From being the most-loved pair in reel life to becoming the most-loved pair in real life, the journey for actor couple, Suriya and Jyothika, has been phenomenal. What’s making the personal journey even more exciting is their simple, yet effective style of parenting. In an exclusive interview with ParentCircle, Jyothika sets aside conversations related to the entertainment world and talks about being a mother, and the many facets of her parenting. As she speaks lovingly of her ten-year-old daughter Diya and seven-year-old son Dev, we realize how invested she is in raising compassionate, respectful, and skilled children. When I started the conversation, I was given a schedule of around 20 minutes, but she got so involved talking about her parenting that by the end of it, we realized we had talked for no less than one hour. Here are the excerpts from our truly candid conversation.
Do you believe there is a perfect parenting formula?
No, because no two children are alike. I follow the same style of parenting with both my children, but they are very different from each other. Having said that, it is important to model good behavior and values, and most importantly, giving them time.
So, was parenting instinctive for both Suriya and you, or did you both agree on a particular approach?
We did. We agreed. For instance, since we are in the movie line, we decided we will choose films that our children can proudly watch. And we take the effort to give them a sense of normalcy at home. We have a very good rapport with our parents’ group at school from both my children’s classes. They are our very close friends. This makes our children feel that we are not different. At the end of the day, we are all professionals doing different jobs. We all are equal.
When you parent as a team, who is the good cop and who is the bad cop?
I’m the bad cop (laughs). Suriya is the one who allows them to do whatever they like. It is always the mothers, right? I’m the one with the rulebook. He is the ‘good’ one.
What are some things that you’d say no to and Suriya probably wouldn’t?
Everything. From ice-creams to homework, the list is endless. Their (the children’s) father is always more willing to work things out in an easy way for them. So, if any day I’m delayed at the shoot, they will happily have storytime at night with their father beyond 9:00 PM or 9:30 PM.
So, is ‘early to bed’ the norm in your household?
Yes. By 9:00 PM we are in the bed unless there is some exception. Children wake up at 6:00 AM for their school and leave by 7:00 AM. So, we also sleep with them. My children are early to rise even on weekends to attend their piano classes, maybe not as early as 6:00 AM but they like to wake up early as they want to maximize their time during the weekends.
How do you spend weekends and holidays with your children?
We travel. We are just back from a trek to the Himalayas. Trekking is their new interest now. We took them to this hill called Triund. It is about 9000ft above sea level. They climbed for 6 hours.
Yes, even Dev (who is only seven years old) did the inclined climb for 6 hours. And it was a steep rocky terrain, so we camped there at night. Then, the next day, we were down in 4.5 hours. Suriya and I have planned to do a trek with them somewhere every year. We plan to show our children one good place in India every year.
What are some other fun activities you do with your children?
As a family, we play a lot of games like taboo, strategy and other board games. The father and son spend a lot of time on their iPad together playing all those bad games (laughs).
You are not fond of that.
Not at all. But the children are allowed to play for about 30 minutes a day, not more than that. My children go to multiple classes. They are into sports. My daughter plays badminton. She is also learning Bharatanatyam. My son does Karate and badminton. They take piano lessons during weekends. Apart from studies, they are busy doing several other activities.
How important are these classes outside of school?
It gives them great exposure, which I did not have when I was young. It helps them use their time constructively. Plus, the routine gives them a sense of discipline. They see how others are working towards their goals. They meet children from different schools and understand how to mix with others. It is no longer safe to let children go out in the streets and play. That is something we used to enjoy when we were young.
One instrument and one sport is very important for any child to do. Also, parents today don’t have the entire day to spend with their children. If they (children) are left to their own, they will definitely switch on the TV or take the iPad. Classes are a big diversion that way. Let’s not force children to do things against their will, but let us give them the exposure, maybe they will like it.
Are there days when your children don’t want to go to these classes?
There are some days when they are tired from school. Those days they are allowed to give it a miss. As a matter of fact, my children are keen to go to the classes. I ensure I put them in classes along with their friends, so it is a good motivation for them. We have friends coming over to play every day after the classes. They all come here, play, have a quick early dinner and then, they leave.
What does your daily routine look like?
Mornings start with the children getting dropped off at school. Then if I have a shoot, it’s off to work for me. Or I go out for coffee with my friends. If not, I’m in my room. I do things I want to do. Watch TV or listen to music or do Yoga. So, I have my own time till 1:00 PM. Then, once the children are back, it’s their time. Sitting with them, giving them lunch, and sending them off for their extracurricular classes. Convincing them to do the homework is a one-hour job (laughs). Then, it is dinner and sleep-time. We are not late-night people, we don’t really go out at night. Even if the both of us want to go out, we do lunch in the afternoon. We are all off to bed very early. So, it is a very boring routine, the usual (laughs).
Is Suriya a hands-on dad?
When he isn’t at work, he very much is. He makes sure he doesn’t do shoots on Sundays. He finishes his gym in the morning. He is also home by 6:30 PM or 7:00 PM. The time after that till 9:00 PM is our family time. He notes down important events at school to attend them. He has not missed even one sports or annual day. Other than the work time, he is always around for the children, puts them to sleep, cares for them… so you can call him that (laughs).
What has been the most special moment for you as a parent?
Being a parent itself is very special, hearing the word ‘Amma’ makes it even more so. The most special moment so far was when they were born. Suriya and I holding the baby and seeing the baby look at us. That is something, which cannot be described in words! That was very special.
My most special part of the day is putting my children to sleep. That is when they really cuddle. Those 10 minutes before sleep is when they have stories to tell of what they dreamt the previous night, share with me what they want to do, or ask me to read the books of their choice. That’s the most special time of the day (hint of a smile). That is also when a lot of ‘I love you, Amma’ comes (laughs).
You mention the night cuddles and bedtime stories, so you co-sleep with your children?
Yes, all four share a room. We are trying to get them to move to their own room. You know, we just shifted to a new house and we made this beautiful dreamy room for them. But the children don’t want to leave us now (laughs). Maybe in 2-3 years, they will.
Who is the coolest parent according to your children?
(Laughs) Coolest? For my son maybe it’s his father and for my daughter, it’s me!
Is that so?
Yes, she looks up to me. My son is in this ‘superhero’ stage, he is all into action and power, and the father is always supporting him. But, for my daughter, it is me. She loves me riding the ‘Bullet’ (bike). She actually asked me to pick her up from the school on the bike.
Did you actually do it?
Yes, I did. Twice or thrice I did. She asks me to do it every day which is something I do not want to (laughs).
How do your children handle your celebrity status?
Everyone in our family is a celebrity, starting with my father-in-law. But, our children are not exposed to all our films. They are also not very much into films as such. We are very particular about the kind of films they watch. And, they have a great balance at school. My children also have friends who are North Indians, who don’t even know who we are. They are never made to feel the celebrity aura at home, at school, or among their friends’ groups.
How do you manage to restrict the kind of movies they watch?
They are still very young. So they are not yet very freely on the Internet. We prefer to put them on kiddle more than Google. It has all the restrictions. Our children’s computer is in the center of the house where people are always around. When they want to watch something, they come and ask us. And movies are our choice. Sadly, 80% of the content today is not good. First-factor being, women are not dressed well. More than language, for me that’s the reason I don’t let my children watch every film.
Do you have parental anxieties about the teenage years?
I haven’t come to that stage. So we are still dealing with them as young children and it has so far been very nice. I think It has to do with the respect you hold as parents in their eyes. Certain things you have to listen to them, while they listen to you the other times. It’s about striking the perfect balance. Right now they are young so we are able to balance it out. The next stage hasn’t come, so when it comes I’ll be able to talk about it.
What are the 3 things parents can do with their children?
1. It is important to have at least one hour of quality time with children every day. Have dinner together, uninterrupted conversation, play a board game perhaps. This will help children open up and tell us about what they are thinking, what is going on with them really; the general stuff like who their best friend is, who they like, why they do not like one other child, what is going on with which teacher, etc.
2. The second thing is traveling. It creates a lot of family bonding when you travel together.
3. The third is being an example to them; do not advise them. I want my daughter to work for sure, in the future. So, I will work.
How much of an influence has your own upbringing been?
I have 2 sisters and a brother. All my siblings work. My parents treated us all equally. They gave us a lot of confidence. My mother taught us to be independent. Moreover, I feel that it is important to have a strong mother more than a strong father. If you take Suriya and Karthi, they have a lot of respect for women. And Suriya always saw me as his equal even during my working days. He always backed me up. It speaks a lot about their upbringing. Equality and respect begin at home. It is important to be your own inspiration! I’ve done both—I’ve gone outside and worked for 10 years, I’ve also stayed at home and done home-ground work. And I feel it is easier to do work outside. The household work is neither recognized nor appreciated. Women must understand that we are doing great by multi-tasking. We must feel proud about it. Even at the dining table, everyone should sit together and eat. When the child sees Amma and Appa eating together at the table, he understands we are all equal.
And I have to say this. Thank you so much for a movie like Magalir Mattum. After so many years, you still manage to pull the crowd. What’s the secret?
Well, thank you. In fact, we should thank the Director for giving us such a movie. I’d say, as a society, we have always given the front seat to the boys. In many places, right from childhood, boys are encouraged to do things while girls are given household chores. Right there, we lose confidence that we cannot be out there. Personally, in our minds, we need to raise the bar that we are capable of much more. That is self-worth. With that, you come out confident and you can do whatever you want to achieve. For me, my mom taught me to be independent. My mother-in-law is very proud of the work I do. She takes care of my children when I go to work. And my husband is very supportive. So, this collective quality of people around—adds to my confidence. So, the secret is self-worth.
And it naturally reflects on your personality. No wonder you are an inspiration to several women.
Thank you. But I request everyone to ‘please inspire yourself’. There is no special quality. We need to raise in our own eyes. This self-worth and self-realization are important.
And you cannot wait for someone else to give validation. See, we all go to work, we know where we are in the world today. It is about time we realize our worth first. Even if you are a home-maker, that is work! You must be proud of managing the home. Your confidence will show and your children will be proud of you. It is important for them to have a strong mother any day.
Would you say parenting has changed you as a person?
Yes, parenting changes everything. When you are young, it is all about YOU. With every little sacrifice you make as a parent, you learn how to give. That makes you emotionally strong. This also makes you a better person. You are more confident, you are better at making choices. Also, the kind of movies I choose is also for my children, I want them to proudly sit and watch my movies. So, parenting has definitely brought a big change in my mind.
How was the bounce back after your sabbatical?
Yes, I’m back after 7-8 years. God has blessed me as movies have always been coming home and for me luckily ’36 vayathinile’ ran. And because of that lots of scripts have started coming in. I’m being careful in choosing scripts that will spread a message to society. It is a God-given nature of film stars—people like us, follow us, and people love movies. It is very important that we respect that and make positive use of it. As a socially responsible citizen, I want to take up meaningful scripts.
Have your children seen you and Suriya together in a movie as yet?
No. They’ve seen ‘Pasanga 2′ of Suriya. They’ve seen my ’36 Vayathinile’. They liked these movies. We don’t indulge in showing them all our movies. As I said, they are not very keen on movies as such. Apart from that, let them see us as Amma and Appa more than as Jyothika and Suriya.
Are celebrity lives really glamorous?
Well, it is balanced. We sure get paid. But it is a lot of hard work. Actors are out in the sun, in bad weather. There are days when you are not well but you can’t just stay back home. Our timings are erratic. Especially for women, the work-life balance is very important after marriage. So, it is not as glamorous as it seems but it is worth everything because there is a lot of love that we get from people. We always bring a smile to people’s faces even when we walk by. So it is a job that gives a lot of inner happiness.
What should parents do to raise happy and successful children?
I think parents themselves should be happy. They must not discuss problems in front of the child even if it is about the child. Also, we must parent as a team. We must agree with each other on the bigger decisions. Even if parents have contradicting opinions, it must be discussed behind closed doors. There should never be ‘Amma is letting me do this, you are not.’ And again, don’t advise, stand as an example.
Thank you, Jo…
And that’s a wrap!