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Updated: February 28, 2012 14:02 IST

Parenting is no child's play

Dharma Raman
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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:

More In: Open Page | Opinion

A great article in deed and it was nice reading through the simple feelings. Am a parent of a 4 year old, and this article pushes me to think how better can I comfort my little one.

from:  Sivaram Arunachalam
Posted on: Feb 28, 2012 at 13:29 IST

Very good article. I have some points to make. In the old system of upbringing, there was lot of companionship among siblings and great support from the families. But often, fathers stayed away from rearing their children. There was a fear and undue respect given to the head of the family and the result was the child was deprived of paternal care. In modern days both parents take active part in bringing up their child/children and they do a good job. My father even to this day doesnot know the birthdays of his children. In the joint family system individual attention is lost. There are good and bad in both ways of bringing up children.

from:  Vasanthi
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 20:33 IST

Excellent article. Many parents over strain their kids without thinking about their choices with only thought-that what I am doing is right for my kid. In foreign countries, they let the children shine on their own talent rather than insisting on studies. That's why India now lacks its participation in World Sports. A parent's primary objective should be to find out what a child is good at and encouraging to excel in it.

from:  Varadha
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 17:10 IST

Really a well written article, really thinking of how we the generation of 70s had grown say in a family of 3/4 brothers and sisters. Now raising a single child itself is such an ordeal with all the challenges that the development,technology had brought in...

from:  prakash
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 16:49 IST

Simple yet meaningful article on parenting. The final question of Dharma Raman keeps ringing on my ears. 'Do they have childhood?' Though in this information - digital age, kids are trained to be competent, I also believe like the author, that guiding the kids to find their own competence gives more joy - happiness. Training competence could result in stress in later years, but recognizing and honing innate competence will foster the joy. I request The Hindu to publish more articles on parenting and guiding.

from:  Vidhya Sriram
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 15:50 IST

Very useful and relevant article in present day parenting. Thanks to DHARMA RAMAN and HINDU.N.Daljit ,Imphal. Manipur

from:  Naorem Daljit
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 13:29 IST

Nice article to teach many a lesson about another world ,"kid's
world".Few parents actually realise this .

from:  tukuna patro
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 11:23 IST

Very nice article. Request Hindu to publish more such articles about parenting. As the father of 2 wonderful boys my biggest fear is, am I doing the right thing, am i doing enough. There are no second chances so we tend to overdo with out realising it. Articles like this give me the opportunity to realize life is for living and not to get stressed up.

from:  Ayyappa
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 09:52 IST

A very nice and decent read. I am a mother of 5 year old. When i see parents who
get tensed with their kids of this age as to what they should do in future, I wonder
if I am a mother at all. We as parents have not made a future plan for him as we
strongly believe that it is his future and 'Not Ours' which is being relived by our
son. I feel, we as parents, should let the kids enjoy the smooth journey of
childhood and support them positively while stopping by at various stations to
recharge and refuel their engine and also to polish it. We forget to give respect to
the child's feelings and freedom and we feel it might be misused as it is their first
time. Every mistake is a learning so its good children commit mistakes as " The
Lesson" thus learnt is stronger than just lectures form our experiences. Being a
'YES parent'(never say NO) is the best gift any child can get. "Its freedom that
nurtures every aspect of a child completely and not guidance all times,
confinement or restriction."

from:  Chitra Parameshwaran
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 09:21 IST

I love the article. What I see in today's kids is that they don't understand the value of money and their general respect for others has come down a lot
There is obviously lot more pressure on them especially when there are other siblings (who study well!!)

from:  Srikanth Krishnamurthy
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 06:42 IST

Yes, I agree with the author.. we give more than our children wants and expects more than they can yeild. Today's children are deprived of their rights to be a child...classess starts from the age of two at play school...endless test papers...unhealthy competitions...unscientific curriculam and examination schedules makes their(ours too) lives hard. The so called policy makers are still bend upon churning out engineers, IT slueths and doctors, but defenitely these guys lack moral values. The system should work out a value based educational package.

from:  M L Babu
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 05:41 IST

This is truly Vedanta; one can add to the introductory blurb, the inculcation of the value of values in every child. Swami Dayananda Saraswati still takes time to unfold this to adults as well, as in his crisp book by that same title--Value of Values.

As an adult, I am amazed how much parenting and teaching have played a role in my life. When I objectively evaluate, all I can say is 'sri gurubhyo namah' -- plural. First-among-equals in both my parents, then every interaction I have had since, have all been one of teaching for which I am eternally grateful. Today, as I continue to observe and learn, I am indebted to them all. Om.

from:  Kumar
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 20:37 IST

What a good time it was in joint families where child rearing was never a problem and they had nearly half a dozen children each viz. mothers, sisters and brothers. It was just a natural but we make a mountain out of a molehill

from:  Mani Iyer
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 20:37 IST

your whole aricle reminded me of a song from the movie three idots 'sare umra hum mar ke jeeliye..............bachpan to gaya jawwani bhi gayi.' and so on.Let us remind ourselves that success depends on not on our degree but how happy we are with our degree and our lives for that matter.

from:  Jonath thomas
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 20:09 IST

really a nice article when our era is going so fast to trace the
superiority in our society on the behalf of our babies career n care.
this artcle guide them.thanks 4 eye opening artcle.

from:  sudhanshu kumar
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 19:51 IST

Articles of this calibre are welcome.Showing displeasure at the young age on account of many shortcomings the child that faces unnecessary drumming may likely to end in a childhood mental block and it would not be easy to erase it and it will surface at a later date and create a sort of aloofness.Every one is not a genius in studies or sports or arts.It is better to help the child to find its way and leave things to Nature.One should handle the teens properly because it is an age where the kid does not know whether it should cry or not when it stumbles across a stool as the teen is neither a grown up adult nor it is a child and it cannot bear the pain at the same time.
A thought provoking beautiful article.

from:  A.Padmanabhan
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 18:46 IST

Ver Nice Article and an eye opener of the current state of living....

from:  Rakki
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 17:42 IST

The present day environment the children are more demanding. For
them life is loaded with stress and strain because of our education
system. The age old love and affection between the parents and
their wards is really missing today. So too the bondage between the
teachers and the taughts. The situation in the coming days is hard to
imagine. Education should make to perfection in man. But it is
making life all the more hard for the children. Our education system
should undergo a sea change.

from:  Gururajan Ramachandran
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 16:42 IST

My mother died when I was 12 years old leaving my father then 45
yrs,my 4 elder brothers and two younger brothers. My father managed his
business and family with the help of his 2nd son(,eldest being in
Chennai on govt job) My father gave us good education,took good care of
us and got even five of us married. There was no female help to him as
his, mother was very old. we never felt the absence of our mother. So
parenting goes by the will of the individual and of course the
children should co operate.

from:  K. Krishnamurthi
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 16:15 IST

The present day environment for the children is quite demanding. For
them life is loaded with stress and strain. The old age love and
affection between the parents and their wards is really missing today.
So too the bondage between the teachers and the taughts. The situation
in the coming days is hard to imagine. Education should lead to
perfection in man. But it is making life hard for the children. Our
education system should undergo a sea change.

from:  Gururajan Ramachandran
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 16:13 IST

Excellent and enjoyable reading article. I want to share with my 3 daughters and some are happening at my home.
Writer is very much plain in words and practical.
We nowadays have a gap due to tech. But I like these touching words:\
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

from:  GHOUSE
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 15:37 IST

This is an interesting article which should serve as a valuable guide to all
parents. In the past we were all brought up under the joint family system with
our grand-parents taking a leading part thereby giving our parents adequate time
to devote to other matters concerning the family. But this has now been replaced
by the nuclear families where parenting becomes their sole responsibility
particularly the mother who has to bear the brunt of it. During holidays the
parents should devote sufficient time with children and allow them to express
their views fearlessly on all matters including their studies and guide them
suitably. Encourage them to come out with ideas about their future without
imposing your views on them. Eschew totally comparison between two children
which will only result in developing complex in the weaker child and will
adversely affect his future. Each child is unique possessed of certain innate
qualities which the parent has to discover

from:  T.S.Sreenivasan
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 15:35 IST

As a parent, what Dharma Raman did was good and exemplary -- not forcing children to top the class, not goading them to become what the parents like them to be, never comparing their children with others, never expecting more than what the child can possibly achieve, telling children it's okay to make mistakes and for not being outstanding, etc. (Open Page, Feb. 26). If every parent emulates this attitude, we shall have less mentally disturbed and healthier population. In day to day practice, I have been seeing more and more of stress related morbidity in children as well as parents. Strive for healthier minds and bodies, not wealthier careers.

from:  Dr T Rama Prasad Perundurai
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 15:14 IST

A very beautiful article. i am a mother of 2. My son and daughter have their own personalities. It is ture what used to work of my daughter doesnot work for my son. And i sometimes think if what i am doing is correct. It is encouraging when the end result is good.

from:  annie
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 13:20 IST

I am the seventh child of my parents and was born in 1929. My parents and my six elders took all interest in my growth. That was a team work and every one competed in a very healthy way FOR MY GROWTH. The facilities were less in the agricultural age, then and I did enjoy all the plus in my village, or maximum the taluk where I spent my childhood. I have two children and they were born in the industrial age during the 70's. The scenario changed considerably for the betterment of kids and myself and my wife, did educate my Children considering the needs of the children of 70's, some toys and some children's books. My son has two children aged 7 hrs and two months, born in the information and Knowledge age. The demands of the present children and it is a challenge to the parents.Far more than my parents and myself. The challenge will be more after a decade and the Challenge has to be met with sincerity and grace.

from:  C.p.Chandra das
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 10:01 IST

It was nice to read the article "Parenting is no child's play",The author has rightly compared the olden ways of parenting with the modern ways by sighting her example.As Dharma Raman has mentioned it is better to nurture,nourish or foster the talents of the children that should be the prime duty of the parents ,to be a better coach rather than being a boss which will boost their confidence.

from:  madhu
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 09:46 IST
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