Ensure that your child gets the best out of life; understand that each child is different and celebrate that difference; foster their individuality; nurture their talent; tell them it's okay to make mistakes; teach them to learn from their mistakes.
I was recently invited to give a presentation at a seminar, organised by a school in Coimbatore, about parenting in the digital age. I am not a qualified child psychologist. Neither can I claim expertise in guiding parents.
My having three children is enough to raise eyebrows. I became a parent when I was 19! That is the age most teenagers today rack their brains, studying for engineering exams, preparing for CAT or dreaming of a master's degree abroad. Whatever the age one chooses to become a parent, the fact remains that raising a child can never be taught. It is a process that one learns along the way, and the path is fraught with pain and joy in equal measure. One needs patience, perseverance and stoic acceptance.
Babies are relatively easy to look after. All they need are — to be fed on time, their diapers changed when wet, to put to sleep and to wake up at will. It is in the ‘terrible twos' that the woes of the parents start. Toddlers are ‘cute' for an outsider but a handful for the parent. They have to be potty-trained, force-fed, and baby-talked and protected from mishaps waiting to happen. They seem like angels only when they are asleep!
Teenagers are a nightmare in comparison, though. At least young kids can be admonished and yelled at when they don't behave. But teenagers can give you a hard time with their defiance, disrespect and mood swings. And then, of course, raising a daughter has its own set of challenges. We want to protect the girls from the big bad world and watch over their whereabouts; ensure that they don't fall into bad company; lecture them on late nights and the lurking dangers in pubs; fret about their clothes (or the lack of them) — and are considered old-fashioned pests who never understand them!
Add to this the stress of getting the children into a good school for which admissions are booked even when they are in the womb and tutoring them till they come to a class when we can no longer teach them math or science. Tenth and 12th have the board exams looming large like a formidable demon that has to be held by the horns. And parents go into a self-imposed exile shunning TV, friends and any social activity for a few months, vicariously living through the ordeal of their children. Then begins a mad scramble for application forms, entrance exams, professional courses, universities and admissions, of course, with capitation fees. A lot of work, let me tell you!
But a few decades ago, parenting somehow seemed a cakewalk! How else would you explain couples having five and eight or in extreme cases, 12 children? It was not uncommon to see the mother and the daughter pregnant at the same time — without their feeling embarrassed at the prospect of a child being born along with its aunt or uncle! We now shudder at the thought.
Parenting then was not taken too seriously, I think. It was a joint effort — with grandparents, aunts and uncles freely chipping in. And parents were not too sensitive or possessive about their children — it was okay to have them disciplined by a relative in the family.
I am the fifth child after four brothers and I don't remember being disciplined by either of my parents. We were all brought up by our grandmothers and an aunt who lived with us. And our mother never once defended our misbehaviour or resented the interference from her in-laws. And I think we grew up to be reasonably good individuals who understand people's idiosyncrasies and are tolerant of their quirks — exposed as we were to various such characters in our childhood.
To me, parenting means being there for your child. Do what it takes to ensure that your child gets the best out of life; understand that each child is different and celebrate that difference; never compare the child with its siblings/ cousins/friends; recognise their interests that may not always be in sync with yours; foster their individuality; nurture their talent; tell them it's okay to make mistakes; teach them to learn from their mistakes; love, adore, hug and kiss them; cook for them and clean after them; teach them the simple pleasures of life — such as going out for a walk to the beach, chatting with grandparents, sharing their thoughts , enjoying a home-made meal with everyone; and, above all, don't pretend to be their friend — they already have them — just be a good parent without trying too hard.
My eldest son was never into academics — he loathed studies and enjoyed playing outdoors, tennis, swimming and music. Ditto with my daughter — she loved theatre and dancing. My son started music lessons when he was seven years old — he holds a Master's in classical music today and is a promising veena artist. My daughter is a classical dancer who has dabbled in English theatre as an actor and in movies as assistant director. But she was never keen on music — would always dodge music lessons and ensure that the teacher was frustrated enough to give up! My last son is the only one who did the predictable — he excelled in school and is now pursuing engineering education. But he studied despite us.
We never forced any of our children to study hard or top the class. I would go to their school only twice a year for PTA meetings. Never insisted on their performance. Never compared notes with other parents, leave alone with other children. Never lost sleep over their marks. I am not sure if my attitude was good or bad — and I am certainly not suggesting that it is the ideal. But my heart swells with pride when I see the three of them so close to each other — with no comparisons or complexes, taking pride in one another's choices and looking out for one another's welfare.
Today, parenting is a challenge. Parents give more than the child needs and, on the flip-side, expect much more than the child can possibly do. I find a lot of children unable to hold a conversation with real people — unless they are on sms/chat/skype/g-talk or whatever. Most of their time is spent attending classes — tuition, dance, music, skating, even storytelling! Today's children get the best of everything — education, gadgets, clothes, gizmos, holidays, pocket money. But do they really have a childhood??
(The writer's email ID is: firstname.lastname@example.org)