I am a parent – I have a 5 ½ year-old girl and 2 ¾ year old boy. This biological qualification suffices to be a parent.
I like to believe that I am an informed & aware parent. In this age of information ubiquity, it is actually more difficult to NOT be an informed person. You always have too much information – google, whatsapp and their likes. So also with parenting. Now, on top of this information, you add the fact that my daughter goes to a prestigious school where the information available to one parent gets multiplied (or maybe exponentiated – if there is such a word; check Google!) based on the anxiety & insecurity level of the parents. This anxiety then gets transmitted (like a virus) onto e-groups, play dates and meetings to create multiple parental conflicts for me.
Classes or no classes – my daughter’s schedule post school hours is as complex as mine (sometimes even more so). Let me see, Monday is chess class from 4-5 30 PM, then is gymnastics from 6:30 – 8 PM. Tuesday has abacus from 4-5, skating from 5:30- 6 30 and gymnastics from 7 – 8 30 PM. The weekends are even tougher – there is story-telling, swimming and drawing also. Sunday is still free – and that’s only because I have put my foot down. I overhear eager mothers’ telling (or e-chatting) about the ‘wonderful Spanish teacher who will help explore linguistic abilities’ or the phenomenal swimming instructor who ‘really pushes kids to achieve their full potential’. Managing the logistics for these classes is a job that keeps atleast 2-3 members of my family busy. I see parents all around me, with different motivations – some with the best intentions of their kids at heart (of course, the road to Hell is also paved with the noblest intentions!); some do it because their neighbours do it and they don’t want Aaaryan to be left behind (this is a separate trend – 80% of kids have their names starting with A. The other letters in the alphabet are so clichéd). And some others do it to keep the kid busy so that they can have their uninterrupted schedule. Which parent will not want their kid NOT to succeed? Who has not heard of various childhood programming-linked psychology theories that the first 5-7 years will really determine the eventual character of the kid? Who has not heard the legends of sportstars who started practicing when they were just out of the cradle? Alas, my daughter is already 5 and can barely hold a badminton racket, cant concentrate beyond 15 mins in chess, can swim but very slowly and does all kinds of random gymnastics. Guess a career in sports is out L
Free time or no free time – often I find myself wondering how I can help my kids fill their time productively. How can I spend quality time with them? Should I use the time to inculcate the love of sports? Or should I tell them stories from Indian mythology to imbibe love for the country, patriotism and nationalistic values? Or better, should I take them to the Science Centre/Planetarium/Aquarium? Or should it be football and badminton? How to maximize one metric – ‘Return On Time Invested (ROTI)’? From dawn to dusk, how can I fill every unforgiving minute of theirs with 60 seconds worth of distant run (as per the Rudyard Kipling poem, If)? Whenever I see my daughter idle, I am always recommending a higher form of “living”, with my suggestions ranging from alphabets, painting, sports etc. Is plain leisure and relaxation wrong? Should one feel guilty if the child did ‘NOTHING’ for the day? There is no achievement or accomplishment so to speak of but just the fact that they are there and doing something? What is the balance and where does one draw the line?
Gadgets or no gadgets – today’s kids are so tech-savvy that I am already a tech-retard. They can adapt intuitively to any new gadget, phone and tech apparatus. The i-pad has become an indispensable learning device – heck, it has also become a Granny (my daughter listens to several stories on the ipad), a teacher (various instructional videos, coaching games), friend (so many Barbie make-up games) and playmate. Is this taking away from my daughter’s interaction ability in the physical world? Will her memory of childhood stories be those of the ipad or will she remember her parents & grandparents’ feeble attempts to try and recreate some magic through oral narrations (which unfortunately cant be as consistent, cant be paused etc) but do hopefully have more emotions than the ipad versions? On flights, I have seen parents hand an ipad or similar device to the kid and breathe a sigh of relief as the kid gets engrossed in it. In contrast, I remember bombarding my father with a 100 questions every time I got on to a flight with him (Who flies the plane? Why the belt? Where is our luggage? Is the plane a balloon). I don’t know how many answers he actually got right but what I do remember is the feeling that my father was so knowledgeable and caring. Will my daughter ever think of me like that or more as a ‘provider of the ipad’ which is more precious to her?
These are just a few of the dilemmas that keep haunting me. The ‘experts’ have the solutions to them of course – alas, no two experts can agree and one does not know who the real expert is. Till then, it is the one-eyed leading the blind!
The strange thing about these dilemmas is that there is no time to step back and figure out the answers. I thought I had time to experiment, ‘pilot out’ and try a few different things before finalizing the right answer for my daughter. Worst case, I still had my son so that even if something did not work out as per the “plan”, I could always course-correct. However, they are growing up so fast – time is not just flying but vanishing in an accelerated manner making me feel helpless. After all, I have a duty to be a good parent!
It is then that I am reminded (not by the internet but my own memory) by Kahlil Gibran’s famous lines on Children,
You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might,
That His arrows may go swift and far
One often confuses that bow and the archer – the dilemmas in my mind have reduced a bit for sure J