Mother’s Day special: Aesha Shikhar Dhawan spells out the first rule of parenting... Not to claim ownership of your kids’ lives!
It takes a happy couple to bring up happy kids, and for Aesha and Shikhar Dhawan, nothing is more important than their three children’s ability to deal with the world both now and in the future when Aliyah (19), Rhea (14), and Zoravar (5) are adults and living their own lives.
This means occasional battles between the spouses – cricketer Shikhar would rather bring the children up in a more traditionally Indian manner, while Aesha is determined to raise independent young people. But since the ultimate aim for both of them is to ensure that their three children are confident human beings sure of their place in the world, Shikhar often defers to Aesha, who is seven years older than him. When they met, Aesha was a single mother of two girls.
As he said in a 2017 tweet: “My wife has had 17 years of experience in parenting. She has guided the kids in the best way possible.”
When Aesha agreed to marry Shikhar, she was already bringing up Aliyah and Rhea, daughters from her former marriage. With the arrival of Zoravar in 2014, she began thinking about how to bring up a boy. Last year, in a blog post focused on Mother’s Day, she wrote: “Isn’t it important that mothers teach their sons to love and honour another female and not just her? Because, until a certain age a mother can do and should do for her child, but after that she should graciously step back and let her child’s chosen partner take her role and place.”
For Aesha, who had Aliyah at the age of 21, motherhood is about instilling confidence and independence in her children. In the same Mother’s Day blog post, she said: “I raise them with the knowledge that they do not owe us anything. Let them love and live their life.”
In practical terms, this means that the family works as a team: there is no hierarchy of control. “Just because I’m older than my kids, it doesn’t mean that I know everything,” Aesha explains. “And I don’t believe that the kids are supposed to do things simply because I tell them to. Rather, I believe that we should work as a unit, a team where we learn from each other. Kids are actually much better teachers about life than we think they are. Parents don’t own their kids just because they gave birth to them. They should allow kids to be who they were meant to be; just be a true support and guide to them. Parents need to put aside their egos and not want to control their children.”
Aesha also runs an eponymous YouTube channel where she talks about parenting and similar relevant issues concerning women.
Aesha and Zoravar were in Delhi, accompanying Shikhar who is playing for the IPL’s Delhi Capitals team. This is not a regular occurrence – 34-year-old Shikhar, a world-class cricketer, travels too often for the family to be uprooted every time, and Aesha is just fine with that.
“I have been a single and independent person for a long time, and I can’t expect Shikhar to be a nine to five guy,” says Aesha. “Whatever works best for us, we have to be happy in that situation. Fighting against it would just lead to issues.”
In any case, as Aesha points out, one’s happiness can’t be fully vested in one single person. “Never lose your own identity,” she says seriously. “You have to have some passion to follow. When Zoravar was born and I became a mother again, Shikhar was travelling most of the time. But I was fine. I did my own thing. I had my own gym and did things that I like doing with my kids. That’s what keeps me healthy and happy.”
Often, even birthdays and anniversaries are spent apart, but at no point does the couple lose touch with each other and the children. “When we first started talking, we used to connect over Yahoo messenger, then Skype and now WhatsApp chats and video calls,” says Shikhar. “Thanks to technology, it is much easier to talk now. And instead of messaging, I prefer to pick up the phone and talk or make a video call. Messages alone lack emotion and can create confusion.”
It helps that the children are just as independent as their mother, even little Zoravar. “Thankfully, they are all very adaptable,” says Aesha.
Shikhar first saw Aesha years ago in a boxing ring in Australia and was immediately smitten. An athlete through and through, with interests in boxing, mixed martial arts, cricket, basketball and much more, Aesha Mukherjee, was her name then and she was a divorcee busy raising her daughters.
This meant that all cricket fandom plus Shikhar’s parents had extremely negative opinions about the relationship, but the two people actually involved – Shikhar and Aesha – stood firm. For Aesha, it helped that Aliyah and Rhea took to Shikhar almost immediately – Rhea, who was then six years old, apparently asked Aesha how they say ‘dad’ in India as she wanted to call Shikhar ‘dad’. But even though her daughters’ happiness is paramount to Aesha, she knew that her own happiness was equally important.
“As a parent, you need to maintain a balance between yourself and how much you allow your kids to dominate your life,” she points out. “If I give them too much control of my life, then in the future even they will not have control of their lives. They will constantly be waiting for someone to tell them what to do. But I had already worked it out. I didn’t ask them if I could get married. I just observed their relationship with Shikhar and I knew he was right for us. I decided based on the energy between them.”
For Shikhar, Aesha’s experience of the world is very grounding. “I am fortunate to have a partner whom I can always fall back upon in situations where I may be a little confused,” he says. “Being an athlete herself, she tells me how to keep calm during high pressure situations, and motivates me to improve my game.”
Love and marriage
Shikhar is a doting dad, always thrilled to bits when he returns from tour and finds himself nearly thrown to the floor thanks to enthusiastic hugs from his three children. “Honestly, they are all like four-year-olds,” he laughs. “Both Aliyah and Rhea enjoy sports and Rhea is great with gymnastics while Aliyah wants to be a dog trainer and is turning that interest into a business. I believe in being friends with all my children, so that they feel free to talk to me about anything,” says Shikhar.
By their own admission, both Shikhar and Aesha are strong-headed individuals, which led to ego clashes for a while, but by now they make more of the things they have in common than their differences. “Earlier, if I was right, I wouldn’t back down at all. But over time, you realise that there is no right or wrong. That maturity comes with age,” laughs Aesha. “Adjustment and acceptance are very important,” adds Shikhar.
Shikhar often shops for Aesha, because she hates shopping, and the two of them love music of all kinds, enjoy bike and horse rides, shooting and cricket. When decisions are required, they handle them together.
“We have not divided tasks in a manner that we need to let each other take a certain decision,” says Shikhar. “We both are mature enough to handle any situation. If it’s something that concerns the entire family then Aesha consults me and I have my viewpoint. But as I am travelling most of the time, she is equipped to take calls for the entire family. We are a very open-minded couple.”
Aesha adds: “My life’s experiences may have taught me some things a bit more than Shikhar, but we are best friends and work together perfectly as a unit. We are on the same page regarding our decisions.”
And they often spoil each other in little ways that keep the family love alive. For instance, says Shikhar, the most heart-touching thing Aesha has ever done for him has been to learn to make aloo ke paranthe. “That’s the best thing to do for a Punjabi!” quips Shikhar.
From HT Brunch, May 12, 2019
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