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Values & Education

What motivates our children?

A few friends were visiting this weekend when our little one ran out in the living room and announced that his project work was due the very next day and that he needed some printouts right at that moment if he hoped to complete the project on time. It was a Sunday evening and as the printer at home had run out of ink, it was imperative that someone accompany him for printouts to the neighborhood internet café. In the next half hour, while my husband went with our little one and got the necessary printouts for him, I made small talk; and when they were back, I went in to settle our little one with his project while my husband chatted with our guests.

Later that evening, after some chai-nashta, we sat chatting while the children played on the rug. Our little one though, was still cooped up in his room with his project. We were talking about the usual topics – the corporate grind, our stressful lifestyle, the pressure on kids, the pressure kids and their schooling put on us parents; and of course, the parenting challenges in general; when my friend’s father who had accompanied them, asked us, “…when you kids were young, what was it that motivated you?” We looked up at him in confusion. What motivated us?

“You know,” he continued, “when I was your age; I was always motivated by the need to make enough money. I was born in a small village and my father grew sugarcane on our land. He sold the crop to the nearest sugar factory for a good price and there was always food on the table, always a generous supply of milk and dairy products thanks to our cattle; and I had not a worry in the world growing up. But then the sugar factory shut down; our days changed. With other factories paying far less for our crop, we were left with no alternative but to look for other means of livelihood. My father had been a farmer all his life and my mother, well mothers never ever stepped out of homes to work in those days. So we sold our land, bit by bit; and also our cattle.

I took up a job that would help cover the shortage of money. In the summer holidays and after I gave my tenth board exams, I worked as an usher at the theatre in our village. Every day I would report to duty before the first show at nine and finish my work after the last show ended and be home well after midnight. The pay wasn’t great but was just enough for us to pull through. Things were okay for a while, but I realised this was not a permanent solution. I had two sisters who needed to be married off soon and my younger brother was still studying in the village school. I was only a teenager, but I knew that I needed to leave my village if I wished a better future for me and my family. And I decided to come to Bombay – the land of opportunities!

I started with mundane day jobs in a factory and worked hard to secure a managerial position, retiring as Branch Manager. I sent money back home and helped get my sisters married and my younger brother graduate. I also saved some money and paid a deposit to rent a small flat for me to stay in once I married and had my own family. I worked hard all my life, and even won the internal office awards several years in a row.

But I always felt bad about never completing my education. People younger than me were promoted and I was left behind because they were more qualified – they had the degrees I never had. And that is what kept me motivated – I wanted to do a better job than them – so that I could secure my job and the money that it kept getting me.

You know, the first time I travelled by flight, was when my company sent me on an official assignment to Chennai. I was so proud that day! I felt I had accomplished something great! And it clearly was a big deal for a small village boy like me!”

Uncle then pointedly looked at each one of us and said, “I am sure there is something in your past too that has made you, you. Yours is the start-up generation, you aren’t afraid of taking risks and working long hours. You were all talking about the “corporate grind” some time back; and about your stressful lifestyles; so clearly, it’s not something you are too happy you chose – and yet, you do choose this stressful life. Maybe you crave the money that comes with it, or the perks, or the social status or the financial stability it provides you. But whatever it is, it keeps you going.

But I ask you, how are you raising your children? Do they want for anything? Are they lacking anything? Is there anything that you deny them? Have they asked you something and you have not given it to them? Is there anything that you have made them work for?

My poverty fired my soul and made me who I am. Something clearly works for you guys too, that’s why you get up every day and face the “corporate grind” as you call it. But I am worried about the next generation, with no fire in their belly! They don’t have to prove anything to anyone. They lack nothing and need to work for nothing; so how are they, then expected to excel?”

Uncle’s words hit home, hard. We sat there pondering what he had said. Were we really raising children who weren’t programmed to work hard for what they want? By giving them everything they asked for and then some things they never asked for too; are we making them complacent? Of course we try to make life as easy as is humanly possible for our children; but is that our biggest parenting failure? The questions swirled in our minds and none of us had an answer.

And that was when our little one came bounding down the steps into the living room, proudly holding his project in his hand. “Mum, Dad, look at this! My project is going to be the best in the class!” And truly, he had done an outstanding job, if I may say so myself!

As worried as I had been a few minutes back, this awesome project that my little one had done, all by himself; gave me hope, and faith that no matter what happens, this is not a generation that has nothing to work for. They may not be craving to work hard to achieve what we worked hard for; but they clearly have something that inspires them to work hard too!

And so long as that something is encouraged by us as parents, I guess we don’t have too much to worry.

Rashmi is a devoted mum and an avid reader. When she is not engrossed in a book or attending to the whims of her spirited offspring, she indulges in creative writing and blogging. She was a lawyer once, much before she surrendered to motherhood and took up writing. Today, she is a regular contributor to lifestyle, parenting and e-learning websites; and has created FindMyRead – a vibrant community of book lovers! To read more from Rashmi, visit her blogs Ramblings et al and Find My Read