Parenting is not a pushover anymore. In our times, parents didn’t ‘raise’ us. We just grew. Parents did what came naturally to them in their capacity as our guardians with no instruction manuals to follow, and we crossed growth milestones without serious red flags.
As the world began to display its plurality and the insecurities grew, a lot changed. Good parenting became an arduous goal. Raising successful children became a relentless pursuit, and in the process, there were more predicaments, for both parents and children.
A significant shift that I have seen in recent years is the way traditional boundaries in parent-child relationships have broken down. It was unimaginable for us to consider our parents our pals, but children now easily categorize them under the friendship tag. While this may be encouraging in parts, there are some vital areas that still need serious mending. Candid conversations being one. Children today aver that they ‘talk’ to their parents without restrain, but how deep are the conversations? How revealing and useful?
In my casual talks with young people, I have gathered that children are ‘cool’ about sharing daily events and activities from their school and college life with their parents but have a long way to go in expressing their true emotions. The bonhomie, more often than not, is superficial, with a majority of children choosing not to divulge their deepest fears and concerns, the inner turmoil caused by an unforgiving world, and the disturbances brought by their own biological changes.
They filter their emotions and present that which would please us and give us the smug satisfaction of having been good at our parenting job. But our children have a lot more bottled up inside than we can imagine, a lot that they themselves cannot comprehend and sort. And as parents and guardians, it is upon us to offer them a space to be what they inherently are by building equations of trust and understanding.
A majority of children have fixed notions about their parents and adults, which range from adults being annoying to prying to over-bearing. Instead of establishing ourselves as confidants in whom they can seek recourse to their problems, we in our eagerness to carve out prototypes of perfection, have become their mere conscience keepers.
Many children confess that they refrain from baring their hearts to their parents for the fear of being judged and reprimanded. I know youngsters who have endured bullying at school or were abused and didn’t summon the courage to divulge it to their parents.
Such experiences can cause severe mental disturbances which parents miss to see until it is very late.
When in trouble, children seek alternate places to vent themselves – chiefly friends and strangers on the internet. Needless to say, both are dangerous and counter-productive. Friends give them the comfort of knowing they are not alone in their emotional battles, but offer no solution, and strangers drag them into a deeper mess.
There is no safer place for our children than their home and no better people than us to talk and listen to their problems. Our responsibility as parents doesn’t end with meeting their material needs, giving them the best education and badgering them with our reprimands and counsel. Our first responsibility is to make our children feel assured in our presence, to converse with us without fear of taboos and promise them that we have their backs, come what may.
Let us open up our discussions – about everything from intimate life secrets to normal growing pangs – and get them prepared for the world out there. Convince them that we are committed to protecting them. Their problems are our problems too and together we can find safe passages whenever they are in a fix.
Instead of sneaking up on them to know what is going on in their lives and performing helicopter parenting or yelling, get them to share thoughts with you from an early age by showing understanding and appreciation. Let them know that we have all travelled the same routes to reach where we are, and we understand what it means to have crushes and heartbreaks, to get punished in school, to feel lazy and unmotivated, to be distracted and anxious, to be curious about the birds and the bees, to be depressed and sad, and to harbour anything that threatens their inner stability and peace.
What our children need at this point is our promise - that we are not here to put them down when they err, but to keep them from stumbling, and if they fall at all, lift them up to be good to go again. So, talk about everything there is. Let there be no walls between us and our children.
- Asha Iyer Kumar is a Dubai-based author and children’s life-writing coach
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