Looking at parents, children and the changing world of today, it seems parenthood isn’t going to be a piece of cake at all. It won’t simply entail giving birth, feeding and caring or raising and teaching or keeping them away from harm. It won’t be enough to follow our parents’ footsteps because their update on parenting is dated now. Their choices had transcended that of their parents I am sure, but we have stepped into a completely new generation. Parenthood now is a lot of unlearning the old and learning the new. It is the sensibility to spare the rod to understand the child. It is the responsibility of telling your kid that it is perfectly fine to be himself/herself and not follow the herd. In fact, it is a matter of pride to be special, unique and different.
The other day, in an on-going conversation about kids and their future, a friend casually slipped in a valuable piece of thought – “I will love my son even if he turns out to be gay tomorrow. He is my own and I will be proud of him.” I ruminated on it later, reflecting on its profundity and unprecedented conviction. Most cases of ‘coming out’, often had unsupportive childhoods and disgruntled, albeit, shocked parents. In such a situation, the individuals had to struggle to accept and then appreciate themselves. They chose friends over family, unknown strangers over familiar relations. Even our generation took its time to relate to homosexuality naturally. Therefore, my friend preparing herself to accept it, if her son turned out gay later is a commendable thought for me. I also realised that not just sexuality, but many other things that have been standardised commercially will need to be debunked when I raise my kid. I’ll have to make sure that for him/her, height, complexion, hairdo, income brackets, community or place of origin do not become a matter of judgement or self-assessment.
I’ll also have to teach my kid what is appropriate and inappropriate – politically, racially and gender-wise. I will have to give him/her an environment that is not sexually prejudiced – no blue for boys and pink for girls necessarily. I will have to ensure that the child learns how to protect himself/herself against perverts and kidnappers. I will have to teach him/her to appreciate fitness and like organic foods, and not stress-eat burgers with fries. I’ll have to tame my own social networking habits to teach him/her that they don’t give evidence of your social standing and popularity. I’ll have to apologise myself if I expect my child to apologise to me for doing wrong. No kid in this age is going to accept anything but an equally respectful relationship with its parents.
My 12-year old niece is very sensitive towards gender-based comments like ‘getting married and becoming someone’s wife’. She doesn’t like being told what she cannot do because she is a girl. Thanks to her mother, she is growing up to realise that feminism is an ideology of respect and that she can claim it as much as the next person, no matter what gender. She is growing up to be a responsible kid, and despite her quiet self, she knows when to voice in what matters. She also plans to buy a bungalow and a farmhouse when she grows up. When we were young, most parents refrained from telling us problems of the family – financial, interpersonal etc. My parents were rather candid, but I probably wasn’t too savvy to figure it as maturely as kids nowadays do. So we grew up, quite oblivious of many matters that, had we understood earlier, we could have staved off them on our way. Now, of course, parents make it a point to tell their children almost everything.
It is important for a child to know what the financial status of the family is, no matter how rich or poor. They must learn that money is not just for spending but also for safe keeping for emergencies, for planning their future and for the parents’ retirement. They also ought to know that money doesn’t always keep coming. Sometimes, there can be breaks in the flow. They need to envisage their future not on the basis of their parents’ bank account but their own plan of action. Without this knowledge, any rich kid would like to cruise along the Pacific, not knowing if the parents are draining their coffers; and any poor kid would resign to fate or switch to dishonourable means.
I would also need to learn with my kid, as he/she does in the learning curve of their growth. If I do not learn, I will not follow. If I don’t follow, I won’t be able to guide well. And that is going to be precarious if I am to look after my son or daughter well. Kids are uninhibited towards newer and more complicated subjects and when faced with competition, often respond positively. Grown-ups on the other hand, either become defensive or depressive. Neither will help if we are to cope up with them in the long run.
It has also become mandatory to teach kids about sex today. No more shying away when it comes to birds and bees. Our parents had trouble talking about sex in front of us. Yes, mum would have some lessons to impart, which she delicately laid out, often inducing fear and restriction. But now, we have to conquer our discomfort and address the elephant in the room. We need to tell them that sex is not a villain; unsafe sex is. We have to tell them why it is unsafe for them biologically, to indulge in sex at a young age. We’ll also need to encourage them to express their emotions freely – be it infatuation, be it the desire to experiment, be it fear. As much as this is important, it is also utterly essential for teaching kids the importance of avoiding and reporting undue touch. 90% of child sexual abuse emanates from known relations – uncles/aunts, teachers, regular delivery men and in extreme cases, parents themselves. It is imperative therefore that the child knows how to detect unsavoury behaviour on part of the grown up, be it in touching restricted zones of the body or enticing them with solitary attention via gifts or perks. That includes telling the child what zones their bodies are restricted to touch. Unless kids know that, they will be easily susceptible to abuse and later guilt and stunted social personalities.
Having said that, we have to have a voice ourselves if we expect our children to grow up into individuals with a voice. Unless kids see us taking a stand for ourselves, they will emulate our fear as a normal behaviour. We are often told that parents have to sacrifice a lot for their children. Well, in this century we have to sacrifice our submission to adverse situations or people and be bold. We have to make that leap of faith and believe in ourselves. And we have to believe in our kids too if we want them to be confident about their ventures. Often, children suffer from the lack of trust from parents – not in regards to their character but regarding their ability. Most of all, we’ll have to know how to deal with failures – both theirs and ours. We’ll have to teach them that it is alright to fail if we pull up and fight back. Above all, we’ll have to have them know that life is not always about working hard and amassing wealth; that they will need to sit back to enjoy their hard work’s benefits because happiness might be expensive to earn but free to experience.