bringing up mother!

Volumes are written about how to bring up children. Everyone who is someone seems to have their own theory about how best to do it. If one feels that sparing a rod helps spoil the child, then another radically different one claims that children should be raised as free spirits. Magazines, newspaper articles, google searches and even pamphlets distributed with newspapers are taking over the task of telling mothers today, in great detail, about what their children need. Starting from the absolute need to enrol your child in a so and so preschool, to the need for developing multiple intelligence, about how you need to be their ‘friend’, how vacations and quality time are most needed and so on.

When I was a first time mother, I felt that parenting can be learnt by the book, and that books of psychology (both pop and serious!) would provide answers to all my parenting queries. It was shocking to realise that a lot of my beliefs were misplaced. The second time through, I was confident about how practical experience with my first child would pull me through the mothering confidently. Again, I came out confused and scrambled.

Taking care of two children and being a working parent seemed to mimic the experience of being put through the wringer of a washing machine on more days than less. I would wonder about the glowing pictures of mothers and happy kids that I would see in commercials and decide that it was just a marketing gimmick. No woman in her right mind could look that peaceful with two growing kids! At about the same time, I did notice that there were women around me without any high flying degrees, lesser help at home and still considering adding a third child to the list! And, surprisingly, there was no hint of panic anywhere visible on their face or demeanour. The more I interacted with them, the more I came to realise that these people had mastered the art of really enjoying their kids.

Lately, I have come to realize that you have to unlearn almost anything and everything that you heard, read or were qualified in. Of course advice helps, books give you confidence, but on the whole, it is a process of learning new things and going by what you feel is right.

On my earlier list of priorities, I had things like disciplined routine, spending time with the child doing some educational but interesting activity, making sure that I was adhering to the school’s guidelines for being an almost perfect mom and hence as a result of all these, having two perfectly behaved angels who would do me proud. Of course, I would put no pressure, but why would they need it? They would already be perfect.

Think about it- we have many such ideas which tell us how to mould and change our child. But in the process, we have hardly thought about how we, as parents need to change and grow alongside our children. Probably because it is so didactic and sad, many of us do not enjoy the process of parenting. We do love our children, but wish that they behave impeccably all the time and that their problems would sort themselves out miraculously, and they grow into poster kids who make us proud!

Both my children have temperaments as different as chalk and cheese. The one who mostly an introvert would suddenly shift gears in the most inappropriate of occasions! The other one who was wholesomely an extrovert, would choose to be at her grouchiest best on occasions when her amicability needed to be on display! And this was just one difference. The obsessive in me sought to find control, discipline them (by fair means and foul- by which I mean, scolding,pleading,bribes and emotional blackmail), but nothing seemed to work.

Then I thought of a civilized way of solving things. I told them that I would make a list of things which I appreciate about them and one more of things which I did not. They could make a similar one about me. And we would swap lists and try to change the things which were in the list of “not so cool”. They took a minute to ponder before they accepted my suggestion. After about 10 minutes of intense concentration, the papers were handed to me. My list was pretty long and winding about each one. I again told them that it was only their behavior that was targeted, and I loved them in spite of “not so cool” stuff- just as explained in psychology text books. We went over each item of my list, with murmurs of assent and dissent. And then it was time to open the list they made. I prided myself over the fact that I was being an intellectual parent by allowing my kids to poke holes in my parenting method. When I did open the paper, I was surprised to the list empty!

busy making the list
busy making the list

My son smiled sheepishly saying, “Well, we tried, but there was nothing that I could list in the negatives. And the rest is all positive. So, I did not take the trouble of writing! sorry”. To be honest, I know that I’m not the best mother in business. I am lazy some days, so involved in my book that I will not listen to their stories on some other, have strict rules about their behavior when we go out, have a certain fixed idea about how they should dress, occasionally lie my way out of things and have double standards. And I also know that at least my son is now old enough to spot these foibles of mine. I was so humbled and touched to be given a clean chit despite all this. This probably is what is called unconditional love, something which we forget to dole out as we age!

Well, my children taught me a valuable lesson that day. To love completely without holding back, accept our faults but still love, nonetheless. It sort of melted my overbearing sense of discipline. Now I don’t seem to mind lego blocks over the floor, unfolded sheets, waking up uncomfortable with a toy under me, books all over the house, and an occasional piece of cookie on my bed! I can tolerate tantrums better. I don’t fly off the handle and think   about how my life was cleaner and easier before kids.I still haven’t changed completely, but I am on my way, and can slowly feel the spring creeping back into my step!

Thanks my babies! In the process of bringing you up, you are teaching me valuable lessons and  definitely helping in my upbringing!

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Five things Indian parents need to teach their kids.

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Recently I was reading an article in “The Week” about snob NRIs who wrinkle their nose in disgust at everything desi and uncouth.I have personally met and endured the whines of a few of that kind. I was wondering how perfectly sensible, apparently intelligent people suddenly change as soon as they land on foreign shores. But as I interact with children of this generation, my son’s friends, my extended family, my patients and students in schools, I have started to feel that the internet generation of kids do have an enormous propensity to end up being snoots of the first order. This alarmed me. I mean, when foreign travel was new, all things American would feel good. But, that was years ago. Now, most amenities available in the West are available to us,school trips offer foreign travel and opportunities to interact with anyone in the whole wide world were aplenty. Then why, why are we producing a generation of superficial, materialistic children??

Children when born, apparently have the ‘tabula rasa’– a ‘blank slate’of mind ,which means that there is no inbuilt mental content. Yes, we are born with certain personality traits which make us individual and unique, but on the whole, we learn through perception and experience. Hence,what we are taught in the first few years of our lives and what we imbibe from it generally forms the foundation of our personality.

And it is here that we, as parents (especially in India) may be making a big mistake. Over the past few years, young India has changed its way of living tremendously.Parents now earn double of their elders wages, at a much younger age. They also have the means to splurge what they earn to their hearts’ content—on weddings, world travel, children’s education, leisure, shopping and much more.This was unthinkable to our parent generation.

In this mega change, somewhere, our children are losing out certain things which can provide them with weapons to handle life with maturity, patience and kindness — Values. To help grow into a sensible adult. Like the proverbial ‘full vessel’ which makes no noise and contains more substance!

Here are a few things which I thought were a list of values which our kids need to imbibe urgently:

  1. The value of hard work: In India, for a middle class family, it is not uncommon to have a cook, a cleaning maid and a driver as a part of a routine house hold. These are even more common in families where both parents work. Hence, kids now have forgotten the art of taking care of themselves. There is a servant hand and foot to answer their every beck and call. I remember those times when we would help out in the kitchen, when kids were supposed to do the dishes, help out with cleaning and be sent out to buy chilli powder in between doing homework! My kids don’t do that, and in the process forget that there is no such thing in the world like a free lunch! No pain, no gain is just a proverb with no meaning. It is now no pain, all gain time. Demands increase and have to be met. New toys have to land in the house as soon as they enter the market. If they do not qualify for a certain course through hard work and good marks, there’s always a capitation seat!This kills a child’s resilience, resolve to work hard and lowers their frustration threshold in adulthood. They are basically unable to handle stress.
  2. The value of giving: “What do I give my friend for his birthday? He has everything!”A strange dilemma if one!The irony here being that our kids are now used to giving things to people who do not need much. And the needy, where are they?Parents of children in a certain school that I know, were upset with the authorities for having taken their kids to an orphanage and an old home. They felt that their kids would be traumatized by the problems they saw. Giving in ways other than monetary, is alien to this generation of kids. As a part of our schooling, I remember going to prison to distribute sweets for raksha bandhan(weird, I know to tie rakhis to prisoners, but, well, it was the spirit that mattered!), singing songs for mentally challenged children on gandhi jayanti and reading out for blind kids when we got the time. And, hand me downs were normal. It would be exciting to wear things that a big sister whom I idolized wore. In this, we learnt sharing, caring and including others in our circle,who were less fortunate. By not teaching our kids this, we are probably making them selfish, self centered and obnoxious adults.
  3. Compassion: I see its lack commonly at the hospital I work. Parents do not want to bring their kids for counseling, because they get scared of seeing mentally ill people! Strange, as I felt that when you see someone in trouble, the first emotion that you should be generating is compassion, not fear. I can see children passing by the ill, the old and frail and maimed beggars without a second glance. Its almost as if they were wearing blinkers.Less sympathy and even lesser acknowledgement! And unless, as parents we teach them to develop compassion and a willingness to help, we are cultivating a generation of potential psychopaths.
  4.  The value of cleanliness: What with ‘Swach Bharat’ and all, cleanliness has finally come to the forefront. Though the state of our roads and neighborhood are cleaner than before, we still have a long way in imbibing the clean culture ourselves and hence teaching it to our kids. We wax eloquent about the cleanliness in Singapore and the US of A, all the while chucking paper and plastic waste out of the car window! Peeing on the road is our birth right (exclusively, the men!). And, we do not allow our children to pick up others’ garbage to chuck in the bin because we worry that they will get dirty! Unless we realize the inclusiveness of being clean, and help keep our selves, homes, neighborhood, roads and cities  clean, we teach our children bad manners and narrow mindedness about caring for only what is ours and neglecting the rest.
  5. Dignity of labor: I am sure anyone who has whatsapp on their smartphone has seen a video of Japanese children and teachers cleaning toilets of the school as part of their curriculum. The basic idea behind this was to teach them that there was no job too low and demeaning. Each job required hard work,sincerity and integrity and was equally important! Unfortunately, our children lack this concept. We, as parents believe that our child’s social status rises based on the paypacket and acceptability of the job. Hence, we teach them look down upon others whose social profile does not match theirs. We want them to score high, so that they can get socially acceptable jobs. In the process, we are giving the world two groups of adults- the first group, who are too full of themselves and have a superiority complex and the second who have an inferiority complex,lose their self esteem and suffer in silence! Both in their own ways, unhealthy.

snob

Parents are important in molding a child’s personality. Unless we imbibe the right values and cultivate it in our children, we may be homegrowing the future snob NRIs who reside in India!

Are you a helicopter parent?

heli 2

Two events that occurred within days of each other provoked this thought.

I had been addressing a gathering of 17 year olds in various methods to curb exam anxiety. Being one of the many who had faced severe exam anxiety during every math exam of my school life, I was vociferously advising the kids not to let their confidence levels dip, and teaching them different ways to relax, when one parent rather hesitatingly approached me and asked me to give him hints about how to make his son feel anxious about the approaching exams. He was worried that the son did not care enough!

Two days down the line, I had parents who had brought their son for counselling. This child who had been a ‘topper’ in his class till class ten, had suddenly on entering college become extraordinarily lax. He did not study despite repeated telling, pleading, begging or scolding! Moreover, he seemed to be interested in everything else apart from what was necessary. On the surface of it, both these seemed to be about children who had different problems and differing personalities as compared to the rest, but on deeper questioning, they were quite similar because they were brought up by helicopter parents.

Helicopter parenting was a term first used by Dr. Hain Ginott in his book ‘Between Parents and teenagers’ in 1969. Though not very common then, it gained prominence enough to be included in the dictionary in 2011! Reams have been written about this since then.This term refers to a method of parenting where we are so concerned about our children’s well being that we do not allow them their lives. Parents who hover around their children, cosseting, protecting, interfering and  helping them in activities that they are well equipped to do.

On first look, reading descriptions of such parents  makes us enter denial mode. We assure ourselves that we do not belong to that category and that we ensure a healthy atmosphere for our child’s upbringing. By which we mean that:

  1. We make sure that we know each and every detail of our child’s routine. (well, it is necessary in such times where crimes are rampant—but an unplanned break of 10 mins in a friend’s house makes us sweat buckets!)
  2. We make sure that our little one’s wish becomes our command. Sometimes even before the wish is expressed. We have to give give them the best of the toys, books, gadgets and clothes..(duh..they need to shine, right? And I have the money!)
  3. We need to be an integral part of every school project(by which we mean that we will personally scour every nook and corner of the city to find the best of stuff, sit up the whole night and put up a model which will definitely score maximum marks for our kid (school grades are important, arent they?)
  4. We believe that our kids are the best in everything they do and air these views to anyone who is willing to listen, and sometimes, even to the unwilling. We literally lobby for them.(Afterall, if we do not acknowledge their achievements, who will? And it is not called praising, it just statement of a fact!)
  5. We try to take every precaution to protect our kids from harm, including using bottled water to wash their hands, allowing them to play only where they wont get dirty and consulting the pediatrician every time the kid sneezes (We are responsible for their health)
  6. We have read all books under the caption of parenting and spout theories like mantras. And our kids have to, just have to abide by those mantras(you see, experts have believed that it is the way to go). We are professional researchers in the making.
  7. We try our best to stand ground during a tantrum, but finally give in to the child’s demands(we are tired after a long day at work, and its just a videogame)
  8. We choose which friend the child can have. Preferred ones are those who score in the top ten. If we do not like a friend, then he has no business to even talk to that person(good peers are essential for a good future)

Well, if this is you in a nut shell, then welcome to the world of helicopter parenting!

This phenomenon probably became visible, because of change in family patterns in the past few decades. Moving away from joint family systems to nuclear ones, restricting the size of the family with a maximum of two or three children, the sudden rise of educational capabilities of parents, also the increase in the financial prowess due to dual earning families, globalization and availability of the internet, misplaced guilt about not caring enough and finally the fact that every parent feels that children are figuratively and literally their biggest assets (they sure would have invested a lot of money and time on them). At the same time, parents who are the anxious type, those who had experienced negligence or abuse in their own childhood,or those with type A personalities complete the spectrum.

To argue contrarily, we read about the abuse that occurs in children, the influence of the media and a bad peer group as well the fact that if unmonitored, children have the ability to go haywire. This allows parents to justify themselves into believing that their helicoptering is doing good to the child. Different cultures also have different methods. Amy Chua’s ‘Tiger mother’ describes how typical Chinese parents consider it a norm for their children to excel!

But the effects of this type of upbringing is almost as devastating as the evils that we are scared of. Children of such parents  grow up to be anxious, lacking in self esteem, depressed, ridiculed by peers and have separation issues. They consider themselves as an extension of their parents often parroting what has been drilled into them rather than think for themselves. It kills creativity and independence. And worst of all, these children feel a sense of entitlement. That they are for the manor born. They expect their parents to do every single thing for them, starting from waking them up, dressing them and reminding them to study! I’m not exaggerating, these kinds do exist like the examples I spoke about in the beginning.

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Parenting is something we learn along the way. Parenting manuals help, but ther is no sure fire way of doing the right thing always. I feel that enjoying your child is very important. The more you enjoy your child the more you learn and the more the chilld learns. Listen, play and talk to your child/ren. Sometimes they are right too. Acknowledge that. Set them free, but be watchful. Trust them. Guide them, but let them choose. Let them make mistakes, but help them out of the mess and teach them again. Parenting is hard work, and it never ends, and does not give term end report cards for how you have fared. But, I believe it can be rewarding to see a confident, self assured child exploring things that you never dreamed of. That is definitely an A+.