Opinions

Walking the Parenting Tightrope

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.

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13 thoughts on “Walking the Parenting Tightrope”

  1. Welcome to the world of parenting, Rahini. First rule of this world: Anything you do is wrong. 🙂

    I do agree that there is too much electronic stimulation and I wouldn’t be too happy if all my son did was to watch TV, or look at the tablet, or play video games. But then, my parents were bothered about my nose being hidden in a book all the time, too. Is one better than the other? I don’t know, but research has shown that electronic over-stimulation does cause certain issues that dead-wood didn’t.

    I err on the side of moderation. A pizza for one meal a week is not going to hurt my son, nor will a soda once in a while. A little bit of TV every day is not bad, nor is playing video games. The only thing I worry about, considering his age, is the content to which he has accessibility. Everything is out there, and I don’t know that he has the maturity to sift through the overload of information available, and to that extent, I have parental controls on his electronic devices.

    And no, I don’t want to be his ‘friend’. I’m his parent. 🙂

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  2. Anu, I quite agree that too much electronic stimulation is wrong. But people assume that a child who spends 1.5 hours per week on an iPad is already beyond redemption and the mother is guilty of lazy parenting. They begin with this assumption and then build their theories. She spends a lot more time with paints and makes posters all the time. She is quite good at it. I totally loved the “RIP Abdul Kalam” poster that she made not because any one asked her to but because she just loved the man. I buy poster colors and sketch pens so she can do what she wants to do. But if she asks “Amma, can you download that movie? I want to watch it again” in front of other parents, I am labeled a slacker. I download stuff for her. Tut. Tut.

    It may be a assumption from my part but at times I feel that people assume the worst about children whose mother holds a corporate job. They WANT to see something evil in women who hold on to jobs that aren’t to THEIR approval. It was pronounced when she was a toddler and there were these horrors called “Milestones”. My daughter did not hit her milestones on the textbook-approved months. She walked late and she talked late and the pediatrician wasn’t worried and I wasn’t either. She is not a textbook person. She is of real flesh and blood. But these “Tut tut corporate job eh? Yeah that is why she is so late” comments. AAh.

    I am so glad that the milestone part of her life is over. Whew.

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  3. Rahini – very nicely written. As the parent of a 3 1/2 year old, I could relate to quite a lot of what you wrote in your post as well as your comment above.

    were these horrors called “Milestones”.
    –> We went through that horror house quite a bit! I am glad that we are past the terrible twos. Not that my toddler was terrible but that the milestone phase that we had to go through, looking at things on a weekly basis! Gosh…glad that that phase is over 🙂

    I like Anu’s point about moderation. I try to exercise that with my bambino…but I find myself erring on the stricter side of moderation…but at least, my son knows who in the house is the good cop (mom) and who is the bad cop (yours truly) so he find ways to manipulate the system in the cheekiest of ways :))

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  4. I think people frown upon the parenting styles of everyone other than their own selves because they are insecure, no? This is bad — but I’ve seen this happen so often even to myself. I think it stems from an inner insecurity that I have as a parent.

    And another thing: nobody — NOBODY — talks about the difficulties in parenting. And that is utterly dangerous. I agree that parenting is the most wonderful thing that could ever happen to someone. I am not denying that at all. But I also wish some would talk a bit more about the **other** side of parenting. Here are some things I wish someone would say, and be unapologetic about it.

    1. It’s about being insecure, and lost all the time. Constantly questioning yourself if you are doing it right. And never knowing the answer.
    2. It’s about feeling guilty.
    3. It’s about the awareness that you need to be more patient, but actually being impatient more often than you would like. And later feeling guilty and depressed about it.
    4. It’s about yelling — followed by more guilt. Loads and loads of it.
    5. It’s about wanting to watch a movie. Alone.
    6. It’s about locking yourself up in a room and eating that last piece of chocolate cake in peace while the kids watch TV. (Of course, you don’t tell them that you ate that last piece). And later feeling guilty.
    7. It’s about inadvertently force reading ARGUS to your kid, when the kid prefers BATMAN/FROZEN being read to them. And then, guilt.
    8. It’s about the sheer joy when you realize that they actually liked ARGUS, and ask for it the next night!
    9. It’s about that sinking feeling when you hear someone say your child isn’t good at something.
    10. It’s about that jealousy when you see another kid hit the soccer ball a tad harder than your own.
    11. I could go on..

    Last of all, it’s about knowing you WILL feel all of the above. And that’s O.K.

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  5. Rahini, you’re stepping into the ‘Mommy wars’ here. Working women vs. SAHMs. If you work as a teacher or in a bank or in one of the ‘approved’ job sectors, you’re a goddess who does it all. If you, god forbid, work in a job which requires you to work late, or travel or some such thing, watch out! The kudos handed over to the husbands of such women! ‘He takes care of the kid when she’s away!’ ‘He even cooks food.’ ‘I wonder that he lets her come so late!’ as if a working wife needs her husband’s ‘permission’ to come late. This wouldn’t bother me so much if they said the same thing about men. But it’s only the women who are so excoriated.

    Plus, I don’t know what’s so great about my husband looking after our son – surely it’s his child as well? He’s not doing me a favour by doing so; he’s just doing what a parent should do.

    Believe me, the worst culprits in this are women themselves.

    @blurb – I don’t agree that parenting is the most wonderful thing that happens to someone. At least, it is not the most wonderful thing that happened to me. I love my sons well enough, but ‘parent’ is not my only identity, nor do I wish it to be. Lots of wonderful things have happened to me, some even better than having my kids. Of course, admitting that could get me permanently cast out of the cadre of ‘Mothers’. 🙂

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  6. In some parts of the world (mine included), parenting has become a competitive sport. As much as I’d like to believe that I don’t play that game, I recently realized that it was affecting my parenting in an unexpected way – I don’t let my child fail (and failure really is the greatest teacher of all). Anytime my son comes close to failing at something – science project, tabla class, essay on Ancient Egypt, anything – I swoop in and rescue him. And it’s not because the stakes are so high for *him*, but because I think they’re high for *me*. “Appropriate” achievement on his part staves off judgement of me from fellow parents. Sigh.

    My son called me out on a parenting platitude the other day. I had said something about only wanting him to be happy to which he pointed out that what would make him happy would be to have chocolate ice cream for dinner and play Minecraft all day. Since I rejected both those appeals, clearly his happiness wasn’t what I was after! So, come summer vacation, I pledged to let him do both for one day. Of course, the fine print states that Minecraft all day = 2 hours. 🙂

    @Anu – I’ve determinedly stayed out of the “Mommy wars”, but have developed a twitch since a SAHM of one of my son’s classmates lectured me about how glad she is that she didn’t “outsource” the care of her child and opted to be a “full-time” Mom. 🙂 As if you magically cease to be a parent when you’re at work.

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  7. Ah Mommy wars. One of these days I am going to get myself some political power and ban health drink ads and all will be well, I think.

    🙂

    blurb: Yes, that is definitely stemming from our insecurities and also because we have deep beliefs about parenting. Someone doing it wrong is so grating. Especially the “You should get first rank” brigade.

    Anu Warrier: Society approved jobs for women are so few, right? So a HUGE chunk of women face this. I shouldn’t wonder if School teachers and Bank Managers don’t face a lot of these criticisms themselves. After all, this is the blame-throwing game and it is impossible to come out of the unscathed however pure you or your job profile maybe.

    Shalini: I totally adore children who can make well reasoned arguments. Not when I am on the receiving end though. 😀

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  8. @Shalini, I would have been oh-so-tempted to reply, ‘I’m so glad I can stand on my own two feet and not have to depend on anyone to take care of me financially. And my son is learning how to respect women who make different choices.’ Ugh! I pity that poor kid! I can just hear the helicopter blades whirring in the background. If she says anything again, feel free to squash her. You will have me sitting on your shoulder helping you out. 🙂

    I hear you about swooping in to rescue your son. It’s such a temptation to not let them fail, isn’t it? Their failure is a reflection of your parenting. Ugh! again! I’ve been trying, mostly successfully (though there have been some spectacular failures) to let him take the fall. It’s teeth-grindingly frustrating, I can tell you that!

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  9. @Anu Warrier: “Lots of wonderful things have happened to me, some even better than my kids.” Quite liberating to hear someone say that.

    BTW: Do you get incinerated in social gatherings when you announce this? 🙂

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  10. Are women more critical than men are? Well the break down as far as how I am able to figure out is like this.

    Young Unmarried Professionals are the MOST critical. They ask me to not bother with her marks and not scold her and this and that. She should finish her home lessons and should understand what she is studying and I am not going to compromise.

    I don’t cook and most are very critical about this. They know not to openly criticize me, but when they ask what lunch I cooked for her and I say that I am not the person who cooks for her, I have fallen from the pedestal. Big deal. I don’t like that pedestal anyway.

    Other professionals (male and female) who do have their own children are less critical and know that I keep cooking in my to-dos as I have a pretty long commute. In fact, married women are most understanding in this respect.

    There is a difference between how men and women criticize parenting. In fact, it is comments from men that made me write this post. Men put all “today’s moms” into one huge bag and punch the whole bag. It may be “Women these days” or “Mom these days” or whatever. They don’t say anything particular. We don’t measure up. That is all. No matter WHAT we do, we just don’t.

    Women are more individual. They will know YOUR schedule, YOUR child’s quirks and YOUR beliefs and prick you with a specific needle and they verify your weakest point and then prick. AHHH.

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  11. Shalini, I remember a post written by a teenager in the children’s magazine Gokulam. She said that she was the best in poetry writing in her class but she never got her due. Other children who made their parents write it instead invariably won in spite of not being interested in Poetry at all. She was talking about giving topics on the spot and how it will encourage real talent. That article really stuck with me.

    But I do do a lot my daughter’s projects because they seem to meant like that. It should have a parent’s guiding. I do keep her involved but she is not on her own. Not yet. But I will never be the mom who writes her daughter’s record completely. She should do what she should do.

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  12. I guess the SAHM mom and working mom divide is a huge unsolvable problem. I try to keep my mouth shut as there must have been some other person who hurt her and tread on her toes too much. So I let it go. It happens so often. One working woman hurts a SAHM and she lets the person who hurt her off the hook and comes and hurts another woman who she believes to be in the same demographic.

    Actually many people do that. I had a huge fight with a male friend who kept implying that I had dumped some poor BF and married a family approved guy. Actually I had had no BF and just consciously chose to let my parents do the partner search and he knew it. But instead of showing his anger on the girl who chose to dump him, he redirected that anger towards ALL women who had opted for arranged marriage.

    Redirect your anger more on the person who hurts you and less against their entire demographic. The world will be saner if more people remembered this.

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  13. @blurb, I think many women feel the same way than do mention it. 🙂 Perhaps I’m quite secure in my beliefs, so even if someone thinks I’m a bad mother for feeling that way, I gladly accept the charge. Yup, I’m a bad mother. Now what? I don’t intend to be ‘good’ if that means I have to hover around my son like a helicopter. I’m sure quite a few women in my larger social circle have a very low opinion of me as a wife and mother. 🙂

    I’m firmly of the opinion that, absent abuse or neglect, you do your parenting your way, I’ll do it mine. Neither are wrong. Actually, no, scratch that – someone somewhere will always be around to tell you that you’re doing something wrong. 🙂

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