I recently read an article about parenting and its effects; sorry, too much of too good parenting and its after effects. One of the best articles I've read on this issue, it kind of pushed me to take a serious look at the differences in parenting when I was a kid (sigh! yeah, there was a 'was' in that sentence) and now (colleagues, friends, my landlady, etc who are parents). Living with a five year old every day gives you a clear view of where the parent stands vs where the kid stands. I should say that some of my cousins and my landlady actually do a good job of it (I don't think I can resist the kids' cuteness when they ask for some more chocolate milk or some more TV/internet time - I've started saying 'lets check with your mom!' when put in a sticky situation).
I don't think I had much choices when growing up - we had a rule of eating what was made that day (even though it was just idlis (we had it EVERY DAY for breakfast) or dosai) and not asking for something that my mom hadn't made. The only allowance was Maggi day, when my mom would relent to our constant badgering and make Maggi (she had this yummy way of making it with veggies and stuff - but I think my sis and I would have eaten it even if it was just Maggi - we were (and still are) that crazed about it) for dinner one night out of two weeks. Even that, my dad would frown upon saying its not healthy. My mom was serious about healthy stuff and Maggi would take a back seat for the next two weeks. We had to cajole her for hours to get it out again!
The same rule applied to Rasna (does anyone remember that ad where they showed a Rasna girl with 'I love you, Rasna'? She was every kid's dream), TV time (homework first and then TV - oliyum oliyum (a song telecast show) on friday nights + movie on sunday were big deal when I was in 4th or 5th; 6th-college - I had to finish the long list of chores/practices to do before TV and novels), story books (only if we did really well in class - a story book for every A grade. I'm sure most of us would've had mini libraries of cherished books that we exchanged with each other simply because we couldn't buy them at will - I have friends who became friends just so we can exchange books :P), play time (two hours max), movies/excursions/trips (one or two a year??), etc, etc. And pocket money was practically non-existent at home. We could get however much we needed but we had to justify our purchases (the hardest was explaining to my mom that I wanted to eat at the canteen every day just for the heck of it - my mom frowned upon it unless it was some special day, like the last day of school or something). We would get one or two rupees once or twice every few weeks and that day was treat day amongst friends. We'd share one samosa or two pepsis between five friends and yet the part samosa was all the more delicious than the ten samosas that I buy now.
But I still think my childhood was amazing simply because we knew what the rules were and knew what the limits were. Most importantly, it was because we knew our parents won't change the limits. We could cry and cry but once my mom made some dinner, there was no changing it just because I didn't want to eat it. I could either not eat it (allowed for one day) or eat it but request what I wanted 'nicely' for another day (even then, it was at the discretion of my parents to really decide if it was good enough to eat). I still remember hating wheat upma but being forced to eat simply because it was healthy. I think that made me appreciate all kinds of foods and stop being a picky eater. I still have some pet peeves of preferring noodles over rice, chicken over veggies, etc. But those were habits that I picked up in grad school and not when I was growing up. Even now, if push comes to a shove, I can eat anything (eg: bland food) and still not complain much.
Now, I see most kids just getting all they want (or are my expectations too high?). Aakash sleeps every night after watching two hours of TV and gets a new toy every two weeks. He also gets to go to McDonalds (yeah, chicken nuggets are his favorite) every few days (otherwise he won't eat his dinner properly) and has a slew of Happy meal toys which he plays with for maybe half an hour and then throws them out. For his bday, the gifts he gets are in the range of $100 to $500 and he doesn't play with most of them anyways. His latest craze is Justin Bieber (can you imagine a five year old liking a pop star??
) and thinks Superman is for 'kids' (don't ask me what he is!!). He has an iTouch already and demands that new games be downloaded every few days. He is the one who plays most games on my mobile (I stick to bubble burst most times) and thinks most games are boring. If things are boring even now, I don't know what will happen later in life. There is only so much entertainment and fun that the world can possibly provide.
I only picked Aakash as an example because I see him day in and day out and have known him since he was three and a half years old. Almost every kid that I know is super smart and don't minding showing that they are (which is good some times but then puts us adults in a weird position where you cannot count them as adults (which they are not) but cannot treat them as kids (which they are)). So, you tend to treat them as younger friends whom you can appreciate and play with but really cannot tell them if they are doing something wrong - some days, I've itched to tell a kid that what he is doing is wrong or is not the right thing to do but have held my tongue simply because his parents let him do it. If they are fine with it, then I cannot possibly say anything against it right? But I remember when I was growing up, everyone had a free rein in telling me what was right and what was wrong. Not just my parents, but my aunts, uncles, grand parents, my parents' friends, neighborhood uncles and aunties, my mom's colleagues, sometimes even the maids and driver that worked for us would tell me something is right and something is wrong. Atleast with the maids and my driver, my parents would consider if the advice was really right but with everyone else, my parents decided that since they were adults, they knew better than the kid (ie me). And the adults around us didn't hesitate in correcting me or my siblings if we did some mischief.
Further, us older kids were expected to be 'role models' for the younger ones - whether my own sister or my younger cousins or even the young kid in the colony who played with us. If they were caught doing something wrong, then we had to take some rap as well for not 'keeping an eye' on them and making sure they didn't do anything wrong. Mischief was fine whereas other things (like petty fights, jealousies, etc) were frowned upon. We had to resolve them amongst ourselves. I don't remember much incidences where my parents stepped in in the kids' fights. I even remember resolving fights and issues amongst playmates simply because I couldn't go home and tell my mom that I didn't want to play any more with kid X whose parent Y was opposite our house. And we didn't have much choice because we couldn't do much without our playmates anyways.
Also, it is getting harder to wow kids nowadays. I had to rack my brain to gift something to Aakash for his bday that would wow him and still be useful and fun. He already had a number of toys, his other gifts were an iTouch, soccer shoes, motorbike, some high end toys, etc. Finally I had to settle for a group activity kit which he could do with his cousins and a new Wii game of his favorite Super Marios (that wowed him for exactly one week. Sigh!). Gone are the days where parents used to throw a simple bday party with cake and rasna and we were done. For Aakash's bday, my landlady booked a party room in Chucky Cheese, ordered pizza and drinks for all, had a special Super Mario cake and gave party gifts to every kid that came in. Its all well and good to do it sometime but gets harder to beat expectations every year. Aakash's fourth bday was similar with Sponge Bob cake - this year, he made it clear he didn't want anything less than a Super Marios or Bieber cake. Excuse me?? A cake is a cake, even a simple one should've given the same fun since we are all going to eat it anyways. And he forgot about that cake after a few days.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for wowing kids and giving them the best experiences parents can give. But life is not just a string of happy moments. You cannot eat just sweets for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There should be a balance in everything and failures and rejections are part of the deal. So, get your kids exposed to a wide variety of experiences, both good and bad, and let them grow up as mature adults and not some protected ones in a bubble.If not, they would become adults without a deep sense of commitment to anything, not even to having fun. Life, then, would become a meaningless set of events - that is the worst thing a parent can give his or her child.
PS: I do know that all this is theory and that since I'm not a parent, I can't really talk about the choices parents make when bringing up their kids. I'm all for the choices that parents make, since after all, its their kid. But, all I ask is, keep a balance and show your kids what real life is like. Once they know that failures are not a big deal and that success is never elusive, they'll learn to love and enjoy life more. Treat them with an iron hand in a velvet glove and your kid might thank you years later even if he screams for icecream every night now. For, you cannot protect them forever and its best that they fail in your arms than fail where you cannot hold them.