My son is 15 and will be applying for undergraduate admissions in the US, UK or Singapore. He is required to show a certain number of hours of volunteering work as part of his application process. His school has tie-ups with some well-known NGOs, and there is quite a rush for this as many of his friends are also applying to schools abroad. Almost every mother is doing a lot of this work herself—not just goading and cajoling the child to put in the requisite hours, but also completing the work, including doing the teaching as well as correcting of assignments when the child is to work in teaching underprivileged children, or reading to the blind, etc. I don’t want to do any of this for my son, and have warned him about it. He is upset with me because he feels I’m making a point of nothing, and that the other children’s mothers are much more “understanding” about their workload. His father feels that since it’s all part of the application process, we have to help him in this area. How do I get my son to get into the real spirit of it? Am I being too unrealistic and demanding for no reason? This is how the other parents see it too.
While this seems to be a common occurrence in some circles—children “farming out” the volunteering “component” to their mothers—you are right in taking exception and refusing to do it. Our children (and Indian adults too) have to be taught that if we want to go into a system and culture different from ours, we must respect its requirements in its spirit. To teach Indian children to “bypass” this Western requirement seems to me a grave disservice to the child as well as to the system in which we are so eager to send them. Why are we teaching children this early, and encouraging and abetting them, to “buck” the system, and to take only what is agreeable and convenient from what is offered in that system of education, and pay only lip service to the volunteering part?
If you feel strongly about this, you need to send out a strong signal to your child. Let him know that you don’t see it as some “necessary evil” or boring requirement that has to be somehow “managed”, but as part of the better education abroad that you are spending very good money on for him.
Perhaps if we started early with our children genuinely volunteering even in the smallest of ways from when they are much younger, we would not have a situation where parents are simply buying them their “freedom from volunteering” so they can concentrate on their other workload. Your husband needs to back you up on this. He could spend time with his son and help him get into the real spirit of the charitable work he needs to do; or he could do what he thinks is needed—simply take on that volunteering work himself. You could simply stick to your stand on this matter.
Let’s not teach our children to jugaad their way out of every situation that does not suit them. Find other parents who feel the same way; there must be enough of them, it’s just that they are not the ones around you. And pool resources like driving your children to wherever they need to volunteer, or help them plan or problem-solve with the volunteering situation, rather than bailing them out by leaving them conveniently out of the whole process. Believe in the fact that they will be much better human beings once they actually do participate, and even if they go reluctantly and resentfully, make this a non-negotiable situation.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.