New age parents

Neerja Singh

Parenting is not for the faint-hearted. And parenting in these times of expert advice, judgments and gentle nudging is nerve-wracking. There is so much confusion and anxiety over all the parenting permutations and combinations available, akin to a collective panic.

What’s your template of choice for a child, for instance? A science-minded kid? An eco-friendly child? A disease-proof off spring? Or a financially savvy child? There are recipes for each of these.

There was a time when children were economic assets. They worked and contributed to the family income. It was a reciprocal arrangement. Then along came the concept of “child’s right” and schools. Children stopped working, the school became work and the load shifted to the parents. And the radius kept growing because now there was the child’s happiness and self-esteem that were held up as the absolute values. Everyone forgot that these two elusive and ephemeral notions are tied up with effort and pushing and doing things one does not want to do.

For the earlier generations, the parents provided this discipline and structure and hateful nagging, but for this generation, there was no one to do this after school/college. Not for want of trying but the young themselves developed a very private, independent and individual sense of self. Personal choice became a virtue and failure began to be celebrated. More confusion. About this time, they began to ring true, the words of sociologist Viviana Zelizer, that children have become “economically worthless but emotionally priceless.”

Illustration: Sunil Chawdiker

More the cocktail of clashing values, more the furious improvising by the parents. By now they have no clue as to what kind of future they need to prepare their kids for. It’s all changing too fast. So, what do the half eager, half scared parents do? They typically try to prepare their children for every eventuality. In other words, the child must have cognitive skills, problem-solving smarts, kinaesthetic talents and so on, with plenty of structured activities. And let’s face it, school is never enough.

And then there are the experts! First, they strip the parents of their authority by eulogizing democracy at home. There are no clear guidelines on what the boundaries are supposed to be. In the absence of any script, the parents lurch from being enablers to supporters. Does a child get to choose her school, for instance? At what age? Second, all this frantic parenting is happening in contexts that lack basic infrastructure, let alone any state support for child rearing. It is solely a mother/father team’s mandate to equip their child with sustainable skills for survival. Of course, they will do all it takes to ensure their kids have a decent shot at a life of ‘enough and dignity’.

Today, a typical middle-class family pours everything it has into bringing up the children. Now presuming that a child does make it to a good school and parents step back with an inherent trust in the highly reputed institution, what then typically follows? Guess what, at the end of five years, they may end up meeting a chaotic stranger shaped by peer parenting and administrative alienation. In many of the educated, aware, progressive families today, parents are getting lectures on ‘respecting their space’ from teen offspring whose total nurturing experience consists of two low maintenance cats.

These are also the same ‘dreams deprived’ bunches who espouse the cause of autonomy sitting in their parental homes. And when they do get on with their dreams, the real-world kicks in and the fun begins. There is loneliness, parents are understandably not overly enthused and they are slightly fatigued with the workings of their child’s colonized mind. There are stresses involved; the money takes a long time coming. There is disillusionment because even a dream involves some amount of drudgery. All those TED talks, high school Insta-influencers, and YouTube celebrities come crashing at the young, fuelling their self-doubt and leaving them feeling like oddballs, neither here nor there.

Dreams should ideally be chased by young people on their own time and money. A parent’s responsibility is to give them an education adequate for financial self-sufficiency. Why is what was good enough for me, not good enough for my kids? These are constantly evolving new roles parents have to grow into. You are a friend, a sounding board, a mentor, a cheerleader, a role model, just the right balance of softness and toughness. Too much is expected of parents these days.

And let’s not forget that in the brave new world, the gender roles are changing too. Dads get to be as soft as mums and Mums get to be as tough as dads. There is a recipe for domestic strife! Fathers are known to report greater work/life conflict today. A handful of our dreamers do succeed, yes. The rest either return home, lesser or diminished…they make a great market for the motivational and setback leadership industry… or they go the Sushant Singh Rajput way.

No one is as invested in a young person’s future as her family. It is her primary support system. Unfortunately, that loving buffer is under attack and being demonized today. Parents are soft targets. They are too petrified of their kids having to suffer so they listen and nod their heads at this talk of “parents living their dreams through their kids”. It’s as big a lie as the unquestioned dictum today of “happiness and self-esteem”. Sure, the parents consider the happiness of their children paramount and they indeed take on custodianship of their self-esteem but we forget that these are not values in themselves. There is no curriculum for happiness and confidence. They cannot be goals unto themselves; this is too big a burden. These are by-products of a work-ethic and productivity.

That’s all I did, as a parent. I tried to teach them decency, morality and integrity of effort. And I tried very hard to not hurt them. I failed at times. There was a struggle to be both self-fulfilled and sacrificing.

Is all of this called living my dreams through my kids?

The author is a former teacher/journalist, published author and professional speaker on generational empathy with a background and training in media, having worked in advertising, public relations, documentary film making, and feature journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] and https://neerjasingh.com.

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