“Come to aunty, I’ll show you my phone.”
“Uncle has chocolates. Do you want?”
I wonder if these well-meaning adults know they sound like kidnappers when they try to lure my baby over to them with the promise of videos and refined sugar? I also wonder if they realize they’re crossing a line with these innocuous offers; that some parents don’t want their toddlers exposed to media, or offered processed foods at the age of one? No one ever checks beforehand. I’ve met teachers, doctors, and even nutritionists, who just assume your child is being offered these treats as a regular occurrence. I’m not quite sure where that assurance comes from – surely not everyone does this? Without pointing fingers or drawing comparisons, I usually state, baldly, “She doesn’t eat sugar yet,” or “We aren’t showing her anything on the phone or laptop yet.”
The responses these simple statements generate are fairly strong. Somehow, it’s never taken to mean this is what I do with my child. You don’t have to agree, you just have to go with it. Despite the fact that I’m not questioning whether they chose to do so with their children, or at what age, I’m invariably told, “Oh, we always do this.” Or, if they’re a relative, “We fed your uncle/cousin/mother/father/you sugar and you turned out just fine.”
I’m always tempted to argue that with the rate of early onset diabetes and other health complications in our generation, and that of our parents’, the choices that we make have clearly not worked out “just fine” in the long run. But, really, that’s not the point here, because this isn’t a debate about individual decisions. Rather, it’s an overriding concern that keeps popping up – why do most people feel it’s okay to question, or blatantly override, what a parent says they wishes to do with their own child?
Forget about cutting out sugar or screen time, if I wanted to bring my baby up in a house with no mention of gender or religion, or if I wanted to take her to work with me every day – no matter how ambitious or unrelatable the goal, surely it should be up to me and my husband, rather than the general population of India, to decide? Constantly ready with their inputs and unwanted advice, it becomes quite exhausting to have to enforce rules for them, rather than for the child.
The rational part of my brain tells me to just smile and ignore people who advice me on how to parent; only confronting them when they cross the line and try administering something that goes against what I want. I know this perfectly well in theory, and yet, every time I stand up for my choices, I cringe a little, and wonder – am I being unreasonable? Do they think I’m a – shudder – Google parent, one of those people who look for what’s hep and do it, rather than following the ‘age-old wisdom’ or just imitating what their neighbours are doing?
Again, I try to tell myself that it doesn’t matter what they think because they’re not responsible for my child, I am. But in its own way, it feels like peer pressure all over again. Opening my mouth and saying what I think never stops feeling awkward, because it feels like I’m challenging something, even when I’m not. Perhaps we’re all always touchy about what we perceive as being the best for our child, and so feel we have to stand up for what we’ve done. I can understand the response I get, but I wish we could be more objective and give people the space in which they can evolve as parents.
The best possible reaction is when someone says, “Oh, that’s actually good, I read the research too,” even as they sound somewhat doubtful about whether they believe it or not. The reaction I’m looking for? That they don’t weigh in at all, but just accept it and move on. After all, parenting is about making my choices, and bringing up my child in the way I’d like. What do you think?
Eight years into her journey from digital marketing newb to ninja, Akshaya has worked with the giants (Google), as well as startups (Anahat), and start-ups on their way to becoming giants (Zomato). She’s now working with the most challenging startup of them all – her baby girl – while freelancing. Every now & then, she gives up on the three hours of sleep available to her, and blogs at New Girl in Toronto.