Wednesday, November 05, 2014

In Defense of Parents

Everyone writes about children. No one writes about parents.
Are you a parent? A hassled, frazzled, under-pressure human being? A self-admonishing, self-doubting, sincere gem of a person? My latest publication in the Spark magazine is written for you (and it should be a first in a long series). Read on.

In Defense of Parents

Childhood is the simplest time of life. To maintain the stakes of balance, parenting ends up being tough. And yet these parents, these gentle martyrs are never written about. Songs are written about the happy days of childhood. ‘Woh kaagaz ki kashti, woh baarish ka paani’ (That paper boat, those puddles of rain). Children make the best of candidates for stories. They are perfect and even when they are not, their imperfection is endearing. So, no, I am not here to celebrate children and childhood. I am here to celebrate parenthood.

Raising children has never been easy, right from the time of the Neanderthals. Imagine having to worry about your toddler rolling off the rock or warning your young kids to be wary of scary strangers and large beasts. The passage of millennia hasn’t made the task any easier.  Look at the current generation. It is a confused gaggle of parents who are told that every good idea that they have about parenting is not quite right.

If you are too attentive, you are indulging and spoiling the kids. If you aren’t present in your child’s life every waking moment, you aren’t participating enough. If they watch too much TV, you are inhibiting their development. But if they aren’t watching too much TV, hey, we are back to being all too present in their lives all the time. Your life has to be a living will and testament to the little monsters you have produced. But wait. The single reason we are bringing up a generation of self-indulgent is that we are spending too much time on them. There are helicopter parents. There are iPad parents. There are over-the-shoulder parents. There are working-on-weekend parents. There are treat-them-with-kid-gloves parents. There are let-them-run-wild parents. It is as if a parent can’t be a parent without a worrying adjective assigned to them. This group is under perennial pressure and judgment. To add to it, with many migrating away from their homes for their careers, they have no village left to help them raise a child. That leaves them little choice but to figure out this whole parenting skill by themselves. Most of them fly blind. Parenting by intuition. And trepidation. For these parents, I would like to offer moral support and some simple life lessons.

The 35000-foot view

Parenting is a duty towards society. You have been dealt a cocktail of genes from the human gene pool and a position in the societal structure with resources to go with it. Using this deadly combination, your task is to produce a progeny that will further the cause of the human race. Your parents did their bit to give you a chance in the pecking order of haves and have-nots. Your job is to do the same.

Why this rather large context to position this problem in? Well, for starters, it will make you feel good that all those sleepless nights and patient afternoons are not for nothing. You are on a mission that will ensure the continuity of the human race. That is no less than any blockbuster Hollywood makes where a bunch of people save the earth from annihilation. You are and your spouse are heroes of your own movie.

Parenting can be a sport

Oh, and a parenting is a sport. A highly competitive one. This, I am sure you have realized by now. You aren’t just raising a child.  You are raising a child better than your friends are. Than your cousins are. Than your neighbours are. And certainly better than all those parents of pesky classmates of your child. This is where confidence comes in handy. There are no right or wrong answers to parenting. There are no firsts and lasts in a child’s growth. Take the example of when a child walks or when a child talks. It is easy to get stressed about the fact that every single kid your child’s age has begun walking and talking sooner than yours. As they grow older, it will be about how well they can read. Or solve Legos. Or build robots. And you look at your child with a mixture of pity, accusation, denial. And a plea for redemption. You sit through all those ‘Little Einstein’ DVDs with them when they are young. The least they could do is solve string theory before someone’s else child does. Oh wait, redemption arrives. No one else’s child does either. They are all going to cap off somewhere or the other. Trust me. Those ‘high-achieving’ parents? They will feel crushed too, sooner or later. It is a no-win game.

What’s in a name?

Picking a name is a tough ask of parents. Imagine the consequences of a name that a child will come to regret. The results can be so damning that Jhumpa Lahiri wrote an entire book about it. To aid with that process, parents turn to the most reliable of resources. The internet. The algorithm is tried and tested. Take a tour of all the websites that suggest names for babies. If you are in a foreign country, run those names by the some locals to make sure the pronunciations are butchered like goats on Bakri Eid. These are all good things. The masses can’t be wrong. But this approach has had one unintended side effect. As I look around today, I see a lot of Arnav, Aarav, Arya, Arhan, Aarush, Aditya, so on and so forth. It is as if parents looked at the alphabet and forgot that there are letters beyond A. So, here’s a little tip: start from ‘Z’. Starting with Zoya and Zeeshan on the list and working down to Aswath. It will leave you with a higher chance of having a name for your child that starts with a letter higher up the alphabet chain and have a name that he or she doesn’t share with ten others around him or her.

Well, you turned out ok

Your parents will   start giving you a ton of good-natured advice when they turn into grandparents. They have earned the right. They brought you up in one piece. Somehow, you turned out ok. What they omit to tell you is that they were as clueless as parents are you are right now. Despite that, this ramshackle of a personality that you are, with all its deficiencies and inefficiencies, has made it good in this world. Whenever you feel lost in this morass of parenting and wonder how it is going to turn out, take a deep breath and tell yourself ‘I turned out ok. My kids will too.’

When you next see your kids, hold them, assure them and relish the blessing that they are. You’ll rise and fall in your own estimation as well as that of your kids as you try to deal with this imperfect science. These little bits of information here are mere crumbs of advice for this difficult job. Trust your instinct to tell you the right thing. For everything else, there’s the internet.