It’s a cold Sunday morning but the loudspeakers are blaring Saturday Night, I feel the air is getting hot. The basement is crowded, the music bounces off the walls and on the stage, grooving to the beat, are a dozen or so couples. This isn’t a party in a discotheque that spilled over to the next morning. This is the Mother’s Pride playschool in Gurgaon and the couples onstage are parents shaking a leg to bust the stress of the morning to follow. Their children—from newborns to three-year-olds—are competitors in a baby show the playschool has organized. As soon as they get off the stage, the parents have to collect their infants from the minders in the play area and take them around to the counsellors and paediatricians waiting upstairs. Over the next 3 hours, the children would have a shot at winning any of the following titles—Most Attractive Baby; Most Active Baby; Sunniest Smile; Most Sparkling Eyes; and Healthy Baby.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Upstairs in the waiting rooms, anxious parents are coaching their two- and three-year-olds on what to do once they are called. Sleeping babies are roused so that the counsellors can evaluate how active they are. Major Anurag Sharma, posted in Kashmir, is in Delhi on holiday. “I want the best for my son. It’s a competitive world out there and these shows will help him build his confidence,” he says when asked why he is participating in the show. The paediatrician reads the weight chart and pronounces that the child is overweight and needs to be put on a diet that excludes non-vegetarian food, sweets, etc. Sharma tries to argue that his two-year-old son’s weight is fine when measured against his height, but the doctor will have none of it. That’s two marks off in the Healthy Baby rankings.
The next toddler walks in reluctantly and bursts out crying as soon as the counsellor offers him the play set. “I had to give him zero marks,” said one of the judges when the child was out of the room. “His response towards strangers is very, very poor.” Back in the waiting room, the father sulks while the mother calms the baby enough to ask him why he was crying and if he’s ready to go back. The waiting room is abuzz with mothers exchanging notes on the questions being asked, trying to figure out the immunization schedules of their children, straightening out the fancy clothes they have dressed the children in and tutoring them on questions and answers.
The categories are ambivalent and the evaluation is subjective. Yet parents seem willing to do anything for some external affirmation of their child’s abilities. Isn’t it enough that you see sparkling eyes when you look at your child, why should someone else certify it for you? “We now live in a society of over-anxious parents. Earlier, most parents were only concerned about the academic progress of their children, now parents want their children to excel in every field,” says Dherendra Kumar, child psychologist, department of psychology, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. “When you are anxious, you have poor control over your own behaviour. Kids’ behaviour is regulated by the environment and they would imbibe this anxiety from the parents. This then manifests in two ways—it is either internalized, where the child becomes reserved and withdrawn, or externalized, where the child becomes aggressive.”
Anju Bala, the head of the school, says that the event is merely a promotional tool for the admission season. Parents get a chance to see the school and if they register on the day, they get a discount on the admission fee. Parents, however, don’t see it for the marketing stunt that it is. “You saw how well my daughter did. I think she stands a good chance in the Active Baby and Sunniest Smile category,” says Tanu Garg, mother of a three-year-old girl. “If she wins, we’ll take her out for a treat; if not, we’ll prepare her better for the next show.”
Maya Kirpalani, child psychologist and family therapist, Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai, says events such as this could severely hamper the parent-child relationship. “Winning a competition such as this one becomes a reflection of the parents’ capabilities. If the child does not win, it is a let-down for the parents and that obviously translates into a sense of dejection for the parents. This dejection will affect the quality of their interaction with the child,” she says.
The only way to “give the best to your child” is to spend quality time with him/her, she says.
So, this Sunday, just dance to some music with your child, watch a movie, or paint some pictures. And if you do decide to go for a baby show, let it be only so you can share a laugh with your child about the folly of other parents.