If there was one word I could use to describe a typical Indian urban parent then it would be – confused. Our parents might have had their own set of problems but for better or for worse there was hardly any confusion about the way kids needed to be brought up. They strived to give the best of comforts (read hardships), education, regular holidays, family times and that was it. They had no qualms of their own brand of disciplining, limits and boundaries. Expectations were simple. Do well in studies, obey and respect. One very constructive aspect of this style of “no-nonsense parenting” was the amount of unstructured time we got to enjoy our childhood. Well, if you have been around for the past 30 to 40 years then you would know what I am talking about.
But parents are confused now. And confusion is leading to uncertainty and anxiety. Somehow this whole hyper-parenting bandwagon with its mantras of “the earlier you start the better it is”, “maximum exposure”, “keep them busy” is driving parents into a frenzy. Parenting has become like a to-do list. Pick him up from school, take her for a piano lesson, invite friend for a play date, call up his teacher, tuition in the evening, bake a cake with her, play Mozart to enhance his maths skills at dinner time, singing in the bath, practice her reading and not to forget, have quality time with him. Feel your head spinning? Now imagine what the child might be going through.
Parenting is becoming more about doing than being. We have started believing that by putting kids into more and more activities we are ensuring their future success and our triumph as parents. We suppose we are giving them a cutting edge in this competitive world. But are we really? Studies are clearly showing that “overscheduled” children who do not get unstructured time are at risk of developing anxiety and depressive symptoms.
But even apart from psychological problems, we are actually depriving them of a regular, happy childhood. An opportunity to just BE. If you look back at your childhood I am sure you would treasure the times you spent just doing almost nothing. Snuggling in bed reading books for hours, giggling with friends pointlessly, watching drifting clouds in the sky and marvelling at their changing patterns, drawing squiggles on paper, air guitaring to a rock number (if you have not then I recommend you try it now).
I know you are going to say that the first thing that your kid is going to say once you do give him/her this time is, “I am bored”. I don’t know why the parents hit the panic button every time the child mutters this B word. They go into an over-functioning, multi-media entertainment mode. I would suggest hold on to that anxiety, smile and step back. There will be an initial withdrawal phase but then slowly you will see the child get in touch with his/her inherent rich internal world.
We live in a hyper-parenting age. It will take a lot to side step the herd and build you own style of parenting. Have faith in yourself. And have faith in you child. We need to remember that childhood is a preparation and not a performance.