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Why Parenting Cannot Have An Instruction Manual!

The other day, one of my colleagues mentioned how a teenage boy in their colony got extremely agitated and violent when denied a bike by his parents. The boy was predictably pampered. And his frustration grew out of bounds on one refusal! Thankfully, all the teachers from his school arrived in a van to counsel the teen and the distraught parents. The noise about their flawed parenting was louder than their whimpers of helplessness. My colleague felt incredibly sorry for the couple and how little she could do for them, as they were in a tight spot, impervious to the world. Another colleague made a harsh comment on the same discussion– ‘The boy must be thrown out and told that he is on his feet from now on. Who does he think he is!” Is it that easy? Most of the comments that came from all directions had acerbic undertones.

I, for one silently listened for a while, as it brought to my mind a similar incident within extended family. This cousin that I speak of, had everything one could wish for. Being the only child to her parents, she was rarely denied anything. Best school, life of comforts and every wish of hers being fulfilled, made the girl somewhat arrogant and discontent. She pulled the final straw on them, by eloping with a man who was way older than her. That was just one to state among the countless unfortunate incidents happening around. What is worse are the condescending eyes filled with contempt for the ones that actually need help!

I am a single child to my parents and was raised in a higher middle class family. And I vividly remember my growing years. My mother was strict whereas my father was the cool parent. My mother was the disciplinarian whereas my father was more relaxed. My mother is an early riser (she still gets up at 4!) whereas my father would rise later. So when I threw tantrums in getting up for school, I quite remember the way I was dragged out of bed by her as she pulled my hands towards the bathroom, with me pulling the bed sheet along! Sometimes, when I fooled her by pretending to get up and going back to sleep again, I would be woken up with a splash of cold water on the face. Yes, that used to happen when my mother realized that I was on the verge of missing my school bus!

So, you get the drift – I was no easy child myself! And, today as a parent, I feel that my mother deserves to be worshipped for all the troubles she has taken to raise a stubborn child like me. In my schooling years, I have had my share of fights with my mother for whom my teenage seemed to be a puzzling Pandora box! She has seen all shades of my teenage, wherein I was one disgruntled teenager who complained of not being allowed a night out or a sleep over! But every night before we slept, we always made up for the day, promising to start the next day on a friendlier note.

After all those years, I now totally understand the reason behind her strictness, her unfathomable love and concern for me and, the million sacrifices she has made for me along the way. She was protective of me and guarded me with her life. Surprisingly, when I got my first job with an MNC, it was she who sent me off more happily than my father (who suddenly felt a pang of fear of having to send his only child so far away). Like she said – You are ready to take off! But watch your steps in life! As of today, she is an uber cool grandparent who believes in absolute pampering of her grandson. As for me, I am wise enough to understand the complexities of parenting, that I am yet to face!

The reason I am writing about this particular topic is, the severe lack of understanding between parents and children. What appears to be all hunky dory, is actually a stark and hurtful reality that is camouflaged by fancy terms like ‘being liberal and open minded’. The age old adage – Spare the rod and spoil the child has been lost in the din around. Some feel children need to be set free and must learn from their own experience. Some sway towards the extremities of enforcing discipline. However, there is no one rule that defines the strictness/leniency quotient in parenting.

Here is to what I think about the parenting in the nascent years.

1. Raising/parenting a child is like watering a sapling. The only difference between a sapling and a child is, the former stays put in a place. Whereas, a child is meant to be a tornado that brings in imagination, adventure and a lot of life to a home. But then, must a parent exhibit strictness to enforce discipline in the child, at such an early stage? Now, the answer to this question is contentious. And, why? Every child is unique. Every child is born with an innate nature, a genetic miracle indeed!

Even as a preschool teacher, I have observed that toddlers sport various and strong personalities at a nascent stage. Some are born trouble makers. Some are artistic. Some are question banks! Some love to be teachers’ pets. Some are born leaders. And, the list goes on. That said, have you ever observed, why a parenting method X works for Parent A but, fails for Parent B? This is precisely why parenting never comes with an instruction manual. You may advise all you want. But, at the end of the day, your methods of raising your child stem from your own observation and understanding of your child’s mental make and behavior.

2. My son Arjun who sports two red horns and a long lashing tail at home, enjoys chaos. But in school, he is one of the most well behaved children, all obedient and gentle. It did come as a shock to me when his teacher said – “He is a thoughtful person, never speaks until spoken to. He is social, plays with the other kids but never has been a cause of a complaint! Only that, he is a slow eater!” I pondered deeply over the avatar switch my son had taken to, at such an early age. And, I knew the reason.

At home, he has every freedom to engage his energies in activities like breaking toys and constructing something imaginative from the broken stuff. For instance, a bow and an arrow I had bought him a long time ago, was a recent victim of his extreme energy. The bowstring snapped, as he pulled it hard enough. After some brooding that went on for a couple of days, I saw him using the broken bow as a fishing rod, trying to catch imaginary fish. (and I mean it when I say that it looked like one!).

So there are ecstatic moments as these. And, then there are times when, as a parent, I am left tearing at my hair. The latter usually happens when I need to help my son understand the benefits of good habits like brushing his teeth before going to bed, or eating food while it is warm or even, doing homework on time! I would be lying if I say I have never yelled at him, because some moments just demand it, wherein no cajoling or coaxing or begging works!

But, the best part about parenting is, children totally understand you when you speak to them like adults. For instance, my son perfectly understands the reason behind my ‘angry’ mommy avatar. I once eavesdropped a conversation between my mother and my son. My mother asked, “Why don’t you finish your homework fast and then go to play? You will get a lot of time to play that way, no? But instead, you choose to make amma angry!” And, my fast approaching 5 year old son quickly replies, “I know all that. But what to do? (with a naughty gleam) I just like to play and do homework at the same time!” My mother sighed!

Instead of getting angry, I smiled. I was quite amazed at his clarity of thought on what he wanted to do at any particular instant of time. Although it is still a gargantuan struggle to make my son sit at a place for lunch or for studies, given his playful age. So if you think children do not understand why parents are the way they are, you are pretty much wrong! They are far more perceptive and intelligent than you thought! That said, strictness is required with small children to an extent. If your child refuses to get up on time for school on a whim, it cannot be overlooked as a childlike trait.

Discipline in a child’s life brings wonders in the later stage of his/her life. To inculcate good habits in them even before they begin to question them is very crucial. Old habits die hard and, if they are good ones, why not? There is one example I would like to state here – Arjun loves to read books sometimes before going to sleep. And when he is done, he carefully places the books back into the shelf. A trait he has imbibed by sheer observation. It goes without saying – to inculcate discipline, you need to be disciplined yourself!

3. Now, let’s talk about strictness quotient. I have come across many parents who take pride in ridiculing strict parenting. One of the few comments I have heard is – “One needs to give children a lot of freedom. If he or she needs a mobile phone at a later stage, it is better to provide it, than to let the child get sucked into the whirlpool of peer pressure. Besides, it is a necessity these days!” I agree with the peer pressure part. I also agree with the freedom part. What I don’t agree with, is calling a gadget dependency a necessity!

The alarming scenario begins with parents buying stuff for their children without a question. For some, it is synonymous with earning a child’s trust. For some, it is a mere compensation for time not spent with the child. For instance, if your child demands a toy gun, what do you do? You either instantly buy it because you have the money to buy it and, you feel that your child’s happiness is not questionable; or you strictly say a NO with NO explanation, thereby leaving the child unhappy.

Both the methods of dealing with the demands of a child lead to unpalatable extremities in future. In the former case, the child more often than not, assumes that it is his birthright to demand and it is the parent’s duty to fulfill those demands. Such children grow into selfish teenagers who have little regard for the objects they demand on a whim. In the latter case, wherein a child is constantly refused, it can mess up his or her headspace and, can lead him or her to satiate unfulfilled demands in an incorrect way. However, if you resort to a third way where you speak to your child as a friend and say, “Ok! I understand you are fascinated with it. I will surely buy you one. Only, the time is not now”, it makes a difference. Even if the child does not get what he wants, he is pulled back into the circle of trust by the right words and the gentle tone used in conveying the appropriate message. Essentially, your child is perfectly capable of understanding your concerns. It all comes down to how you place your argument.

That said, parenting is a tough game! Today, there are a million forums on the Internet that dish out advice like second to none. So much of information is ought to confuse the parents. It amuses me how we do not look up to our own parents for parental wisdom but fall back on virtual strangers for their advice. Now, isn’t that strange? Observe your child. Spend quality time with your child. Be a part of their lives. Be a part of their friends’ life too in the future. Let them know you are their pillar of strength. Importantly, trust your parental instincts more than anything else in the world! Good luck!

Narayani Karthik is an army wife who is a software engineer by profession. After a three year stint in the IT industry, she dabbled in content writing for a while before she embarked on the most beautiful journey of her life – Motherhood. After having been a Stay-At-Home-Mom for about three years, she took to teaching pre-primary children. This experience helped her gain an insight into toddlers’ behavior and psychology. Besides being a book lover, she loves to cook for her man in olive-green (Yes, she is a Proud Army Wife!) and loves to spend a lot of time with her hyper active son – Arjun. And then, in some free time that she manages from her busier than busy schedule, she loves to blog at Swimming In An Ocean Of Thoughts…...