It’s Not Easy…Being Parents

This piece is continuing Meena’s recent angst about parenting.

Indeed, parents need counselling more than the children. In many ways it seems that children today are more the receptacles of the parents’ own aspirations and, yes, peer pressures. How does the parent participate in conversations which centre around–What school does your child go to; what does she/he excel at; where did you go for your last family holiday; which are the different types of special coaching your child has… and so on. So the child has to live up to the expectations of not only the parents, but the social circles that they move in. And somewhere in all this circle of “well-meaning concern” the child begins to feel inadequate and undeserving, and there starts slow seeping of confidence, which sadly may end in extreme consequences.

At another level is the insidious guilt of the parents—for being so busy with their work and leisure; for delegating a lot of the traditional parenting tasks to external help; for not giving what they feel may be adequate time and attention; for not giving the child “the best that money can buy, after all what are we working so hard for?” This manifests in the over-concern, over indulgence and over coddling by parents; and a sense of birth right to privilege, self-centredness, and “my parents can set it right for me” on the part of the child. This too may have disastrous consequences should the well-planned map of “how we see our life” go awry.

Every generation of parents feels that the times that they live in are the most challenging, and that they require bespoke answers to child raising.

Interestingly, over 80 years ago, my grandfather Gijubhai Badheka, wrote several volumes on the challenges of parenting, with the apt title It Is Not Easy…Being Parents.  Gijubhai was not trained in child psychology; but his deep concern for the welfare of the child led him to observe, reflect, and note his thoughts. He described the dilemmas faced by both parents, as well as by children, and explored possibilities of how these could be handled.

For me, these simple yet profound notings are as fundamental and relevant even today. Sharing a few excerpts, translated by me from the original in Gujarati.

The young boy strenuously clambers up two rungs of the ladder. As he raises his foot to reach the third rung, the father says, “Come down; you are too young to climb ladders. If you fall you will break your bones.”

The young girl carefully wields a knife to chop vegetables or to sharpen a pencil. The mother scolds, “Put down that knife; you will cut yourself.”

The daughter wants to put the pan of dal on the gas stove. Mother says, “You will get scalded.”

The daughter says “Can I carry the glass of water for the guest?” Mother says, “You will spill it.”

The adults are trying to solve a problem. As they discuss the child offers some suggestions. All say, “Now you don’t try to act too big for your boots.”

Every day in innumerable situations we react in this fashion, unknowingly squashing the confidence of our children. Every time it takes up a task, it hears echoes of its parents’ cautionary warnings, and drops it forthwith, overcome by the fear that it will not be able to successfully accomplish the task. If someone asks it to climb up, carry something or use a tool, it may refuse, or if forced to do so, ends up falling or spilling or hurting itself. The child ends up even more ashamed at its own inadequacy to carry out the task.

By corroding our children’s confidence, we truly do make them unable to perform. In some ways our lack of confidence and trust in our children is a reflection of our own lack of confidence.

We need to have the strength to have confidence in our children. Encouraged by that trust, our children will prove themselves more than worthy of what we have bestowed. A child is human, a human striving to grow. We must enable this growth, the blossoming of its personality.

Removed from all the outer trappings of “success,” ultimately what do we, as parents, wish for our children? I think it should be “the confidence and courage to take on life!”

–Mamata

 

Parenting an Instinct? Dangerous Assumption

Sanjeev 15 years old. Son of good friends. Committed suicide a few days before his Std 10 Board exams.

What would lead to a situation where a 15-year old is so defeated by life, or is in such despair that he takes his life?

Madhuri and Amar are wonderful people. They loved their two children and worked hard to give them the best of everything. Madhuri would get up at five every morning to cook breakfast and lunch, before coming to work. Amar would take them to the movies every alternate Sunday. They both worked hard to earn enough to give them the advantages they never got.

But were they good parents? I am not so sure.

Madhuri and Amar had married young—defying their parents to make a runaway match. Sanjeev came along before they knew what was happening. They coped with jobs, insufficient money, newly reconciled relatives, sleepless nights, and a fairly new marriage, as best they could. They couldn’t really draw upon any experienced parents, even if they wanted to.

But it was fairly obvious to many of us standing on the side and looking on, that though they were loving parents, they were not good parents.

Why do we assume that parenting comes naturally? That it is an instinct? That it requires no preparation, no conscious effort?

We have recognized the importance of telling young couples that the health of the mother and child are endangered if the mother is too young and her body too immature. But have we ever told them that the psychological and emotional well-being of the child are in danger if the parents are too immature to bring them up? Have we told the bride’s parents and the groom’s parents this?

We take the trouble to inform new parents what they must feed the child, what the symptoms of various illnesses are, when the infants must have their various shots, etc. But does anyone tell them how they must deal with their children? Give them a glimpse of child psychology and child behaviour?

Yes, my great-aunt had eight children, starting with her first one when she was 15. No. No one gave her lectures on child psychology. And all the children grew up quite well, thank you very much! Yes, true.

But surely the world today is a much more complex place than it was 75 years ago. Or 50 years ago. Or even 15 years ago. Were children then exposed to internet, Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, and all kinds of things I am not even aware of? Did they live in a world where a percentage point in Std 12 marks made the difference between making it into medicine or not? Did they live in a world where violence and sex were daily fare? Where corruption and cynicism were the order? Where possession or non-possession of branded shoes and jeans, or Facebook pics of exotic holidays, decided whether you belonged or didn’t? Where the family was two young adults who left in the morning and came back late in the evening?

The answer is obvious. We talk of education to cope with change. Then why do we not see that education for parenting is a–maybe the–most crucial part of this education? We know that data analysts need training; carpenters need training; engineers need training…. But we seem to think that we can take on the most important job in life—that of taking responsibility for another human life—without any training or education or preparation or even thought.

The increasing number of cases like Sanjeev’s that one sees reference to in the media clearly indicate that we need such education. But who is provide it? Where? When? How? Indian society must answer these questions. It is no longer enough to say that our traditional structures and family values are so strong that these things will get taken care of. It is obvious that the family and social structures are not being able to cope.

Someone has to act! This kind of education or sensitization hast to reach each and every young person. Reach them at a time when it is needed. Reach them in a way that it makes a difference. Is the Public Health Centre the venue? The anganwadi? The school? The college? TV the medium? Radio? All of these?

Whatever the answer, let us at least ask ourselves the questions. Believe me, a Sanjeev you know may break your heart.

–Meena

 

In Fashion

“Fashion sometimes ignores convenience, sometimes even causes inconvenience. All fashions may not have great thinking behind them, and sometimes thinking people fall prey to fashion.

Children of fashion-conscious parents have also to swim with the tides of the times. Children are often made to exhibit what parents find fashionable or what is ‘in style’ at the moment.

Take an example of girls’ dresses. Most of these have buttons at the back. No one knows who thought of this style, but children wear it, parents demand it and tailors stitch accordingly. So far, so good.

But what happens when a child wears a dress with buttons at the back. “Mother do my buttons.””Papa please fasten my hooks.” The parents are hassled with other tasks. The mother calls for the older sister. “Help her with her buttons”, or she calls for the servant,”Why don’t you close the buttons for her?”

The child with her own two hands is helpless. She is dependent on someone else to complete dressing. She cannot go out unless someone is there to button her up. She has to request, or plead, or shout for this. She is dependent all for the sake of being dressed in the fashion, a dress with buttons at the back!

That is just for dressing. What about undressing?

If the dress gets wet the child cannot take it off. If she is feeling hot, she can’t take it off. And, heaven forbid, if her dress catches fire, she can’t take it off.

But still the child wears such dresses. She likes them because her parents do. They like them because they want their child to be ‘well dressed.’

But fashion is really a series of fads. Started somewhere by someone who wants to be different, it sometimes catches on, and then everyone wants to follow blindly.

Sometimes the glamour of being different, or being in style blinds people to the basic tenets of simplicity, comfort, and practicality in the way they dress.

We might, as adults, indulge in this. But when it comes to our children we must first think of their comfort and convenience with respect to what they wear. Even infants often show distinct preferences for what they like, or do not like, to wear.

At our Balmandir we have a ‘front button’ attendance. Children whose clothes have buttons at the back take home a note requesting parents to get them clothes with buttons in the front. And parents do make an attempt to do so.

Sometimes they have not even thought about the difference it would make: that changing the orientation of a few buttons is indeed rendering a great service to their child.”

This is not taken from, nor meant for, a magazine on New-age Parenting. These words were written in the early 1930s–nearly 90 years ago, by my grandfather. The author Gijubhai Badheka is well known not only as the creator of some of the best loved and popular children’s literature in Gujarat, but equally for his writings for parents and teachers. He was also one of the pioneers of the Montessori system of education in India. Gijubhai observed children and adults and recorded his thoughts; he described dilemmas faced by both, and explored how these could be handled. Many of these were complied in a series of books in Gujarati called It Is Not Easy Being Parents.

This is one of the many pieces translated from the original Gujarati by me.

–Mamata

Average is Normal

It is that time of the year again. It is the season of Superlatives. Exam results with Beyond Belief percentages, pictures of the Highest Scorers in the papers, magazines listing the Best Colleges, coaching classes advertising Record-breaking Achievers. So many wonder-kids? Are there no ‘average’ children anymore?

Even several years ago, I remember meeting my children’s classmates’ mothers when we were summoned to meet the teachers after the exam results were given. I heard exchanges about the achievements of the respective prodigy—prizes for painting, dancing, skating, swimming and more. Class toppers, school leaders all. I wondered, if every child is so brilliant, are there any simply ordinary children in the class?

I began to have doubts about my own parenting responsibilities and skills. Well, I did try to get the children to go for swimming coaching, largely because their cousins were going too (50% success—my daughter picked it up, and my son did not), dance lessons (my daughter did last a couple of years, but never made it till an arangetram!), and karate (my daughter made it till the first camp, my son till the white-one belt!).  Neither they, nor I, seemed to have the endurance run the gauntlet and emerge a Winner every time!

As parents who followed a relatively laissez-faire style of parenting, our considerations were mainly that the children were given the space to simply be, and blossom as they will. But as they grew, it became increasingly difficult to cope with the expectations of a competitive system. Still we thought that we were managing ok within the larger environment. We got a jolt one fine morning, when our son was denied readmission into Class 11 in the same school he had studied in for 10 years, because he missed the “cut off” by a couple of marks. Imagine the devastation for a fifteen year old. The experience that followed is a story in itself. One of the outcomes was that we decided that we did not wish our daughter (who was even less equipped to cope with a mindlessly competitive system) to go through this. Despite being told that “this is the system, your children and you will need to learn to swim with the tide, or sink”, we actively explored alternatives….and found them.

The children made it through! Today they are in the ‘system’ as it were, without being sucked into its vortex. They may not meet the generally accepted norms of Mainstream Success. (“Settled” so to speak, with six-figure earnings, car and apartment, designation, the skills to compete ruthlessly …and burn out at 35). They are following somewhat unconventional paths; they continue to explore, and discover new passions, new horizons, and new accomplishments. They are rich in experience, life skills, and relationships. They have the confidence to be themselves, and “not just another brick in the wall”.

Perhaps the greatest freedom we can offer our children is to allow them to think differently, and more importantly, to act differently.  Gunter Pauli

peanuts flaws

From Peanuts by Charles Schulz