Obsession With Schooling

Everywhere I look, each place I visit, and most any conversation I have these days, ends up becoming a discussion or a debate about which school to choose for one’s children! Agreed, there is a paradigm shift in education, as is the case with a younger, more aware, hyper-restless generation of learners. To become obsessive about what school to send them to, or to place all but the entire onus of an education on the school, seems like a stretch.

A child’s first point of contact, and the most constant influence remains the people at home. Parents, grandparents, staff, family friends, friends. This the world that the child inhabits for a vast majority of his or her life, at least in India, for an overwhelming majority, until the child is an adult and college-ready. Shouldn’t it follow then by sheer logic, that a lot of the child’s ‘education’ will come from their immediate and perennial familial observations, interactions and circumstances?

Why then do parents place increasing stock in schools, worse still, blaming the educational institutions for any/all behavioural, learning, developmental shortfalls!

I’m the first person to understand and appreciate the vital role a good schools plays. In my own case, I think my schooling had a profound impact on the person I turned into. Having said that, equally influential was my home-environment, good, and bad. I tend to think that somehow as parents today, we’re a tad escapist. For reasons that range from a genuine lack of time, to a more disingenuous lack of parenting skill and interest; we have found a ready scapegoat in the child’s school. What’s arguably even more reprehensible is that is a child falters, the school is to blame. If he shines, the parents are to be credited!

I can only hope that we as young parents (or parents of young kids) take a little more initiative on our own with regard to our children’s upbringing and education. Make time, spend time, set right examples for them to follow. We are equal, if not greater stakeholders in our kids’ education, and we ought to pull our socks up and accept the task!

Culture Influences Children!

We are civilized people who live in a cultured society. The word culture represents a certain predisposition in the way we conduct ourselves personally, professionally, and in our general way of living and interacting with the world. Children too, naturally, are products of the ‘culture’ they are exposed to, both at home, and outside. However, in order to really understand in what ways ‘culture’ impacts and influences a child, we need to examine culture in its various forms.

FAMILIAL CULTURE

Every home and household practices & follows a certain culture. A status quo of behavior and a belief system that is usually a result of what the child’s parents (in a nuclear family), or patriarch/matriarch (in an extended joint family household) have established over a period of time. And since a child’s earliest understanding and education is imbibed from observation of what goes on at home, the culture prevalent at home greatly influences how the child behaves, be it a positive or a negative manifestation. Let us take an example. If there is a home where the parents are quite emotionally reserved and unexpressive, and that is what the child has seen since the beginning, chances are that either the child will imbibe that ethos as is, or turn rebellious and go the other extreme. That is of course, a behavioral aspect of the culture at home. Let us take another example. If a child belongs to a very wealthy business family, and has seen that there is a culture (propensity) on the part of the elders to discuss money all the time, a leaning towards a show-of-wealth, again, chances are that the child too, will adopt a similar ‘culture’ (habit). As parents and guardians, we need to therefore be acutely aware of what kind of precedents we are setting for the child/children in our homes, because whatever that may be, it will be observed, digested, and put into practice.

RELIGIOUS/COMMUNITY CULTURE

Not too distant from familial culture is culture that is derived from the religious beliefs and practices of a specific family. If a child grows up seeing a lot of time and effort being devoted to religion, prayer, ceremonies; that is the culture he or she might also adopt. Similarly, communities and their peculiarities also form part of the cultural exposure and inheritance of a child. If we were to generalize and use a cliché, a Bengali family where there is omnipresence of the arts and other intellectual pursuits, a child in that environment will be obviously influenced by that kind of leaning. Similarly, a different community that might propagate a philosophy of austerity, it is likely to be inculcated in the children of that family too. Culture then, is really what kind of atmosphere the child grows up in.

OUTSIDE-HOME CULTURE

A huge part of what influences children also includes the kind of culture they are exposed to, outside the home environment. Educational institutions, especially school (since those are very impressionable years), plays a significant role in shaping a culture that a child will adopt for the rest of his or her life. I can tell you having been to a very close-knit residential school myself, one that lay a lot of emphasis on pursuits outside of academics; that I am now, and will remain forever, a person who believes firmly in the merits and power of overall development, and this philosophy will find its way into every aspect of my life, including the way I approach parenting my own child. My point being, the kind of value system and beliefs that children are exposed to at school and during their formative years of learning will undoubtedly have a huge impact on how they turn out, negative, or positive.

NATIONAL

Finally, of course, there is a culture and an identity to be inherited from one’s motherland. Even children, and subsequently adults, who may believe that they are global-citizens, will in some form or fashion, consciously or unconsciously, digest a culture that has been part of the place they were born in, and grew up in. While there are undeniable commonalities across the world’s citizens, it is this nationality-induced difference that makes us uniquely diverse, and that, is a cultural standpoint that children can-not escape. Without pronouncing any judgment; a simple example will demonstrate this. An Indian child, when he or she grows up, is less likely to put their parents into a care-home, choosing instead to keep them at home, and care for them personally, than say, an American. That is usually down to a cultural difference between these two nationalities.

Culture is then, a term that straddles and encapsulates a whole lot. It is a wide gamut of ideologies that children are privy to from various sources, and what children finally practice is an amalgam of all this varied assimilation. All we can do as parents and care givers is to try our best to ensure that our children are exposed to the ‘right’ kind of culture, at home, and outside!

Is Your Child Fearful Of The Future?

During my interactions with students across middle and senior school have yielded a disturbing reality. That unlike when we were young, unworried, unhurried, kids nowadays are a stressed lot. They seem to carry the weight of the world on their tiny shoulders. While some are constantly burdened by the heft of unrealistic and sky-high expectations, of academic and non-scholastic achievements & targets; others feel a tremendous pressure to create an identity for themselves that is unique and differentiated, yet enabling them to ‘fit in’.

However, among all this psychological load that students tend to feel these days, it is an uncertain future, that many of them seem mortally frightened of. Why, we need to ask as parents and educators, do our kids feel this kind of bleeding pressure? Why, rather than being hopeful, enthusiastic, excited, and optimistic about the future, are they scared, troubled, dismayed, and pessimistic about it?

STOP NAGGING & COMPARING

My own perception of this troubling trend is down to the conscious and unconscious competitive pressure that we place on our kids. Without even realizing it, we constantly nag our children, comparing their performance and achievements with those of their friends and peers, on occasion, even proudly siting specific kids as examples of how THEY should be! All this causes a child to lose not just interest, but a will to explore, discover, and find themselves. It is a behavioral pattern that we as adult care-givers must correct, forthwith.

OPEN FUTURE OPTIONS

The other facet of this increasing disillusionment with the future comes from a predetermined future course of education and career. Now, planning for the future is all well and good. However, many times, as parents, we don’t merely suggest and expose our kids to options, we pretty much assert, even brainwash them into a certain chosen future path, that has little or nothing to do with the child itself, not accounting for his/her likes, dislikes, passions, talents, interest areas and aptitude. In this kind of a scenario, the future, rather than presenting itself like a hopeful and joyous prospect, becomes a tunnel with no light at the end of it. We must therefore, however hard the temptation might be, steer clear of defining our children’s’ future plans, academic, and otherwise. We need to let our kids make their own choices, give them the power to own their own lives.

ALL KIDS ARE THEIR OWN UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE

Lastly, the sooner we can accept that it isn’t necessary that our children are either versions of ourselves, nor is their intelligence defined ONLY by academic achievements, the better the environment that we create for them, will be. If there is a student who is not performing well academically at school, rather than berating that child about it, taunting, warning of a bleak future; the child will be infinitely better served, if as parents, we focused our energies and efforts in identifying areas that the child is good in. I have seen countless examples of students who were my own contemporaries, and even today from among my students, who don’t present an aptitude for traditional subjects, but are remarkably adept and ingenious in alternative areas. One example that comes immediately to mind is a local Jaipur story of this boy who dropped out of school, and employing his immense entrepreneurial skills, today owns and runs one of the most successful chains of Burger Restaurants called Burger Farm!

The future, as it is, isn’t looking particularly rosy. With all the problems that plague the world, the last thing we need is a generation of worriers! In fact, what is required, is the complete opposite – a set of people who are confident and optimistic enough to bring significant change in the world, and heal it. Let us begin by making a small change in our own parenting philosophies today, and enable our kids to shine tomorrow.

Two Years On…

When my daughter Krisha was born, I was nervous, yet overjoyed. At the time, I had written extensively about becoming a father. Many of you read those posts, even reached out to me. It was an exciting time, a new phase, uncharted territory, an unknown path. Now, nearly two years on, I thought I should write an update-piece. Share what the past two years of brining up and interacting with my daughter have been like. So here goes!

With some trepidation life began with Pishu (as Krisha is fondly known at home). Not for any other reason except not wanting to make a misstep. Things soon settled down though. And it has been the most delightful time since. To watch your own flesh and blood, in many ways, an extension of yourself, grow, develop, evolve, is an indescribable feeling. It is an emotional rollercoaster. On the one hand, your heart swells with pride when the first-step is taken, at the same time, the mind fears that some harm might come to the child. While you want your child to engage, interact, and socialise with others, you are vary of her being mistreated, protective, paranoid even! And from the minute she is up to the second she FINALLY falls asleep, she is ACTIVE. Her increasing understanding of things, concepts, language, emotions is scary and fascinating in equal measure.  Her irreverence and abject lack of obedience are both attractive and annoying.

Most of all though, you have, as a parent, an opportunity to be a child once again. With your child, you rediscover the world through their eyes and innocent little hearts and minds, full of genuine surprise and wonder. They are amazed at the simplest facts, lured by the mundane, captivated by the ordinary, enchanted by the elementary. It is enviable, wonderfully refreshing, and always entertaining. Then you see reflections of yourself – physically, habitually, in their personalities, in their likes & dislikes, and in their several inherited traits. When Pishu dances to pallo latke by Asha Bhosle with gay abandon, I can’t help but notice her inherent sense of rhythm, and the fact that she instinctively prefers the ‘original’ to the modern version of the song. Just one example of the infinite list of adorable eccentricities!

Having said all of this, I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to a certain amount of very real and palpable frustration. Of having to give up time, people, places, and pursuits. Time with my wife Anuja, for instance, is something that was crucially important to me – that has almost vanished, and it has caused me much anguish. Similarly, the pets have been, to some extent, deprioritised. Such is the crude reality where time and places are usurped by a new baby in the home.

In the larger scheme of things however, the overwhelming sense is that of immense joy and fulfilment. What a child brings to you isn’t selflessness. I dare say, it is terribly selfish. And that kind of love and joy, can not be replaced, traded, or compensated for, by anything else in the entire world. Two years on, I am proud as a potato and pleased as punch, that Pishu is in my life 🙂

The Parent TRAP!

Just the other night, Anuja and I went out on a date! It was a good six months since we’d been out at night sans our baby Krisha. As we ordered our drinks and sat down (in peace), it was the strangest sensation. Not having to run after Krisha, or feed her, or walk her, or pacify her, or socialize her. We were on a date, with NOTHING TO DO!

Its not mystery what happened next… We talked mostly about our daughter! And that is what happens with most new/first time parents I reckon. Because we have had our child relatively late (at least compared to our friends), we would always wonder, be bored, be alarmed even, when they’d just go on and on and on about their respective kids. Its as if there was no other facet to their lives, nothing else they could speak of. And now, we’re pretty much sailing the same choppy waters! Poetic justice? Naah…

Because that’s the thing about parenting. All the while Pishu (Krisha’s pet name) awake, one wishes she’d sleep (not for any other reason except needing a break, physically and mentally). But the moment she knocks off, we miss her and wish she’d wake up! Its such a contradictory feeling.

Anuja and I have screamed hoarse in the past year about not getting enough alone time, enough ‘adult’ time, enough ‘self’ time. Truth be told. This is more out of the innate human instinct to crib. If we really asked ourselves seriously, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We wouldn’t trade our daughter for anything on the PLANET!

In fact, if anything, having Krisha I feel has brought us closer. We’re a happy, merry threesome now. We do everything together. Shopping, playing, reading, listening to music. We try not to baby-talk and I suspect that’s the reason she’s already picked up many words that seem to be beyond her age. She is perceptive, naughty, delightful, intelligent, inquisitive, strong-headed. And I think all of this comes from the fact that if not us both, at least one of us, especially Anuja, is with her every waking moment. We don’t believe in maids, don’t have one, don’t intend to.

Why? Because we’re just loving being in the proverbial ‘parent trap’! 🙂

Great-Mess

Our daughter Krisha, aka Pishu, just turned one. Anuja and I decided not to do the ‘traditional’ birthday celebration – you know the one that’s like a wedding, where one spends wasteful amounts of money and the child in question is MISERABLE! We went instead to Delhi to be with our friends, and on her birthday, we took Krisha to a playhouse and lunch. Later that evening, had her at a cousin’s place where we cut a cake and she spent time with her cousins. If I may say so myself, she had a great time!

The picture you see here is of one of many meals we ate out on that trip. Anuja and I, being relatively late to the parenting-party, had our reservations. A year into being new-old-parents, we’ve come to a few realizations. First, no matter how many books you read, sage advice you solicit (or get unsolicited) from family, friends and well wishers; parenting is subjective. Parenting is about a mutual dynamic the couple shares about certain core values. And parenting is about the equation the parents, together and individually, strike with the child, depending chiefly on the child’s own temperament.

While nothing, and I mean NO amount of planning and preparation can prepare you for the onslaught of a baby, know this – IT IS ALRIGHT. Things eventually work out. Last week Krisha caught a bad stomach bug that was in the air. Barely one, it was heart-wrenching to see our little joyous baby on an IV drip. But that worked itself out as well, no matter how unnerving and hopeless it seemed at the time.

The main point I want to make in this little write up, something I’ve touched upon in a few of my earlier posts as well, though now, being a year-old parent feel more qualified, is that try not to mollycoddle your newborn overtly. We have pets – 2 cats and a dog. We’ve never separated them from Krisha and despite huge protests, nothing, thank heavens, has gone wrong. We have not sanitized the environment – which is why I feel that Krisha’s immunity is developing strongly. We have not bottle/formula fed her – another reason she’s been mostly healthy and happy (touch wood). We have not given her any processed foods even though she’s now eating solids – each thing is home made, and I think she’s so much better for it. We have not restricted her movements. We take her with us everywhere, else we don’t go ourselves. We let her make a royal mess at the table, be it at home or out (because we feel that before we get too firm with her, which ought to be the preserve of a slightly older age), we should let her explore. She eats on her own, she plays the table by herself, she tries to put on her own shoes, she is opinionated about what she wants to play with (mostly wooden toys), what she’d like to read, what music she wants to listen to. We sing to her. We play all kinds of music for her. Each floor of our home as a result looks like a cyclone just hit it. And though I’m a bit of a neat-freak, I have happily relented in lieu of letting Krisha DISCOVER.

I suppose that is really what I am trying to say. Don’t thwart your toddlers. Let them loose. Let them be. Let them roam. Goes without saying under supervision (ideally not of a maid/staff, we don’t personally believe in that). But let them figure out things for themselves. The instinctive urge to ‘protect’ is the hardest thing in this world to fight. But fight we must, because just around the corner from the great-mess, lies greatness!

New OLD Parent!

Anuja and I got married in 2008. Nearly a decade ago. Ever since, initially subtly, subsequently not as subtly, friends, family and ‘well wishers’ started advising us to have a child. And we kept putting it off, furnishing from the most cliche to some pretty far fetched alibis. In the meantime, all our contemporaries, school and college friends, cousins around the same age, were having them babies galore!

This necessitated a rather interesting phase in our marital lives. Because people we’d normally hang out with got busy with new parenthood, we had to seek company elsewhere. In Bombay at the time, we fell happily into a friend circle that comprised mostly of folks about a decade older than us, couples whose kids had gone past the ‘constant supervision’ stage with children well into their pre-teens (which brings its own set of unique parenting challenges but at least does not demand the kind of time and effort that the initial years of a baby does). We were blissful and merry, having become an integral part of this large parents  group that I suspect was trying to reclaim its own youth, having spent the past ten odd years in dedicated service of their children.

Between Anuja and I, we were sure that we didn’t want to have a child in Bombay. For all its libertarian values, free-spirited ethos, and rewards for the driven, the thought of having a kid there and have the kid say, “there’s my school on the 2nd floor of that building”; to two North Indians who’d been fortunate enough to attend schools and colleges with a ‘campus’, this was an inconceivable situation.

Then some four years back, we moved bag and baggage to Jaipur, my hometown. And though we didn’t discuss it specifically, I think we’d both individually, and as a couple, arrived at that point. The point where we felt we were ready. And so we had our beautiful daughter Krisha.

Krisha is now almost a year old, I am almost 38, Anuja, 37. By any standard, we’d be considered ‘older’ parents. Especially in a city like Jaipur (that errs on the side of orthodox), we are at least a decade older than couples who’s have kids around the same time as us! That makes for an interesting situation again, thankfully, mostly a humorous one. I keep joking with Anuja, that these parents want to themselves address Anuja and I as ‘uncle aunty’, what will their kids (who are Krisha’s contemporaries) call us!?

I’ve also come to the realization that I am too old for this! Don’t get me wrong, I am ecstatic being a parent, particularly to a baby girl. But boy is it hard to keep up. I mean literally keep up. I’m getting physiotherapy for my back as I write this, my knees hurt, and I feel exhausted carrying, chasing, and playing with Pishu!

But here’s the thing. There really isn’t a right or a wrong time for a couple to have a child. There will always be justified arguments on both sides – to have kids early, and to have kids late. But this is beyond cold logic. It is a decision that ought to be made when it ‘feels’ right. For both parties involved. Its an intangible, unquantifiable, almost indefinable feeling that you either get, or you don’t get. And if you get it, then take the plunge. All the merits of having kids when we’re young, all the disadvantages of having them when we’re not so young, pale when the time is ‘right’ for YOU!

Anuja and I are absolutely loving being parents, even though we’d be considered ‘older’ parents. Age is just a number. The Time however, must be RIGHT!

Fatherly!

I often find, especially in India, that mothers are infinitely more involved with the upbringing and day to day well being of children, as compared to fathers. The primary focus of the fathers seems to be to work, earn, and provide. That is not wrong at all. However, it does seem to rob them of precious time that every child could use, with his/her respective father.

Growing up, I shared a very complicated relationship with my father. That notwithstanding, he too, in a more general sense, seems to fit into the established status quo, the stereotype that dad is there, to be the ‘provider’. But let us examine this word PROVIDER. Provider of what? Of funds to pay school fee, to buy clothes and essentials, to purchase toys? Yes. But certainly ‘providing’ from a child’s perspective, can’t be limited to material things. I can tell you for my part, that was, and has been the last thing on the list of priorities that I would need/want from my father.

Fathers seem to be missing from children’s lives altogether. They don’t seem to spend much time with kids. Are not present at school. Are not part of any parent groups on social media. They suddenly show up for that annual vacation or the Sunday mall-trip, and that’s it! Although I have seen a perceptible change in this long-tradition, it is too recent, and far too limited to certain more ‘metro-sexual’ couples in a few larger cities. By and large, the custom continues.

I hate to sound preachy but let me go out on a limb and enlighten fathers on what a child wants from them. To provide guidance, mentoring, friendship, involvement, emotional support, humor, a mix of firmness and playfulness. And NONE of these things cost ANY money!

If this comes as a newsflash to some fathers, I’m sorry to call you out on the truth. But you really need to re-examine your parental and familial priorities. Kids don’t need pots of money or gifts. You don’t buy their love, you get it as a natural byproduct of giving them love (which does not mean material things). You don’t demand respect, you earn it by default when you lead by example, and set standards of being a decent, aware, sensitive, accepting, open, responsible individual. I recently read somewhere that preach all you want, the child will learn, only by observation. And that role model of observational learning can not be ONLY the mother, it has to be the father as well.

I have a ten month old daughter. Some might feel I am under-qualified to be sermonizing on the subject. But having been exposed to all kinds of fathers, from my own to my friends’, and seeing myself now with my own daughter from the time of her birth, I can tell you this without a shred of doubt – what kids need from their fathers, is time. Period.

An Age Of Deceit

many faces veil man’s innate ugliness

truths lurk in plain sight obscured by wafer-thin lies

we are creatures of habit, prone to the worst kind

deceit, not decency, becomes the family heirloom

with the habitual ease of a fair weather friend

we purge not deception but embrace fabrication

and think absolutely, entirely, completely, nothing of it!