Sunday, May 13, 2012

Parenting- Are you up to it?

We keep hearing the complaints from elder generations that the younger generations are getting worse!  It is a fact that each generation had this observation about generation that followed, but who should take responsibility for such deterioration? In my opinion it is the preceding generations that must take responsibility for any deterioration in values of succeeding generations.

Children learn values from their surroundings- their family, school, society etc.  If a child is not picking up a right value, it is mostly because he doesn’t get to see or feel it around him.

I have always maintained that most of the current problems of our society can only be resolved through fundamental change in the value system of its members.  We have seen the limitations of laws, even when they are very stringent, in removing social evils.  Continuing prevalence of dowry, child marriage, female foeticide, caste/religious/racial discrimination etc are apt examples for this limitation. If at all, stringent laws only contribute to further the already dominant corruption levels in the society.

So, how do we make a change? Well, by changing the accepted behaviour patterns for the members in a society.  It is difficult to make such changes among the grown up people. But we can make a beginning by consciously attempting at right value formations in our next generation. 

The role of parents in formulating the character and values of their children cannot be overemphasised.  The influence of parents is undoubtedly the highest in a child’s value system. But going by the results, we have definitely failed as parents in providing the right lessons and right role models to our children.  I believe it is because we are not up to being the right kind of parents; rather we took parenting as a natural aspect of life that requires no effort and calls for no improvement at all!  In fair defence, we might have had no time to even consider these aspects while we were struggling to find enough to keep the stomachs of our children filled and school fees paid.

What is sad to notice is that even education and affluence have not made parenting a priority for our people.  If at all, the education and affluence of parents have only caused increase in the gap between children and parents in most cases.

The stakes are high.  The future of human beings depends on the adoption of right values in our new generations.  It is necessary to have wider discussions on these aspects of life so that there is increased awareness in the society.   Toward this purpose I wish to take up one important aspect of right parenting in this post. I claim no expertise in the subject – not even any in depth research.  This post is based on my observations and experiences from my own life as a child and now as a parent.  I also acknowledge the contributions of my friends on Twitter, namely, @shivanikapoor01, @AMadumoole, @aaquib_ and @Smit_Meister by way of a discussion we had recently on this subject.

Object of this post is not to preach but to induce readers to think about quality parenting and its wider implications for the society.

Parents; not Masters

First lesson that a parent must imbibe is that a parent is not a master of the child.  Parents don’t own their children. Children are the assets of society and the nation; parents being mere custodians and protectors! 

Let me quote Kahlil Gibran’s (The Prophet) famous words on parenting:

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

What is the implication of these words? Well, it is simple- a parent must behave like a parent and not as an owner or master of the child. But most of us forget this basic fact of life.  We often mistake our children as mere tools that we can use, in any which way that suit us, to fulfil our own unfulfilled dreams! In other words, we make them live a life that we wanted for ourselves!  We are neither concerned nor aware of the fact that in the process we are not letting them live their own dreams and life and the vicious cycle goes on.

Consider these situations:

Have you ever selected a dress for your kid not based on the kid’s wishes and current trends but on what you missed wearing in your growing up days or even today?

Have you ever pushed your child to learn a craft or skill that you wanted to learn in your childhood? Violin, roller skating, classical music or whatever that skill may be?

Do you listen to your child when he comes up with a question and try to answer it in best possible rational manner? Or you merely shout at the kid and ask him to mind his business, because you either didn’t have the patience or you felt the question too embarrassing to discuss with a kid?

Have you as a parent felt that it is your right to decide what is good for your child and it is the duty of the child to blindly obey whatever your decisions may be? It could be about his/her hobby, courses, subjects, and friends, and later, career or even life partners!

Honestly, most parents would find themselves guilty of committing the above errors at one time or other. Most of them even guilty of using physical violence to enforce their will over the child!

In the process the child is picking up many a negative value and traits for his life.  Child is convinced about the role of power and/or violence in getting one’s viewpoint heard.  Child becomes aware that it is the positions and not reasons that dictate right and wrong.

Let me quote some examples that I came cross at different times:

I read this story in a tweet recently:

Child: “Mommy, Can I go to the bathroom?”
Mommy: "No. Say your ABCs first"
Mommy: "Where is the P?"
Child: "It's running down my leg, Mom"

Hilarious? Yes, but it should provoke our thinking!  Mommy made the decision for the child by enforcing the power of her position, even in a basic matter as going to bathroom.  Would the ABCs have ran away somewhere if the child was allowed to visit bathroom first?  What are we teaching the child here?

Let me take you to another real life example.  A boy was studying in 8th standard when he got selected to act in a drama to be played during the School youth festival.  He was also involved in three or four other individual items of competition.  He was excited about the competition as he used to be the top performer among the boys, in his school. 

All the rehearsals were over and the day came. However, when he was getting ready for the school, his dad told him not to go as he had come to know that it was the school youth festival and there would be no classes.  Of course boy had not told his parents about the day or the fact that he was participating in the competition because he knew they would not let him go to school for sure.  To his bad luck his dad still came to know about it from somewhere.

Our boy had no choice. He cried and pleaded with parents.  They refused to hear his point of view and instead dad beaten him for daring to participate in a drama without their permission. Boy dreaded the situation in school when at that last minute, if he failed to turn up for the drama. He was not worried about the individual items but drama would involve others’ efforts also going waste.  Finally he decided to take things in his hand and ran away from home. Luckily for all, it was to his uncle’s house that he went. He explained the situation to his uncle and wearing his cousin’s dress he went to school and participated in all the items.

While he was tempted to run away somewhere for he was so scared of the repercussions back at home, good sense prevailed and he went back to his uncle’s house. The story ended without much damage yet it could have easily ended up in a tragedy!

Why do these things happen? When a child had undertaken a commitment (that too in his school and for a very legitimate purpose) shouldn’t have his parents let him fulfil that? By asking him to stay back, what were they teaching him? That he can easily go back on his commitments? That he has no control on what he promises and what he proposes to do in his life? 

Like a friend suggested, Indian parenting is all about feudal behaviour and completely undemocratic.  We never let children have a point of view. We want them to obey and not question at all.  No wonder they end up being followers throughout their life, merely obeying the commands of their leaders and other powerful position holders instead of rationalising about their acts and deeds.

Like any relationship, parent-children relationship also must be based on mutual communication! There is an utter lack of communication in many Indian homes. Parents fail to understand and empathise with their children! It is more ego, pride and ownership than compassion that rule parents’ behavior towards the children.    

Parents (and even teachers) find it much easier to use violence for enforcing their writs on the child.  There is no effort to reason with a child as to what is good or bad for him.  It is always obey or perish! The learning that they get is also simple- subdue the other side or submit to it! There is no middle way of reason. 

Remember, parent-child relationship is completely skewed in favour of parents.  Child is without any support or power to have his say.  In countries like India, there are not even public authorities for children to take refuge in, if the parents turn bad. Therefore, the onus to make the parent-child interaction work is more on the parents and less on the child. If we act childish with our children and not treat them on equal terms, these children will surely not become emotionally mature adults.  Child must always be encouraged to voice his concerns and even dissent and the parents must ensure that they are addressed in a transparent and democratic manner.

The result of this lack of two way communication is that the children find it difficult to confide in their parents about any problems that they might come across in their lives.  Parents fail to gain the trust of their children, forcing children to seek guidance and help from elsewhere.  These guidance and help are often risky as there are vested interests in the society to divert children towards dangerous ways of life, leading to even sex and drug abuse of children. The effectiveness of our parenting must be measured against the probability of our own children approaching us at their most difficult situations.  

I think parents should come down from high pedestal and be with their children on equal terms. Homes should teach more democratic values than outdated feudal values. Parents must earn respect and not demand it by virtue of their position alone.   We must stop teaching children at homes that might is right and violence is a means for ensuring compliance! That is the only way to ensure our society develops and retains these values.

It is time for us to teach our children, through our own live examples, those values that we preach to them. There is no point in preaching about honesty while trying hard to evade our tax liabilities or cheat our neighbour, in front of our children.  It is not our words but our lives and our actions that they will emulate in their own life.

We have to be better role models for our children. Unfortunately there are no short cuts.... Only way we can be effective role models for our children is by being at least average human beings, ourselves.  The lack of values in us makes it a tough call and the vicious cycle continues!  We must learn to break this cycle for ensuring a better tomorrow for the human race!


  1. Entirely agree with the subject. However, in process of 'emancipation of minors/kids' we might end up doing more harm to him/her (and the society at large).

    With internet revolution and access to elite lifestyles, kids get fascinated and in attempt to inculcate (imitate) their lifestyle end-up screwing their own.
    To summarize, Logical Reasoning/Rationalizing is absolutely essential for any child's upbringing.


    PS: Jay, you spelled my handle incorrectly! ;)

  2. Lets not worry that the children do not listen/agree to us but it is more important to be be conscious that they are always watching us - Some proverb like this is already there - Great post Jay !!

  3. Wonderful ! You have covered all aspects of best ways of parenting..

    My mantra of parenting is to bring up your child by being most humble in our way of behaving and interacting with people around, facing the situations arising in our lives with great maturity and understanding..This way the child learns better as to how to cope with all types of circumstances arising in life..From ways to maintaining cleanliness to showing compassion towards the people around to mannerisms..they imbibe it from us, the parents.
    I take care to listen to each word my son has to tell me..however busy I may be..Sometimes it may sound very silly..but I listen to him with rapt attention and that itself makes him very happy..

    Now my son is growing up and I really feel happy when I see the way the gets along with people..the way he interacts with elders and everyone around.
    An incident from just a day before yesterday night..I was so very touched when my son asked my hubby to replace the not working tube light with a new one in the parking lot as an old grandma in the neighbour hood was afraid to go and sit there for her post dinner siesta due to darkness prevailing in that part.. He made sure that his dad put on a new tube light in the parking lot and he gleefully announced "Madhuba please come and sit no fear"..he lead her by hand and made her sit there comfortably..And I was so very happy at this small gesture of his which made this old lady to give a beaming smile :))

    Compassion for the elderly persons..good and affection..Yes that is how every child must grow up and become wonderful Human beings..Rest I am sure will follow..Success Luck Will Follow for sure..making one's life Beautiful !
    Let us as parents and elders have the best values in our lives..Children will definitely adopt to it and grow up as lovely human beings . This World is in need of Humble Human beings who love care and have compassion for everyone around..

    Nice post as always

  4. I haven't read anything so interesting like this in recent times. Excellent post chetta.. Hats off.

  5. This is why children of underprivileged parents have better survival skills, because their parents have little time to impose their will on their children. - Reena Satin

  6. An excellent, excellent article on parenting. Kudos, Jay you have hit many nails at one go.

  7. wonderfully expressed. kudos Jay