Straitjacketed Childhood

The queue to meet the maths teacher was snaking right up to the door. As much as I hate PTA meets, I am invariably found standing in the queue every time. And if you are in a particularly long queue to meet the science teacher, conversations happen.

‘What are you doing to prepare you child for IIT?’ asked the mother standing in front of me.

I spun around to see whom she was talking to. Turns out she was referring to me.

‘Err…. My son has just turned 13.’ I offered a clarification.

‘Yes, so he is not going to Fit Jee?’

‘Fit what?’

She gave me an are-you-for-real look. Thankfully, her turn to be grilled by teacher was next and, I was saved.

A friend messaged yesterday that her toddler would soon be joining music classes and she has been told that she is already lagging by six months – something about cognitive enhancement.

Another kid I know has his feet in as many different boats as possible in the name of ‘channelizing energies.’

All this unnerves me. I stand back and question myself. Am I an adequate parent? Yes I study and teach Psychology and yes I have done my share of little research. But that isn’t enough at all. My Developmental Psychology Professor had announced in the first class, ‘there will be five different theories to learn during the year but whenever you have your own kids, they will come with their own theories. Everything you learn here will fall flat.’

 Everything did in fact fall absolutely flat and theories just remained what they were – theories. The boys came with ideas of their own and the number of developmental theories ever written rose by two. Which does not mean that there was no method to the madness. Over the years, fair share of parenting has been done – they go for Kumon classes, a cricket academy, numerous reading sessions and guitar lessons. Kumon has been thrust upon them but the rest is their own free will. Yeah, there is no compromise on maths – we are Indians and we know that the world revolves around mathematics. Thankfully, they have learnt to accept it and somewhere appreciate it or so I fool myself.

But is there a defined parenting path? Have I ensured optimal levels of cognitive functioning? Have I charted their trajectories? No. I do not have my own trajectory in order. So I absolutely cannot determine their life direction for them. I cannot and I should not. Is it fair to straitjacket childhood? Is it fair to screw blinkers on to them, wind them up, and set them on a narrow fenced path?

I hear fellow parents site reasons like fierce competition, financial security and, necessity of rising above the crowd, for the strictly charted path that they have chosen for the children. These in addition to the age old, ‘what do kids know? Parents have to decide for them what they want to be.’ I disagree and sometimes overtly so, much to the disapproval of other ‘devoted’ ones.

Competition has always been there. Financial insecurities will never go away. And as parents, the dream to see the child shine above the crowd is understandable. But is it fair to turn their lives into a never-ending series of time slots, grades, and arguments with teachers over a 0.1 difference in CGPA? Going by the ever-rising pile of studies and graphs on effects of stress on children, absolutely not – the mounting pressure is not only unfair it is criminal. From hypertension to anxiety disorders and from depression to sadly, suicide – everything is rising at an alarming rate in the age group that should ideally be the most carefree period of life.

I am not saying varied experiences should be withheld. But to enrol a child in a professional arts class because he doodled a particularly interesting shape in preschool is blasphemous. Do not scoff yet. I completely agree with the fact that as parents, children are our responsibility. But being responsible doesn’t mean taking every decision for them, it doesn’t mean making choices for them, and it definitely does not mean conjuring dreams on their behalf. Being responsible means helping them arrive at decisions, letting them know we will stand by their choices and, respect their dreams. Being responsible definitely means accepting their mistakes, and helping them derive their own lessons from them. If as a parent, I am able to teach them how to deal with successes and failures, and how to be persistent while following their dreams – I’d label myself as responsible. The successes and dreams will be theirs to make, not mine to decide.

The boys are not going to any IIT coaching centre. They are torn between career choices. Toy maker or a Dessert Chef? A game developer or a writer? It is a tough decision.

Music classes never happened when they were toddlers though they swayed and hummed with whatever played in the car or otherwise. So far, I have not noticed any cognitive disadvantage.

As for the boats, the only one they are sailing in has dreams, time to indulge in dreams, multiple bookshelves, and a few dogs.

So am I living in bubble? Maybe. But it is a happy one.

Originally published at : Straitjacketed childhood

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4 thoughts on “Straitjacketed Childhood

  1. Soul sister! I have been considered more than marginally insane for not going crazy during my children’s board exams. I was available to wake them up, give them coffee/milk while doing so, all the moral support needed, but that was it.

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    1. Dipali, each time someone tells me this, a reassuring beep rings out in my head. It tells me I am okay and the boys will find their world too. Thank you for being marginally insane! It is a lovely place to be.

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