Sometimes, if an acquaintance asks me how I spend time with my daughter, I get that weird feeling—that some judgmental lecture on parenting is brewing. Do I talk to her and know what is happening to her? Do I spend one-on-one quality time with her? Does she get physical activity? Does she watch too much TV? How many sweets does she eat? These are a few of the questions people of similar age quiz us on in the name of concern. These interviews invariably leave me exhausted.
Often, people keep saying that the childhood of today does not measure up to childhood in the 80s. The children, of course, seem to be enjoying themselves. I find that if I mention that I routinely use YouTube videos to show her the metamorphosis of butterflies, someone will rant about the evils of YouTube and if I use Google Image Search to show her pictures of Kathakali, someone will want to rant about that too. If she likes a cartoon character, someone else frowns about the evils of merchandising. I wonder if these people enjoy parenting and relish the joys of being a parent at all. They seem to be concentrating on what is wrong with today’s world so much that they completely forget what is right in today’s world. Does the pressure of parenting often eclipse the pleasure of being a parent?
A friend of mine has banned TV, sugar, cheese and noodles from his home. He seems super-proud of himself. But he seems completely unwilling to read or tell stories to his son. A childhood parched of new exciting stories? No chocolate cake? No pizzas? It just seems so sad to me. Though I know that life without TV and sugar and noodles is supposedly great, I would want my daughter to grow up to be a person who does reach out and relish food other than the small bracket of items prepared at home. It is super difficult to travel extensively if you are finicky about what you eat and what you are prepared to eat is determined by what you ate as a child. So the ability to grab a cheese-and-egg sandwich and catch a bus to your next dream is not an unimportant trait. I am not talking about giving my daughter pizzas every weekend or chocolates every day. I am talking about her being a person who does not starve herself if only pizzas are available.
Similarly, I am not talking about letting her watch TV all the time. But the assumption that just because she knows Chotta Bheem’s love interest is Chutki, her childhood is spoilt and relatively worthless as compared to some other child who was riding a bicycle in the meantime or was attending a Hindi class? I don’t think knowing that Popeye’s love interest was Olive Oyl spoilt my childhood and I don’t see why this should be vastly different. I don’t like the Chotta Bheem – Chutki dynamics but that is different. I am talking about sheltering children from the fun parts of today’s world and deeming all of these things evil.
But most of all, there is this attitude that makes people frown upon the parenting styles of everyone other than their own selves. Even I am unwittingly judgmental of someone whose parenting is different from mine. I don’t like to see children being deprived of TV completely when their parents use YouTube in the dead of night to catch a late-night show. I tell myself that I have no right to judge people other than if they use physical violence on the child or do sexually abusive things. Other than that all parenting is good parenting, or so I tell myself. It is the intention that matters. But I admit it is hard. Recently a friend was talking about a competition that he was training his son for. A few minutes into the conversation, I could not stop feeling that the pressure to win the competition was too high. Participation and enjoyment and friendships and goofiness should be more important. That is what my parents taught me. The world is not filled with just one type of parenting. And it is exhausting me.