Thursday, September 2, 2010

On Parenting


Okay, just because I've been absent for a bit, don't let your suspicions be aroused by the title of the post. I still stand by no good news is good news for now. However, I have been meeting and talking to a lot of young parents and I often find myself thinking about how different their views are from the way in which I was brought up. To start with, none of them believes in hitting their kid. I don't mean caning or belting or hanging the kid upside down by its soles or something, so don't let your hackles rise. I just mean a good old pinch or a light slap on the bum.

My mum swears by what she calls Adi-o-therapy. My brother and I got our fair share of beatings when we were growing up. For the most part, I think we got what we deserved. We were both very strong-willed children and inclined to fuss till my mum lost her cool. My brother and I used to fight all the time. One of my favourite hobby horses while growing up was to irritate the hell out of him. I'd do this by singing tunelessly into his ear, repeating advertisement slogans every time I saw him (Nambikkai. Naanayam. Balu Jewelers. For some reason, I thought this was hugely funny), and eating my share of sweets very slowly after he'd finished eating his share. I'd also occupy his room and refuse to leave till he bodily threw me out. For his part, he monopolized the computer, made me believe I was a moron (he'd plenty of evidence for this though!) and gave me a massive inferiority complex because of his over-achieving. I didn't flunk in school or anything, but I hated it when teachers (especially the Math ones) referred to me as 'Oooooh S's sister!' and waited for genius to flow out of me. My brother went to IIT, Caltech, Stanford, MIT, and is now in Johns Hopkins. He's a theoretical physicist.You see what I mean?

So anyway, my mum used to end our fights by basically whacking both of us because we were getting on her nerves. Didn't matter who was at fault. It's some ancient Akbar-type justice system, but I don't see how else she could have managed both of us. My dad, for the most part, was the good cop in the parenting process. He never raised his voice, let alone hand, at us. So the onus of 'disciplining' the children fell on her and she was the bad cop during our childhood. Apart from getting it for being a pain, I also used to get it for studying (till 2nd standard or so...after that, I started studying on my own). My mum used to give me Tamil dictation words and I'd never put the mei ezhuthu in the correct place. So if you asked me to write 'paakku', I'd write 'paagu'. Every time I did this, I'd get a pinch. Sounds appalling, right? I mean, there I was, a rojapoo five year old...and I was getting pinched for not writing correctly! The parents I meet now don't want their kids to even hold a pencil till they are eighty or something.

When I listen to these parents talk about how the child should be allowed to free its mind and not read or write till it feels 'ready', I find myself agreeing on principle. I did not enjoy my Tamil dictation session. I hated it, if you want to know. But I don't know if I regret it. I am interested in the field of education and I absolutely loathe schools like DAV that make you feel like you gotta be a Karl Marks if you want to be anything in life. But I sometimes think we overdo this 'sensitive' child bit.

I was playing with a kid here and we were playing an 'ocean' game. So basically, I'd make big waves or small waves and he'd have to swim accordingly. The waves ranged from a Tsunami to a tiny wave that tickled his toes. When I said 'Tsunami' however, the adult population in the room froze. They thought this would scare the kid, it being a natural disaster and all, but the kid only asked for an even bigger wave to engulf him. As adults, we transpose the associations that we make with incidents and situations on to the child. We then worry if this is going to damage the kid's sensibilities. I think we should worry about this- it is important and bringing up a child that's aware and sensitive is no joke- but I think we should also allow the child to discover the world by being a child. Without our anxiety hovering around it.

I don't think I'd have ever learnt Tamil properly if not for those sessions simply because I wasn't interested. If given a choice, I'd have never learnt Math. But I did learn all these things because I had no choice. Was it all useful? No. I never knew what the hell differentiation was and I still don't. It hasn't affected my life. But I still solved problems in my 12th board without knowing this. Sure, this isn't the ideal education that one wants. Ideally, we should understand what we study. What we study should excite us. But sadly, we don't live in an ideal world. The world sucks for the most part because it's governed by the average, the majority. So much as I'd have enjoyed a non-competitive paradise where my artistic skills were identified in LKG and my Math textbook was thrown in the fire, it might have not prepared me for the moment when I stepped out of school. I'm not saying the system I went through was lovely. It wasn't. But I don't regret it. I think it built my character even as I rebelled against it.

Today, I see parents changing schools at the drop of a hat- too much homework, one bad teacher, competitive atmosphere and so on. But one has to recognize that the system is designed to accommodate a very large category called 'Everybody'. Many of these parents don't have a cable connection at home because TV is full of trash. I agree that TV is full of trash but I think it's okay for the kid to watch some amount of trash. At least, it ought to know what trash is. Shin Chan isn't my idea of creative genius, but if I had a kid, I'd be okay with it watching the show. I wouldn't make it watch only The Sound of Music or something. The thing is, you can't protect a child all through its life. At some point, the world will get to it. And when that happens, the kid ought to know that aaal is not well with the world.

I think what a child needs is sound ammunition for getting around the system and finding its way through it. Ammunition that it finds for itself through experience, not a hand-me-down.


vishesh said...


vishesh said...

My mom used to threaten me and I used to wail..and I was pretty hard headed and would never study( today if someone tells me to 'study' I will lock myself in my room and read some book :P famously finished 3-5 books during my 10th boards..)..

My sis went to a Montessori..she had lots of she's in lady Andal..all gethu I say..I rotted in a normal school, struggling to get noticed above the teachers preconceived notions..

Fortunately I'm the supposed cleverest in my family. Pressure is on the others now...

Tsunami, Earthquake whatever..don't think the idea of 'death' affects kids too much. Remember being rather unemotional towards death..

Should tell my sis to read this post and ask her what she thinks of me :D

Saya said...

I think both extremes are bad. One where kids are made to study and give up what they love. Or the other where the child is taken too seriously and protected to be one thottashinungi.

Anonymous said...

It is Karl Marx and not Karl Marks though I won't pinch you for that, for what you need is a' muttanam muttanam ' for that.

GB said...

@Vishesh- I can't stand Lady Andal :D And sure, get her views!

@Saya- Agreed!

@Anonymous- The point of Karl 'Marks' is that DAV is a marks-oriented school. I know it's Marx, amma. I grew up in your house.

artnavy said...

i would have to agree with u that kids cannot and must not be over sheltered

And a bit of nonsense on TV or wherever is a must- if we can indulge as adults so can the kids...

And a lot kids without TV end up cathcing junk on the internet/ comp!!

Uncle Srini said...

"The parents I meet now don't want their kids to even hold a pencil till they are eighty or something." - that's the GB one-liner of this post! :D

As for the post itself, very very engaging! :) In fact, I have felt much the same about the duffel bag educational system, Mathematics, my (younger) sister's over-achieving (:D) and a number of things you have pointed attention to! Of note are the points you made regarding the independence a child needs to be a child - and not a child with some control context where everything is predetermined as if in some life experiment - and the change of schools at the "drop of a hat!" I think - I am not a parent yet so I do not want to be too judgmental - parents work themselves to too much of a fit when it concerns their children in the process forgetting that it actually stifles them and does not help them, although helping is the intention.

Good way to start my day (at something short of a midday :D) :).

soin said...

karl marks school paiyan here. like a girls hostel dav is also myth. unless you are inside you wont know. and sometimes me thinks the children are pampered too muich. but my thatha says the same thing about me. its natural i

Sachita said...

I am not too fond of hitting kids. Adults can get angry for different reasons and it might be taken out on children easily. Atleast that happened quite a bit in our case.

I do agree with the rest of post, as 'Gates with lot of Bills' said, if you think school is unfair - wait till you get into real life.

Anonymous said...

"My dad, for the most part, was the good cop in the parenting process. He never raised his voice, let alone hand, at us. So the onus of 'disciplining' the children fell on her and she was the bad cop during our childhood." Does it mean "disciplining" can be done only by raising voice/hand?

Z@iD said...

The reason for the radical thinking that we teenagers come up nowadays about bringing up a child is due to those experiences we had in childhood... Like your post:)

The Bride said...

As an impending mommy, I think about this stuff a lot. I'm so conflicted about the school thing. I went to a very non-fancy school and did ok for myself so I think my kid should be ok too, despite the mediocre education system, rote learning, so-so teachers with the ocassional good one etc. What I learnt in school was the survive the system... everything else has been a relative cakewalk since. On the other hand, just because I survived doesn't mean my kid will. I happened to have a love of learning and an incredible memory that was perfect for rote learning. That kind of system also kills love of learning and could squash the other talents of the child. My big problem with the more innovative schools is that they tend to be expensive and only rich kids go there. I dislike the idea of my kid hanging out exclusively with wealthy kids and thinking that's what the world is about. Tough choice.

What I'm not conflicted about is the value of the One Tight Slap (or OTS). I was a recepient of this on occassion in my childhood and I don't bear any long-term trauma. In fact, I think it was a good thing. I really don't see this time-out thing as super effective and I don't think it's possible to reason with kids always.

Vini said...

I agree. I will tell you what my dilemma is - I wonder if this is the new normal. When we went to regular schools where we stood outside class with hands raised or brought home lots of homework, everybody else who was 'like us', well almost, was with us. We all had similar economic patterns etc and there wasn't too much of a disparity there. I wonder, if we don't go with the new normal, will that ironically make the kids feel out of place because I sure don't see a lot of my peer group adhering to the old ideas. What's worse is that some of them (even me maybe) who do champion the cause of the old style education and upbringing will consiously or sub-consciously make the other choice. And that scares me.

But for happy news - Suriya and Shruthi Hassan are shooting right outside my office. So I will go and catch a glimpse and see if your hotness assessment is correct ;)

Anonymous said...

" children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them;sometimes they forgive them."---Oscar Wilde.

Those who continue to grow learn to forgive and start healing. The time taken for such a process to begin makes a lot of difference to one's quality of life.
A woman needn't or cannot cease to be a person just because she is a wife or a mother. Even those who agree to this in principle resent her when she is unwilling to do the 'sacrifices' which the society has been used to expecting from her.
A mother should try to get across the idea that she loves her child always but sometimes she doesn't love the child's behavior. But she can only try.
There is a Chinese saying, "parents who are afraid to put their feet down, usually have children step on their toes."
Most of the ' liberal parents' are afraid of their children,children who threaten to harm their own lives for silliest of reasons, children who hijack entire lives of their parents.
' spare the rod and spoil the child' is old of course, but pray, where is the new one?

nmagesh said...

adi othavara-madiri annan-thambi kooda...

Somebody is going to get hurt real bad...(for those Russell Peters fans) - probably the funniest bit on thrashing by parents.

It is a fine line - parents have to follow. If you are smacking your kid once in a while to enforce discipline - it is okay. But, I have seen parents in bad mood trashing their kids, just because the kid doesn't conform to what the parent is feeling right then- such violence against kids is unforgivable. I guess, before raising the hand (or the old fashioned wooden ruler) parents should ask themselves - will my kid understand/be-okay-with my action 20 years down the line? If yes...then dandanaka...dandanaka...

Raj said...

I was about to quote "adi uthavuramathiri ..". Don't agree with it though.

I had to literally put a stop to this practice, in the 12th year, by stating that I have grown enough (fights with sister in ariyatha vayasu). My mom even changed her gold bangles :D

Ramya said...

Hmm.....I think kids can do with a light slap or an occasional isn't going to give them long term trauma. My mother used to frequently whack my sister and me when we got too unruly for even her limitless patience...and we both turned out fine (or so we like to think!. But yes, parents are increasingly against that sort of thing these days.

Oh, also, I increasingly notice parents talking to their kids only in English, so the kid never learns the mother tongue. That is very, very sad, and I wish more parents would take the trouble to speak to their kids in the mother tongue - the child will learn English in school anyway

Spaz Kumari said...

well i was always, without exception, allowed to watch/read anything i wanted, be it howsoever trashy. And I DID read/watch a lot of trash... have no doubts. I also got briskly thwacked when I got too mouthy for my own good. I have not (yet) sought therapy, so it looks like you're right. ;)

But seriously? I really really REALLY enjoyed being left to my own devices. Now that I notice how rare this is, I am also very grateful to my parents for just letting me be.

Chandrima said...

Belonging to that young group of parents you mentioned I can agree half and half with you.I agree the fact each and every child should be provided the chance and challange to find his/her own way out in whichever society they are living.
Not agree part is the smacking technology. We need to look at the change in social structure form our childhood time to todays.
As we were kids all the mums (mostly stay at home and were bad cops) were same and so were the dads (mostly working, only available in the evening and on Sundays-good cops). Mothers were very powerful as they were mothers and not friends, for friends we had neighbors, cousins, own siblings(most kids of today might not have that so parents have to become friends too) and more important our parents did not have exposure to the other ways of parenting. I have talked with many European colleagues here and they also had similar kind of childhood as we had, but then they also now follow the no smacking rule.
And believe me it is much harder.
First as nmagesh said not just smack because you have more strength and they are not listening to you. Because that is the quickest way to let them listen but then the effect dilutes as they grow. And they will use the same trick for people weaker than them.
Second there are other methods to discipline, polite but firm like naughty stairs, time outs, signal system more like negotiation than orders. As I think the way my mother has raised me I have learned to obey and not negotiate. Negotiation is the skill for tomorrow, for work, for life, so why not explore that from the start.
You have to also think that most mothers are going out to work today so when they come back they want warmth in the family just as our fathers wanted and so they need to be softer yet effective with their parenting (there is no rule book so we are trying our best there).
About changing school in the drop of a hat, I don't agree, if a child is unhappy in a school for more than a year, there must be something wrong,as I think children are in general very adaptable, they want to make friends,learn, face challenges and be happy. Normally they take 3-4 months to tackle a big change or relocation in their lives. But if they keep saying even after that they don't want to go to school then parents should start communicating with the school and if that does not work then start looking for other place. After home school is the place where kids stay the longest time and again with both parents working outside they spent many more hours at school/after school care as we used to do. This place should make our kids happy. And over all parenting is a long project, and is a matter of fine balance, parents need to be careful that there kids get proper exposure to what they want to learn and also learn the basic skills that is necessary in a society.

Anonymous said...

Alavukku meerinaal amirthamum visham .. i think people have relative scales for alavu and that's where the problem begins and a ban or complete extreme step comes into practice like dont use physical punishment etc. Personally I am against violence in any form and particularly a weaker one who cannot defend oneself.

Anonymous said...

no comments on the slew of comments..but this was a great way for me to introduce my mom to the world of blogging..thanku!


Kookaburra said...

Oh man, I had such fun reading this blog ... coming in to read your words after a longggg .... time ...
You're crazy honest! :)

Cant stop smiling ...

In my home for the barely 18 month old there is some "adi-o-therapy" from amma and "pinch-o-therapy" from appa these days!!! well, for silly things like puling off the computer wire, switching off the TV, standing up on feeding chair (may be Daya want to be an acrobat!) ... okay not too bad, but as you said, the usual kind I guess - a slap in the thigh!

They fight like crazy too ... So loved reading all about your fights!

thanks! you made an young parent happy! :)

GB said...

@Art- Yup. A friend of mine used to steal Barbies as a kid because her mum (who was gender-educated) refused to buy them for her :D She hates Barbies and everything now but as a kid, she wanted one so desperately!

@Uncle- Yeah, parents go overboard the second they smell trouble for their child and then complicate issues terribly. Know what you mean :D

@Soin- Friends of mine who studied in PSBB and then went to DAV absolutely loathed the school and its exam fever atmosphere. I've never studied in DAV though, so my view is based on what they said.

@Sachitha- I'm not fond of hitting kids either :) And I agree that adults tend to take out their anger on children and it is unfair. But not always. Ideally, parents should have the patience to reason with their child and explain why its behaviour is not acceptable...but this is an ideal situation. Not sure how practical it is. I've seen kids who behave terribly but their parents just ignore it and act like nothing can be done about it. I don't think that's being responsible either.

@Anon- By disciplining, I don't mean the Victorian England kinda behaviour. And I don't think it is possible to bring up a child entirely without even raising one's voice.

@Zaid- I agree. I'd certainly think twice (hopefully) about raising my hand against my child if I had one. It's not that I WANT to go about hitting kids :

GB said...

@The Bride- Agreed! Innovative schools come with their own set of problems. They are, like you've said, exclusive. College often comes as a rude shock after that!

@Vini- I am not for old school education completely. I am for letting kids understand the systems that exist for the majority of the world. Shielding them from it all can never be long-term. I think they need to understand them and come to terms with them.

@Amma- "A woman needn't or cannot cease to be a person just because she is a wife or a mother. Even those who agree to this in principle resent her when she is unwilling to do the 'sacrifices' which the society has been used to expecting from her.
A mother should try to get across the idea that she loves her child always but sometimes she doesn't love the child's behavior. But she can only try."

-Likewise, a daughter doesn't cease to be a person just because she is your daughter. So let your children have personalities and lives other than just being a daughter or a son. They could turn out to be very different from you...but so what?

@M- I am not advocating violence against children, but sometimes, I think a whack is more effective to end a tantrum than anything else. I'd say responsible parents will give serious thought as to whether they should raise their hand or not before doing so.

GB said...

@Raj- Read my reply above. I don't stand for bashing up kids for every other reason. Sometimes though, it is effective. I can't stand parents who bring badly behaved kids to other people's homes and say nothing at all when the kid wreaks havoc there. It's just plain spoilt behaviour.

@Ramya- I think parents today are increasingly realizing the importance of being bilingual. But yes, English is seen as a passport to many lands, so it does get a lot more emphasis.

@Spaz- Agreed :)

@Chandrima- I completely agree with you about having to make changes according to the changes in social structure. Fathers today participate more in the child rearing process and it is more of a combined effort than ever before. I'm not advocating hitting children at all- I just think sometimes, circumstances and situations might leave a parent with little alternative. It should be the final resort. I also agree that when a child feels uncomfortable in a particular setting, the parent should enquire why and effect a change- I was referring to parents who are forever sitting at the edge of their seats, wanting to jump into the child's life any second. Any tiny reason is enough to set them off and they don't give the child an opportunity to understand and deal with the issue.

@Anon- I'm against violence too :) And for the most part, I don't think parents (I'm not talking about the psycho ones here) hit their kids because they like doing it.

@Anonfan- :)

@Kookaburra- Hehe, happy you visited! Glad to be of use :)

The Bride said...
This comment has been removed by the author.