not going to. So save your breath and find an alternative solution. Be polite and speak in level, civil tones. After all, if you can be unfailingly charming to your boss, your clients, and your posh friends, you can certainly be nice to the men you love the most. Make an effort at keeping your temper when you're talking to your husband, and yell at the one who deserves it instead. Don't displace your anger onto your loved ones. Don't throw a fit, even if they say the wrong thing when they clearly mean well.

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