It was a warm December afternoon with the sun glowing at its might. The Christmas program in our residential society was scheduled to begin in a while. I had given my month old daughter the mandatory shower, of course, with the mother in-law by my side. While the baby enjoyed a soothing post shower nap, my in-laws and I sat in the balcony waiting for the small function to begin. My in-laws had been with us for over a month by now, the awkwardness had lessened. I presume we were all secretly going through a “we are a family”phase. Thus began, the casual winter banter as we looked down upon at the little Santas and elves.
Kids mostly aged between two to five, all dressed up in red with Santa caps, danced and played around the finely decorated cotton covered plants casting an imperfectly adorable impression of a snowy Christmas. Mother in-law broke the ice and brought our attention to how most kids were accompanied by house helps. She continued to express her disappointment over this modern parenting hack of letting the kids grow with maids rather than the parents. This gave me food for thought on the different styles of parenting.
While I was visiting my parents I decided to get hold of old albums to relive my childhood. My baby pictures where I was held by my mother who sat coyly with a child on a jhoola (swing) made me question the secret to her calm and composed persona. Dare I say, inspite of a child on her lap. My mother reminisced getting support from my dadi and phuppos (aunts) who were mostly around when I was born. The almost joint family set up gave her little time to be exclusively available for her first child. Her duties as a dulhan (daughter in-law) kept her on toes. Right from cooking to cleaning, she had to manage everything and also tend to her baby girl. My mom hardly remembered any postpartum blues. She does hold that she felt no regrets about prioritizing family over her kid. It was how she had grown up watching her mother and this was how she was going to go ahead.
Our conditioning, by the same women holding these opinions, was surprisingly different. When my husband and I decided to plan a baby, our concerns were more about – how to utilize the maternity leave, look for a good day care, assigning house chores to the maids. There were many more questions, the answers to which we are still figuring out. When we decide to get help, our aim is not to hand over our child completely to her, but to ease our life, so that we can continue focusing on other aspects of living as well. A house help in no way compensates for the mother or the father. Her role is restricted to being a mere supervisor who can look after the child. The love we have for child is no way lesser than the past generation but yes our love for our lifestyle is as important. In the long run, we do not wish to present a sacrificed version of ourselves to our babies but want to be their role models who are capable of managing it all, if only with some support.
The current generation is more ambitious. Our parents made us so. They wanted to give the best to us. This for middle class families’ translated into making education the priority. No wonder my friends and I, are all well qualified and based in metro cities to fulfil our professional dreams. The stereotype of roti, kapda and makaan (bread, cloth and house) has extended to fancy mobiles and big cars. While to our parents we may appear more fizul kharchi (spend thrifts), our idea of living doesn’t just revolve around comfort, but values luxury too. Modern parenting is a possible fall out of this lifestyle change. We take our own sweet time to settle down and plan a family. The schools we plan to send our kids will also be better than ours and we hope they will give them more exposure than we got in the smaller cities we hail from.
When we were kids, our parents took us around on weekends to visit local zoos. The mention of Appu Ghar to any 90’s kid will give way to a nostalgic smile. As my in-laws put it, “We did not have malls and so for us, spending time amidst the nature, looking around at fluttering birds and colorful butterflies made for outings and happiness.” For us and our babies, the best forms of entertainment is a home theater. Mobile phones equipped with videos and games, and a personal room are basic tools necessary to raise children. And yet, taking a leaf from our in-laws healthy book, we make our best efforts to plan outings to city gardens and keep our little one close to nature.
I remember when we were young, if parents had to go out somewhere, they would easily leave us behind with our neighbors. These people, not related to us, were like an extended family. Even though I have built a strong connection with my neighbors, I cannot imagine leaving my kids solely to their supervision. The challenges of modern parenting are different. A child cannot be left all by herself to play outside the house. As parents we acknowledge that their physical and mental safety is paramount. Daily headlines about unfortunate crimes against young children may have not increased over the years, but are highlighted more now. Possibly being noticed more by us now. We as parents are more cautious and aware.
Some days when I am not debating with parents over parenting styles, I think about my idea of parenting. During my pregnancy, the walks around the parks made me notice kids engaged in different activities. When I spoke to a mother of a five year old, I was told that Monday was assigned for one hour tennis coaching, Tuesdays for Zumba, Wednesday was a break, and on Thursdays she goes for gymnastic class. If this wasn’t enough, on Fridays she learnt taekwondo and on Saturday afternoons she went for skating sessions. I was a little taken aback and spoke to my brother about this. My brother’s opinion was that it was important to expose the kid to various extracurricular activities in their initial years. This would ensure that they grow up to realize their interests and can easily follow their ‘passion’. My counter argument was based on a podcast I heard the other day about letting the kids be on their own. The message there was that this “constant gaze” may manipulate creativity. I think there is merit in that. While we intend to expose our child to as much possible, bludgeoning her with all that is possible, may not be a good idea.
One of my cousins often walked in our house with a notebook and a pencil, drawing on it whenever she was by herself. To me, that is the idea of raising an independent kid rather than fixing their likes and dislikes by keeping them busy all the time.
A few days back I came across an article about how present day kids, despite access to every possible luxury, face mental stress. As a modern parent, we have to make our kids learn about healing the bruises on their knees but also help them build a strong mental character. Our biggest challenge will be to keep our kids grounded. We have to give our kids the purpose for living. All this and more while ensuring their innocence is intact.
I am not sure if any one parenting style is superior, but I have come to a conclusion based on a quote from the Quran, “to you be your way and to me be mine”.