I run a catering service from home and make a good living out of it. My husband is a scientist and so is his whole family. My 11-year-old daughter visits his family in Pune quite often. Over the last few months, I have realized that my husband’s family tells her, jokingly, that she should study hard, or she will end up “frying ‘samosas’”. Even if I ignore the jibe at me, I do think that, in itself, it is bad to teach a child that some work is “intelligent” and “brainy” and some work is to be dismissed. How do I get this across without sounding defensive and shrill about my own profession, and keep the issue in focus? My husband tells me not to pay attention to these remarks. What should I do?
Having a great brain does not ensure that people have a good mind! That’s something I have had to say in this column a few times already. For all our talk about the dignity of labour, mindless prejudices are well-entrenched. People from the so-called educated classes can be rather foolish and narrow in their response to anything that is not “academic” and “intellect-driven”.
You are right: To teach a child to disdain any kind of work is wrong. I would go a step ahead and say that to do that is to severely limit a child’s view and exposure to the world. It’s amazing that people will later send their kids to “develop their personalities”—but before that, will pass on so many preconceived notions to a child that there is little scope for their personalities to develop in the first place.
I would not agree with your husband that you simply need to ignore what is being said to your child by his family. He is probably trying to avoid any kind of conflict or confrontation but, in the meanwhile, your child is being told things that will warp her outlook as well as make her disrespect her own mother’s occupation. Not something to ignore, I would say.
While I understand that you don’t want this to be any kind of personal thing between you and his family, I think you should nip this in the bud by bringing it up at the next family gathering. I urge you not to sound defensive, or go on the offensive either. You will have to find a self-assured note with which to handle this. You could even say that your child has picked up this wrong and narrow notion, and perhaps you and they are best placed (what with your different professions) to clarify to her that no work is wrong or shameful or to be dismissed. You will have to be clever in the way you bring this up and “artistically” put it across. Spell out that you too “fry samosas” or whatever, and that doesn’t make you any less or more of a human being. It’s just doing work that you enjoy. Ask them to advise her to do everything wholeheartedly, instead of just talking about what she should or should not do in school.
If this kind of dismissive talk continues, though, you will have to come right out and say that you would be very happy if they didn’t talk in favour of one kind of profession and against any other.
I have two children, a five-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. I have read that the child’s mind is most fertile before the age of 4. Is that correct? If yes, should they be exposed to as many learning opportunities as possible by that age? I find that mindset to be in conflict with my husband’s conviction that young kids should be relaxed and enjoy the early part of their childhood without any kind of pressure. Please advise.
Yes, of course: Young children are at their curious and discovering best in the early years. And you must have seen how hungrily and happily they discover and define the world around them—language, play, food, textures, relationships, and a hundred new things every week. I would not advise too much focusing on getting them to “learn” a lot. I would put greater emphasis on providing exposure to things—the learning comes naturally. Providing experiences, conversations, games, outings, meeting, spending time with other kids and adults, the natural world around us...if you can facilitate such interactions, your kids will hungrily and happily absorb the benefits. Your husband’s focus on a relaxed way of doing things is right. However, plonking them in front of a TV is definitely not a relaxed way of doing things—as some parents think!
What you do with your kids at this age will sow the seeds for future creativity, joy, learning and discovery. These are very good years to provide inputs. However, parents are sometimes anxious to make these inputs all about “learning” and “information”. I would urge you to avoid that trap. It is equally important to remember that these are crucial years, when a child’s emotional experiences are going towards forming his or her personality. Parents, anxious that their children “learn” a lot or “acquire knowledge”, end up transferring that anxiety and insistence on learning, rather than the joy of discovery to their kids. They also end up goading them and cajoling them to go to coaching and classes, enter competitions and the like—so the physical and mental growth part of it perhaps is addressed. However, there is a real danger of neglecting the quieter, emotional needs of a small child in the rush to “fill the child with information”. For instance, instead of sending kids off to “vocabulary and reading” classes and “brain gyms”, I would any day advise parents to make reading a bedtime ritual...along with switching them on to the world of books, the warm, cosy, relaxing assurance of even 15 minutes spent this way will enter their souls and psyche for sure.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting. Write to Gouri at email@example.com