Many mothers (and a few fathers too) wrote to me after my last post (which got an overwhelming response) asking me to write more posts on parenting. So this is a post for all who asked and all who never asked but always wanted to know. :-)
Parenting is a tricky business. More so, as there are really no rules, no guides, no absolutes in terms of right and wrong. Most of us seem to use what our parents did with us, as a ‘good guide’. “Our parents did this—and we turned out okay—so how can it be that wrong?” This seems to the Mantra many follow. But the thing is times are different. The exposure that the children these days have is humongous compared to what we grew up with. Our parents didn’t have to face the Media and Internet invasion like we and our children do. So we need to balance ‘old fashioned diktats’ and adapt them to suit modern needs. (If you are a parent reading this and you do not have a Facebook or Orkut id, please open one quickly! At least you’ll know what it is all about when your child starts to use it—and these days they start as young as 10 even though FB allows only those 14 and over. )
They say Life is the best teacher. Having worked with schools for many years I got a lot of opportunity to observe children closely and also the privilege of discussing a lot of issues with their parents. Writing for 'Times of India' and other publications, gave me plenty of opportunity to interact with so many different kinds of people. Whenever I would come across a well rounded, balanced, smart young person, I would invariably either ask them what their parents did while raising them or speak to their parents directly. I made mental notes as to what these people did right and tried to incorporate that into my style of parenting.
I always look up to older women who have done a remarkable job in bringing up their children and I mostly take advice and tips from them. I have been fortunate to have a few women who are at least 10 years older than me, as my very good friends. When I see their children (who are now in their twenties and are young adults themselves) I hope that mine will turn out as well as theirs. One such remarkable woman is my cousin (and good friend) Gayathri who is a single mum and her daughter graduated recently. This post of hers illustrates so well what good parenting is all about.
There are so many aspects to ‘good parenting’ that I need to write a book to contain it all. (A project that I am seriously considering) A single post won’t do.
But for now, let me share with you an incident which happened to my son’s friend (let me call him Ryan as I don’t want to give away his identity)—and I think most of us can relate to this one.
Ryan is a ten year old who plays with my son and his group of friends who are all in the age group of 10-14. Ryan’s mother is very strict with an authoritarian style of parenting. Her children do not dare disobey her as they are severely punished. (I have no idea what the ‘severe punishments’ involve but I know that the children are petrified of consequences if they disobey). Ryan’s mother, one evening, decided that the weather was a bit cold and she insisted that Ryan wear a sweater and a monkey cap (a woollen cap designed to cover ears. Click on word for image) and only then would he be allowed to play football. The mother was acting in best interests as Ryan had a slight cold and the mother was scared that he would get a sore throat and fall ill which has happened on several occasions in the past. Poor Ryan tried protesting but his mother would not hear of it. She was firm and he did not dare disobey. When he reached the park, he was the laughing stock of all the boys. (And you know how boys can be at that age) They all said he was un-cool and refused to play with him. My son felt sorry for Ryan. He took him aside and told him to remove the cap and sweater and to wear it just before he went home.
Ryan refused. He said “I can not disobey my mother. If she comes to know that will be the end of me.”
My son said “How will she come to know? She is not going to come here to the park and look.”
But Ryan’s fear as so great that he was not convinced. My son is quite popular in his gang of boys and he felt sorry for Ryan. So he convinced the others to let Ryan play with them, despite the sweater and the cap. Since my son advocated strongly for Ryan they agreed.
At the end of the football match, Ryan’s head was covered with sweat. He was profusely sweating all over and yet refused to take his sweater or cap off. My son later told me “Ma—he was stinking because of the sweat. Nobody would go near him. I am sure they wont let him play next time. Why does his mother do that?”
I had no answers.
But I sure know that this is something I’d never do. I don’t think any of my older women friends would have ever done anything like this to their children. (I am not claiming that everything I do is perfect. Nor am I saying that what the mother did was wrong. Something else that I am doing must be seeming so wrong in eyes of others. That's why I say there are no absolute rights or wrongs when it comes to parenting)
I know for a fact that ostracization and peer pressure can be a deadly combination. A child that age has enough pressures as it is. They don’t need parents adding to it.
So if you really love your children, allow them to make mistakes. Trust their judgement. They will learn. More importantly when their own experience teaches them something they will remember the lesson better.