Parenting A Battlefield

Parenting comes with no rule book! It’s a job one learns on the field. That brings into my mind a question- How is parenting a child in a familiar environment like home land (India), different from child rearing in an alien (no matter how dear) country? As far as the basic values are concerned, I believe there is rarely a clash between a resident Indian parenting and NRI parenting. Values like respecting elders and being affectionate towards younger ones are fairly universal across the globe.

The degree and what qualifies as respect however may differ. Even when the values between a resident Indian and NRI parent is identical, inculcating them in children when they are not residing in the environment where the values originated, becomes a challenge for parents. In India, at least in my generation it was unthinkable to address elder siblings without suffixing the mark of respect (Didi or elder sister) or (Bhaiya or big brother). Off late in my visits to my home land I have seen in some families the transition from Didi to Di and Bhaiya to stylish B. Here in Dubai, in some circles, a child calling an elder sister or brother Didi or Bhaiya is considered un-cool by peers. So what does the child and parents do under such peer pressure?
Some parents ignore as long as the “respect” element is intact. Others may insist, cajole or instruct the child to at-least adhere to that “respectful” suffix in privacy of home and most certainly when they are among relatives in India.
Well of course both respect and parenting are much more complex things than the example above. Let us then settle for the fact that parenting is a hard task at hand. It varies according to the project (read child) handled. A colleague narrated her child’s horrible first encounter with bullying. The lady had left her child at an indoor play area of a club, in the presence of a play area attendant.

Despite her reluctance her friends had insisted that leaving her 3 year old alone in a safe place will build his confidence and independence. She returned 10 minutes later to see a burly 5 year old on the top of her son, delivering heavy punches on his stomach. The horrified mother rebuked the attendant for her negligence and carried back her inconsolable son and mind full of guilt. Her friends were extremely enraged by this incidence. They also advised her to make her son understand that he needs to stand up for himself and retaliate! I remember a mother in the park consoling or may be counseling her crying child.

“I can’t believe you are my son! You should have given him two with your left hand.” My mind was torn between so many issues- self-reliance, standing up for oneself, violence. What would be the end result if we encourage our children to retaliate to violence with violence? We want our children to be tough and independent so that they can survive in a tough world. I can empathize with the pain of a parent who sees their child bullied and pushed around. Yet I know of cases when such violent retaliation has taken tragic turn. It will be a sad state of affair if as parents we have to teach our children to be abusive to counter abuse.
In this particular case the offender is an innocent child. He however has all ingredients to transform into a hardcore bully if his actions are left unchecked. My acquaintance was right in pointing out the carelessness of the care taker. She could have gone a step further by meeting up with the child’s parent and making them aware of the damage he had perpetrated. This would have been a great service to the offender and his parent. My bookish view of ideal parenting is to teach the child non-violence. So do we teach our children to offer the other cheek when hit in one?
My colleague was burdened by the guilt that she should have been there with her child. While vigilance with younger kids is a necessity I believe that a child flourishes when given space. This idealistic view has been challenged by a real life experience. A friend of mine is a self-proclaimed helicopter mom. She takes pride in the fact she is constantly hovering over her children’s life. She has fashioned an enviable career out of motherhood.

Enviable because the amount of dedicated time and loving energy she puts towards bringing up her kids is actually displayed in the way her children have bloomed. Her entire life revolves around taking them to an eclectic mix of classes, making sure they submit impeccable projects, are excellent students, good in sports and music, providing them healthy meals , are independent and have good values ….etc. The list can easily compete with a buzzing high profile corporate schedule.

I keep advising her to find time for herself, her friends and husband. I keep hammering it into her that she needs to loosen up, get a life of her own, and that such kind of parenting is not healthy for the children. Yet every time I meet her children or interact with them my logic and reason fall apart. Most times I am awestruck at the gamut of their knowledge at such tender age, their etiquettes, their genuine affection and honest attitude. My admiration of the easy friendship between mother and child borders on envy. Her husband adores her for being such a great mother.
Ironically, the friends who criticize her method of child rearing admire the results of her methods, though grudgingly. There have been men who divorce their wife for the same reason my friend’s husband admires her. There have been children especially teenagers who scream – “Mom! We need our space!” There however is my friend admired by her children, adored by her husband and completely loving her job as mom. Parenting is no chore for the weak hearted.
It is an open battle field with no set rules. The battle field is even more challenging for nuclear families residing away from their country of origin, with one or both parents working, devoid of a support system (grand-parents, domestic helps, and familiar reference environment)- parents who have to look after the health of their relationship, have a life of their own, fulfill their self ambition, assert their individuality, inculcate proper values in children, find the right balance between their world and the new one and cope with the innumerable challenges of rearing a child in the modern fast paced world. So here is a toast for “happy parenting”. May the best one win.

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