Every child has a lasting memory of their parent - lingering physical memories apart, they way they impact your upbringing, your thought process and also how you perceive your life and of those around you - that I think is the true essence of parenting. You don't need to be the biological parent of a child to be a good parent. What I mean is passing on your genes does not qualify as parenthood, it is what you do to nurture the child into an adult that reflects your commitment and skill as a parent. And they and they alone can qualify, in my eyes for the respect and consideration, that we believe every child owes their parents.
This stance might be a tad controversial - especially in the Indian context where becoming a parent is considered the pinnacle of existence - how you fare once you have produced your offspring is rather of less importance than having the numbers to brag about you 'having done your bit by society'. Just as how mothers bring up their kids is considered above criticism, no matter how neglected the child appears, the role of the father is largely seen as that of a provider. As long as he brings food to the table, fees for school and provides for other expenses - he is a good father. I beg to differ.
Upbringing is not just about providing four meals, clothes and an education. These are the bare minimum and in a country as poor as ours, we do believe if our bare expectations are met, then we have succeeded. But the educated, upwardly mobile middle class that I believe I am part of ( as also most of my blog audience), judging ourselves on a very narrow set of yardsticks and feeling we measure up needs to be reassessed. I have often heard a common refrain from several of my peers and elders - "We grew up with limited facilities and even more limited attention. We grew up fine". To this my question is - Did you? What is fine - well adjusted, rational or completely secure about your upbringing?? Don't you privately have regrets or nurse grouses for those times that you feel a bit of concentrated push or educated advice might have changed the course of your life??
More importantly, the age that you grew up in, the access to a lot of facilities were in the public domain. That meant that it was a more level playing ground for the masses. For the classes, who could afford private tutoring and an elite education, the story is largely different. But, rich families in your days never meant financially well off families with disposable cash. It usually meant landowning families that were self-sufficient and far above the 'we-have-four-meals-and-rarely-scrape-the-bottom-of-the-rice-bowl' families. But at the end of the day, the disparity and differences between the well-off middle class and the struggling middle class wasn't as pronounced as it is today. I might be at the risk of over- generalisation, but a letter on a blog on complex issues of parenting can only raise points to ponder over. It cannot be exhaustive or conclusive.
Our country is wracked by duality - we want to maintain our core of Indian sensibilities while embracing Western values of parenting. What we are trying to do is adapt to a comfortable mix of both worlds that have now come to represent our lives. But in this hotch-potch, we rarely stop to think if we are sending mixed signals to our children? We are quick to critique those that are highly conservative and traditional in how they bring up their children - imparting old-world values that we grew up with and shielding kids from all those that we think is the assault of new-age life. However, after they start school and bring home views from their peer group, the discord in life at home and life outside creates friction and a sense of suffocation in the child. While many young ones these days are extremely adept at moving with the flow, there are several other sensitive ones who are crushed by expectations and mis-match that they see in their lives around them and in their own.
The current generation of parents juggle a number of hats at one time. Apart from being the father/mother of one or two children, you are also ambitious professionals, often juggling yet another social role of an activist or social worker/entrepreneur etc. You believe you have the roadmap to success for yourself and through you, a role model to set for what your children must achieve. Their care is largely left to people you pay ( with whom you are rarely satisfied) or with grandparents ( after all, weren't they the ones to insist you have kids soon after you got married? ). To this again, the question will be, but we were brought up by our grandparents, who brought our parents up as wonderful individuals. Now our parents are doing their duty. Do we realise how much the context of parenting changes with each generation?
You might wonder, what brought this tirade about! These are musings, rather direction-less, but thoughts that emerged from a passing reference to someone dear to me as a 'rather ambition-less man'. In a manner of speaking, alluding to how he didn't live up to his potential professionally, which in turns also appears to taint his performance as a parent. His daughters are grown up today and are quiet and confident girls. Unlike most fathers of his generation, who were absentee parents in their children's upbringing, he was around to support, comfort and nurture. He was not one to reach home after the kid has gone to sleep and leave home before the child is awake nor were his weekends spent socialising or climbing the professional ladder. However, at the end of the day, he is branded 'ambitionless', an 'insufficient parent' and sadly 'a poor role model'. Why are we so harsh to critique others when we are far from perfect?
Finally, my question to you is, do you think more of what all your parents provided you materially or how they contributed to influencing your personality and psychological stability and maturity?? Should parenting be about setting successful role-models and assuring financial stability or something far more tangible - materially intangible for sure, but tangible in other ways. Ways that matter? Who decides success in parenthood? Isn't it time to revise yardsticks for yourselves and therefore for your peers too?? After all, you don't live in the age your parents did and your children won't be faced with the same choices that faced you.
Food for thought??
A confused no-body!