If you thought parenting came naturally to you, think again. The rules have changed. So you might need some help from experts
Mathew (name changed) gave in to every desire expressed by his adolescent son. But the 45-year-old executive had begun to tire of what he thought were the 12-year-old's constant demands. The final straw was his son's insistence that the family buy a second and expensive car.A problem child? Or could the source of the problem lie with Mathew himself? Mathew had not even considered the second possibility before he met up with a couple, a regular at a parenting workshop. The couple gently suggested that the problem may lie in the fact that he was an "over-providing parent". Mathew signed up for a parenting workshop, where he learnt that he was a victim of his own guilt and that it was all right to say `no' to his young son. "We believe parenting comes naturally to us," says Mathew. "But I now know it is something that we can all learn about."On Sunday afternoons, more and more parents are skipping their siestas and attending classes on how to deal with their children. High-pressure jobs, less time to spend at home and more pressures on children, the rules of the parenting game have changed. As a result, counsellors are turning their attention to parents.
Need for guidance
Take DREAMH Foundation. When counselling children, many who form part of the foundation realised that the parents needed guidance. "Seventy five per cent of the parents who came seeking help with us for the behavioural and academic problems of their children needed counselling," says R. Manoj of DREAMH Foundation. The Foundation has been conducting parenting workshops for over a year and more than 35 to 40 couples registered for these. Every workshop brings in new people.Brinda Jayaraman of Anchor Self Help Access is also focussed on parents. "When parents come to me with the problems they have with children, I often ask them to come back for counselling," she says.With increasingly rushed lifestyles, parents find the money but not time to spend on their children. "People are willing to take loans to send children to institutes seen in advertisements, but they don't have time to check if the institutes are worthwhile," says Gita Prabhu who also organises parenting workshops. "They have other priorities such going for shopping or watching serials," she fumes. Manoj says the time they do find is mostly spent on keeping track of children's studies and the mistakes they make. Express your love and affection whenever you can, he stresses. Brinda classifies parents into four types - authoritarian, permissive, dysfunctional and democratic. She discusses the outcome of each type and teaches how to be a democratic parent during her workshops. Parents of toddlers and teenagers talked about their inability to get the children to obey them. Most parents enter into a power struggle, losing focus of the problem. "Disciplining problems," says Brinda Jayaraman, "are on the rise." Parents do not know what the children are exposed to and worry if they will commit suicide or run away, adds Gita. Children have to deal with academic pressure and high parental expectations and parents hold back their affection in an attempt to control children. Parents are either too strict or too indulgent. "Most of the time they punish more to vent their anger than for the child's mistake," points out Manoj. "But unconditional positive regard for the children is essential to keep their confidence."
Touch of love
Physical contact between parents and children is becoming rare. Once flopping into your mother's lap would not be given a second glance, today it is looked upon as childish. At the age of ten, children are expected to behave like adults. "Mostly mothers show more interest in the workshops," says Manoj, who has been part of such workshops since 1998. "They are the ones who call to make enquiries." Grandparents too attend these workshops. "We have to take more responsibility, now that parents are busy," says a 60-year-old grandmother. "We have to learn how to deal with the child positively." While one of the grandfathers attending the workshop says that these lessons are helpful, but "very little" could be implemented in life. "Adolescent children do not cooperate," he says laughing. "We tend to be a bit too lenient." Through these workshops that address common problems, some parents realise that they need to meet specialists. "I still do not know what to do," says a father, after a workshop. His son agrees to do all that he is asked to, but ends up doing nothing much. "I think we will need personal counselling sessions." General workshops such as these will help parents get rid of the apprehension to seek help from mental-health professionals, says Madubala, a post-graduate in psychology, who attended one such workshop. "The difference between mental health and mental illness is yet to sink in, she says. People still hesitate to approach a third person to solve conflicts within the family," she says. ASHA S. MENON