The challenges of modern-day parenting
- Striking The Right Balance -

Dr. Mona Nongmeikapam *

Kids' Foundation students perform during the celebration of Parents' Day 2010
Kids' Foundation students perform during the celebration of Parents' Day 2010 :: Pix - TSE

"Mama, hurry up! Did you pack all my books? You will make me miss the school-bus!" hollered 11 years old Smita as her haggard-looking mother rushed to her beckoning. It has become a common-day scene in modern families for parents to put their lives in the back-burner and be involved with each of their child's activities: from science projects, solving math problems, knitting or making paper flowers, hunting for that perfect costume and what not, just so that their child can make it somewhere in the cut-throat rat-race.

There is also the "best-friend-confidante" phenomenon where parents try to be close to their children, share all their secrets (girl/boy problem, fashion, music, movies, you name it). While this sounds like an ideal arrangement, parents often land up in a dilemma in situations where they have to put their foot down and say "NO", hence toppling the fine balance of being a 'parent-friend'. At the other end of the fence we come across young people so petrified of their parents that they fumble in their mere presence.

There are many issues and concerns that may be seemingly be unimportant to us but may mean the world to them. A patient hearing and a kind word could mean a lot to them and avert many a mishaps. But this group of children in their terror keeps things to themselves often to no good end. Such are the children who often end up committing suicides or some sort of injurious behaviour for the sheer fear of disappointing their parents and bearing the brunt of the parental wrath (commonly, after failing an examination, etc).

There has been several reported and far more under-reported cases where young children have fallen prey to evil agents in the form of backmails, sexual favours, substance abuse; all of which could have been easily averted had the child felt free to confide in their parents. Then we have the busy parents, caught up in their busy work schedules or the hectic social calendar and are happy to leave their children by their resources or in "trusted paid hands".

Their attention is caught only when their children come up with something news-worthy (at least the local dailies) or mercifully, when brought to their notice by teachers or other seniors. So what went wrong- do these strict parents not love their children or the happy-go-lucky parents not bothered? Of course, they do........As we hear quite often, they all want the best for their child and are doing their best in their own way for them. The tragedy is when our best doesn't seem quite right or quite enough.

Having seen the fallacies of both extremes, we can only conclude that parenthood is NO CAKEWALK. There is no time-tested technique or perfect formula that would churn out well-disciplined respectful academically sound yet outgoing athletic young adults! Bringing a child especially in modern day India, ensuring that they stand at par with the western children in terms of academic and curricular achievements yet imbibe the traditional values is a mammoth task.

Adolescence (10-19 years) especially is a dicey period when a wrong start could trigger dramatic mood-swings or devastating rebellions. To be fair, the kid of today has various issues to deal with, along with the physiologic hormonal and bodily changes: peer pressure, to be accepted, mountain-loads of academic and extra-curricular quests, the all-informative media of every imaginable medium, social networks, websites on every possible topic, you name it.

Protect them too much and you risk ending up with spineless, dependent adults who cannot make a decision on their own. A little too much freedom and ....aha!......get your own personalised Frankenstein.

Getting a cold feet already? Well, things do not have to be all that bad if one ensures consistent and proper parenting from the very offset. Here 'consistent' is emphasised because many a times, both the parents may end up having a feud over parenting matters which sends off a wrong message and the child might end up manipulating the situation to their advantage.

Conflicting instructions can confuse the child and lead to a lot frustration too. Sort out the issue and then appear before the child as a united front. Respect the little person as an individual and accept them wholly with their flaws and many talents. Though keeping a track of their peers may be helpful, more often than not, too much comparison with other children can be a source of anguish both for the child and the parents. It may drive a wedge in your relation if one is not careful.

Wish the best for your child and at the same time, listen them out too. You would be amazed by some refreshingly awesome solutions they might come up with. You can be friendly but cannot afford to be a friend. One must realise that they are still finding their ways and someone has to be the 'bad guy' and call the shots when the occasion arises.

You have to learn to trust them yet keep a watchful eye and be aware of what is going on in their lives. Make them independent yet curb their not-very-feasible ideas. Give them a patient listening and ample amount of your time. However take care to set aside time for yourself. Pursue your interests and stop making too many "sacrifices for their sake" as it may lead to burn-out in the parents which also can spoil the parent and child equation. Teach them to respect your individuality and personal space as well. This would create room for a healthy environment and mutual respect and cooperation.

Teachers also play a valuable role in shaping a child's personality and their future as a major chunk of their waking hours are spent in the class-rooms. With their keen observations and experience with numerous youngsters, they can be an asset for the parents and help them bridge the gap, if any. Though quite understandable that over-involved parents can be cumbersome and trying on the nerves, educators should take pains to allay their fears and relieve their anxiety so that their poor off-springs do not bear the brunt of their "concern".

One should bear in mind that their anxiety stems from not knowing the facts and merely wanting the best for the child and be empathetic to them. Being abreast with the current-day trends and conditions, teachers can impart valuable guidance and help several families make smart educated choices in terms of career goals, activities and several other affairs that concern the youngsters. Often teachers are the ones who first detect addictions or novelty-seeking patterns and other trends in the youngsters.

These habits often slip detection from parents owing to the modern-day hectic lifestyles: endless working hours, social commitments and long school hours, additional tuition and sports practice hours leaving practically no room for leisurely family interaction. Due to their exposure and experience, teachers can aid parents reach out to these troubled youngsters and provide them with appropriate help, at the same time preventing "family sagas of rebellion and worrying!"

Even at an earlier age, many a medical and psychiatric condition is brought to a specialist's attention after being first detected in the classrooms. Specific learning disorders, dyslexia, slow-learning, mentally challenged, speech and hearing anomalies and many other developmental delays that slip past the notice of the doting parents and even the trained eye of a busy medical practitioner are often detected by the class teacher based on the sheer exposure with the said age-group.

Many of the troubles that are bothering the youngsters and which they fear to share with their strict parents can be taken to confidence by the kind teachers and the communication gap can be bridged thus. Parents wish the best for their children but not necessarily all the methods adopted by them are always right. An open mind and willingness for discussion is the best mode parents and teachers can adopt alike for the benefit of our growing children. "This is how things were done in our times" indicates sheer obstinacy and a rigid ego that will do nobody any good.

Keeping an open eye for the new changes and conforming oneself with them yet safeguarding the strict boundaries of "dos" and "don'ts" is what parents and teachers should strive for together. One word of caution for the educators though would be to avoid getting into loggerheads with the parents and strictly avoid wounding any sentiments, religious or otherwise!

Bringing up a child in today's world is not a cakewalk and being a parent in the true sense of the word is no easy task indeed. It is also a huge responsibility as the way we raise our children shapes the world we live in, raise them right and you are doing the world a favour. A wrong turn and you contribute to the ever-growing universal chaos.

Yet the rewards of parenting are endless and priceless. Many describe parenthood as the most joyous experience of their lives. Perhaps this explains why there is no specific "Parent Day". Each day in itself is a learning experience of its own kind and a beautiful memory to look back later. Happy Parenting!

(This article first appeared in MENTOR, a magazine which caters students, parents and educators country-wide)

* Dr. Mona Nongmeikapam wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist at Shija Hospital & Research Institute Langol, Imphal
This article was posted on September 26, 2012.

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