Let me start with the most common question parents have: "Is parenting an inborn talent?"
My mother believes that the parents of today tend to overthink the process of parenting. "Why in the world does a mother need a guide to be a parent? A mother learns to care and nurture by herself. It's natural," she says. She strongly believes that parenting guides give so much information that young parents get confused. Ask any grandma in the family and you will get the best tips from her. When I was a new mum, perhaps my own support systems were laid on similar lines. Then why am I canvassing for the "how to parent" industry?
The parent of today wants to give her child a competitive edge, and this may at times lead to a disproportionate investment in monitoring and "improving" the child.
Parenting, according to me, is a work in progress. You build your skills gradually in the course of your day-to-day involvement with the child by recognizing what works best for them and for you. That is why seeking specialised coaching on parenting strategies and philosophies is the best thing a parent can do. Job commitments nowadays are so high that few parents have the time to engage in long interactions with "veterans" in the community to eke out support and advice. Besides, parents may also be geographically or even emotionally distant from their own parents and grandparents, making asking for advice quite difficult. Paediatricians and other healthcare providers today don't necessarily provide answers to more complex problems that parents might face. At such times, you turn to books, magazines and websites for information and support.
So, while I think most parents instinctively know how to respond to certain parenting challenges, at times it helps tremendously to have knowledge of various tactics and tools to handle situations. Parenting handbooks and resources can stimulate you to rethink certain strategies and evaluate whether what you're already doing is effective or not.
Parental instinct is what makes humans and animals do so much for their children. Some parents find slipping into the role of a parent easy while others may take years to get used to it. For many parents, a newborn baby may not elicit deep feelings of love, just curiosity. We are in a country where the mother is compared to a goddess and hence many women find it difficult to accept that they may not feel unconditional love for their child. But it is natural for both the father and the mother to take time to develop a bond with the child.
Bonding can happen over simple activities and starts right from when the baby is born. The more you interact with your baby, the more you bond with him, the more you understand him, and the stronger your instincts are.
Emotional strength is essential in the parent of today to withstand the demands of the child vis - vis societal expectations and their own personal dreams for the child. It is important to take care of oneself to be able to care for another person. Recognise the small and big challenges of your life. Learn to leverage your inner strengths. Tap your potential as a human being to nurture another one. Anticipate and plan for financial security for your family. Be open to help. Learn to establish a culture of meaningful communication in the family.
Now, there are several styles of parenting. And the one I'll be describing today is what I call "hyper-parenting".
As I see it, our parents wanted to raise children who could fit into their time and society seamlessly. But the parent of today wants to give her child a competitive edge, and this may at times lead to a disproportionate investment in monitoring and "improving" the child.
Hyper-parenting in moderation - however oxymoronic that may sound - can teach a child self-discipline, but beyond a point it can have a stunting effect on self-esteem...
Tuitions begin at a very early age - from pre-schools to IIT, the coaching culture is pretty widespread. Parents are well-meaning but their attempts to provide their kids with every possible opportunity by filling up their after school time with music lessons, enrichment activities, and sports can be crushing for the child. Children feel suffocated due to a lack of time and excessive parental directives. Experts fear that this over-scheduling and over programming is placing excessive pressure on children and depriving them of the opportunity for free play or just "hanging out", which is vital for their well being.
Education for most parents today has become a race for marks. Educational institutes and boards regularly reinforce these concepts. There seems to be no other higher purpose of education than studying for exams and clearing papers. Most schools in India still function like manufacturing units and build pressure cooker-like stress in our children as they demand hours of extra study sessions to master subjects. It is a sheer waste of childhood - most of us know that what we rote learnt in school, in isolation to existing knowledge and meaning, went into a short term memory system and got regurgitated for a test and then promptly deleted.
We are not only bringing up stressed out kids, but are also bringing up a nation that will be unprepared for the conceptual age, the age of imagination and creation. Higher order thinking skills are far more important than the ability to memorise a series of facts. And fun plays a big role too. Teach any child math through cricket or soccer and wham! - you have a more patient and willing learner.
If sensitive parenting slips into over-indulgence, it can bring out a brat too.
The task of parenting, however, is not so simple and things cannot be labelled as right and wrong. It is to a great extent situational. Hyper - parenting in moderation - however oxymoronic that may sound - can teach a child self-discipline, but beyond a point it can have a stunting effect on self-esteem and self-confidence. Sensitive parenting, as long as it is sensibly directed, can bring out of a child an assertive and independent decision-maker but if it slips into over-indulgence, it can bring out a brat too. That is why it is preferable to blend both styles for optimum result.
Being an authoritative yet loving parent is what can produce well-adjusted and happy children. Moderation is the key. A secure attachment to caring parents is the key to laying the foundation of self-discipline and independence, which alone can make children well-rounded personalities. And to that effect, instilling discipline is necessary so that they learn socially acceptable behaviour and etiquette, money management, the perils of alcohol consumption or unsafe sex.
On the other hand, some amount of indulgence and permissive parenting is equally necessary in matters of socialising with friends, choosing snacks or comfort food, hobbies and so on.
Educational background, financial strength, social class, exposure to other cultures, experience, and aspirations are all factors that shape our parenting styles. And it's simplistic to assume that we can parent our children today the way we were parented yesterday. It is equally simplistic to assume that one style can suit all parent-child groups. What works for one parent and child may not work for another. As they say, different strokes for different folks.