My son has wanted to be a footballer from the day he was born. Since then I have been trying to dissuade him. My reasons for opposing his career choice may make perfect sense—there is a lack of opportunity in Indian sports, remuneration can be poor. However, by distrusting his judgement, I have been teaching him to compromise on his dreams from a young age.
In the last two months, I have been involved in a project on understanding child behaviour. I also revisited a charming 2008 book called Under Pressure: Rescuing Childhood from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting by Carl Honoré, and read a study called Global Glance by TRU Study which looked at teenagers and their behaviour across 16 countries and five continents.
The research findings on the project, the book and the study made me realize that in the last decade, parenting has become a seriously competitive sport. Milestones have become millstones and we are all busy ticking the boxes when it comes to our children rather than encouraging them to think out of the box.
No one is guiltier of this than me.
After going through the 100-slide research presentation and rereading Honoré’s magnificent book, I went up to my two pre-teen sons and apologized for being a “marks monster”. I have consistently been an “80-weighty” dad and have always maintained that playing golf and obsessing about Man U was all fine as long as grades were northwards of 80.
I now know that these “marks” were a benchmark I was setting for myself rather than letting the boys decide for themselves what they were comfortable achieving.
Education did not play a critical part in my life. I dropped out of college. Yet all along I have been a hyper parent. I suppose it’s a reaction of sorts. Not having education as a plinth in my life, I saw it as a critical anchor in my children’s lives.
Many other friends have fallen into the same trap as me. I even know of parents who have weaned their children off team games to individual sports with “college” in mind. Team spirit is sacrificed at the altar of individual achievement. Will these children ever grow up to be able to delegate, manage and identify talent? Or will they be self-absorbed and maladjusted, albeit with noteworthy college degrees?
Step back: Accept your child the way he or she is.
There is no singularly correct way of looking at grades. It really is different strokes for different folks. Sadly, we as parents (and I must stress, not schools as much) have turned education into a grade-yard.
Parenting should be about accepting your child the way he or she is. More often than not, we seem to be attuned more to making sure they are what we want them to be. Sure, we have become wise enough to allow for newer careers but if our child shows an aptitude for a career which does not show much “promise”, are we still ready to be accepting?
I read somewhere that “if there is only one gift you can give your children, let it be enthusiasm”. A child who has a parent who is enthusiastic about his or her day, her passions, hobbies, troubles, jokes, friends, ideas will probably be far more “successful” and show a lot more “promise” than all those children who had their lives plotted for them by their parents.
Step back and remember the things that your parents did right (even if most of the times they didn’t!). I remember my parents had an innate sense of belief that I would succeed. Sometimes highly misplaced (like the time I forgot my lines at an elocution contest which they thought I would win), it garnered enough chutzpah to get me going. I managed to do everything on my own, whether it was seeking college admission while my friends were being cossetted by parents who accompanied them everywhere or deciding to drop out of college to pursue a career in advertising.
There is a learning there—my parents didn’t push me, they didn’t threaten me, neither did they smother me with love. They just believed in me.
Believe in your children. That is the most significant aspect of parenting.
Swapan Seth, CEO, Equus Red Cell, is a father of two pre-teen boys. The views expressed here are personal.
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