Children : Mini-Adults or Accessories?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve had an inquiring, critical mind and a refusal to accept ‘because it is so’. This mindset did not desert me when I became a parent. I’ve questioned received wisdom, read to incorporate best practices, listened to a lot of advice and followed my own mind and heart. So should you.
I saw other mothers go back to work within months of giving birth and heard colleagues inquire about crèche facilities nearby. I felt a sense of outrage and then began to examine why I felt so strongly about this. Did we just oblige society by popping out a baby? Is the child the missing piece of the ‘complete-family’ puzzle? The upshot of my decision was that I stayed home for a year, weaned my baby at ten months and was back at work after her first birthday. I withstood criticism from my in-laws for this. What has been central to my parenting was Kahlil Gibran’s, ‘On Children’
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.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
I am of the opinion that having a child is a lifelong responsibility. I have observed quite early that one parent at least has to be around full-time, if a child is to grow up with a sense of values and stability. This proximity fosters communication, which is the only tool for understanding a teenager later in life. If today, I trust my child’s capabilities as I step back and let her try out her wings, I know that all those early years of hard work is paying off. Make no mistake, it is work. Really hard work.
What was my parenting style?
When my child cried, I picked her up. Every single time. She soon learnt that I was always available and she cried less often. She was a happy curious baby, and she had exposure to colors, sounds and textures from early on. She was bathed, massaged, fed on demand and cuddled. I wish I could say I talked to her a lot, but not being a talkative person myself, I read to her. The newspaper, fiction, children’s books (with ‘voices’), you name it, I read it. When she was just a baby, I used to hold her and put my finger on every word, touch the picture with an illustration.
I started her on solids at six months, very textbook-like, while I continued to feed her. She was ‘interviewed’ for play school at eighteen months, and they told me she could read! Apparently they said ‘lion’ and she pointed to the word and the picture. I continued working with her intensively through her school years. I would supervise work, though I made her do everything herself (even if it was not perfectly done, and she lost marks) and helped with developing organisational skills, since she tended to lose things and left a messy trail.
My focus was on making learning fun, but getting work done to deadline. I gave her a debit card at age seven, with a monthly allowance. If she needed more money, she had to save and I matched the amount of her savings, thus teaching the value of delayed gratification. I believe we can teach them about managing finances by getting them involved.
I listened, answered all her questions in an age-appropriate manner; for instance how you define ‘rape’ to a seven-year-old is different to the same child at eleven. No topic was off-limit. If the questions were too personal , I would say that I’d wait to discuss that with her when she was older. And we did.
I would study with her in 9th and 10th grade and made her take a heavy academic workload. Towards the end of grade 10, she began to work with a study group and I moved into the role of a supporter. In 11th and 12th grades, she struggled a bit but I was not hand-holding anymore, though I did help her with study skills and writing.
I’ve tried putting her in different activities. When I put her into swimming classes at 3 years, she was scared and I didn’t force her. Later when she did go back in the water, it was a task to get her out! She was the last one in her skating class to learn, but once she did, she was good. She tried dance and music, but wasn’t really interested in them. Her artwork made me want to weep but I confined myself to asking about the picture. I let her be bored and she found creative ways to occupy herself. She started peeling vegetables at seven and then went on to simple cooking. When she was older she did learn vocal music for several years, and is now part of her university acapella group.
Throughout all of this, she talked non-stop and I knew all about her day, everyday. I found opportunities to communicate my sense of values but it was all done subtly and openly.
Today, she is seventeen, has graduated school with distinction, loves learning, reads voraciously, has excellent analytical and critical thinking skills, is empathetic and committed to improving lives around her. I’m so proud as her mother to see her pursuing her Bachelor’s program at a prestigious university on a sponsored scholarship. She shares almost everything with me, even things a teen normally wouldn’t. I still give her my opinion and I think it carries weight with her.
What have I learnt throughout this parenting journey?
Children aren’t mini-adults.
I have learnt that parenting is a life-long task and goes though its natural ups and downs as we and our children grow older. Children have minds and opinions and model their behavior on their parent’s values and actions. I have learnt that they need to be respected, that they need boundaries because boundaries give them security.
Children will push and test parental limits and yet, we need to hold firm. They need to understand that it’s the parent’s house and their rules (even when it comes to finances). My daughter has been able to negotiate with me for almost anything and I believe it has helped her interpersonal, persuasive and communications skills. From a dozen or more non-negotiable things, we’re down to maybe three. Earlier, food rules, bedtime, homework and tidying up were carved in stone, though of course with a few exceptions. I believe that to raise a happy child with a sense of values, a parent has to recede more and more into the background always available but letting the child explore her capabilities. Parenting is not a popularity contest or a responsibility one can choose to abdicate.
I haven’t always been patient, or good-tempered, but I’ve been consistent. I’ve learnt that children are resilient and accept your apology for an outburst, and learn how to manage conflict. They learn that anger doesn’t mean love has left the room.
The job of parenting cannot be outsourced…..not to grandparents, nor ayahs or nannies, however loving.
I’ve built a living around my child’s needs without having a support system. I believe children are a huge responsibility and whatever the situation maybe, their upbringing as a future future citizen of the world is my responsibility. Watching my girl find her feet and negotiate with the world on her own terms makes me satisfied and immensely happy.