Parenting Then & Now: Is there a missing link?


"How did our parents raise eight children so effortlessly and also manage to instil the right values in each one of us? How is that even humanly possible when here I am, struggling with a single child?"

Remarked my Aunt and mother of a vivacious twenty year old. Years ago, when her child was a baby, she listed out many areas where her parents failed in their duty. Right from the names given to them to not giving sufficient individual attention to each child to favouring one child over the other and more. Twenty years down the line and many parenting experiences (read fails) and wisdom lessons learnt the hard way, she sings a drastically different tune today. A tune filled with wonder, amazement and admiration for her parents. Similarly, I am amazed at how my parents raised three children alongside their full fledged careers. 

So, what made parenting seem so effortless and effective in the good old days? Let us do some serious interrogation and retrospection. 

Parenting in our Grandparent´s Era 

If there is anyone in the Animal Kingdom my mother could be compared with, she would be the perfect hybrid of ├ín ant meets the elephant´. Admirably hardworking like the ant, she works tirelessly non-stop with a clear-cut focus on delivering the highest quality of output each and every single time. Be it in her home or at her workplace! She is an epitome of gentleness and strength like the mighty and protective elephant. 

But, she did not become like that overnight. It took years and years of practice, much like a seasoned sportsperson who underwent rigorous training right from the childhood years. My mother, one of the eight children started shouldering the responsibilities of the home, alongside her academics right from the age of 7-8 years. Her duties were clearly laid out to her. In those days, parents were the complete authority. 

My grandmother was a very smart woman - a natural  born leader. She was a stay-at-home mother like most women were in those times. But don't let non-professional status fool you. She was the most feared, respected and powerful influence in her home. She was like the royal Queen Bee surrounded by tiny worker bees. As the mother of eight children, she was indeed the best authority on how to run her home and its inmates. 

So, she delegated wisely all her work amongst her eight children and her husband. The elder ones were given the more complex household tasks in addition to looking after and training the younger siblings. My grandfather was the first one to get up early in the morning to milk the cows and buffaloes. He would then, supervise their eight children as each one got ready by themselves to go to school.

My grandmother cooked in the kitchen, with some of her children as her personal assistants. Some given the duty of chopping the vegetables, some in kneading the chapatti dough etc. Everyone had an equal stake in the smooth running and functioning of the home, with my grandmother clearly the undisputed ´commander-in-chief´ of the home. The CEO of Home Sweet Home Inc.!  

My mother and all her siblings were extremely scared of my grandmother. Her voice was enough to send shivers down their spine. She nagged and scolded them, often criticising them. Appreciation was very rare and only given, when a job was done exceptionally well. 

My mother-in-law has similar stories to say. Of a very strict mother who they all feared. So much so, she had to sneak out of the house to watch a Rajesh Khanna movie without her parent´s knowledge as Hindi movies were taboo in their house. 

But, all this was a blessing in disguise. This parenting approach actually instilled in my mother and her siblings a healthy sense of fear and respect for authority, a sense of duty and responsibility, time management, focus, confidence and diligence. Needless to add, the same traits played a major role in her academic, personal and professional success. 

A fascinating conversation comes to my mind during my time in the USA where I used to actively volunteer in my daughter´s school. One day, the school Principal, and father of two boys made a surprising remark that caught my attention. He said he was strongly in favour of the idea of making school children clean up the school bathrooms. But he couldn't do so knowing fully well that there would be a long trail of law suits filed against him and the school. He said that was how his father raised up his siblings and him. That was, in fact the good old fashioned American way of parenting. And, he carries forward that legacy today, making his two sons learn their lessons the hard way. Yes, by scrubbing the bathtub, bathroom floors and walls and the commode squeaky clean! He says they do the wonderful trick of keeping children in their place, teaching them the dignity of labour and respect for parental authority. 

I had a similar experience with another American man in Milwaukee who went on a nostalgic trip down the memory lane, recollecting the good old days of his childhood. When his Mama and Papa didn´t have any care in the world! All they did was breed many children who also served as free labour to them. Mama and Papa enjoyed the good life. And the children? Well, they enjoyed life as well. They went out into the woods, to collect wood for Mama to light up the kitchen stove fires, while she cooked whatever Papa and the kids gathered from the forest. Yes, fresh, free organic food everyday. After helping their Mama and Papa, the children would play gleefully well, into darkest hours of the night. Yes, there were the dangers of snakes, coyotes  and grizzly bears but that didn´t seem to bother their parents or any of them much. They were quite adept at handling these dangers themselves, you see!   

Parenting in our ´Sandwich Generation´ era 

The number of offsprings drastically reduced from the average of 10-15 children to 3-5 children at the max. I was the eldest of the three children. Life was definitely more comfortable than it was for my parents when they were children. We did not have to wake up early and expected to run the home. My mother had a life outside home and family unlike my grandmother. She pursued her higher studies, doing her M.Phil,after my birth. Her career was important to her just as much as we were. My father was extremely supportive of all her career dreams. 

We were slightly more indulged and pampered than my parents were. My mother did not let me enter the kitchen at all asking me to focus my energies on my studies instead. My father bought me tons of English classic literature books to read. Watching movies or television was not taboo. 

Education was extremely important and there were no major distractions and temptations for us except for the Idiot Box. However, it was strictly limited to 30 minutes on weekdays, usually a Chitrahaar on Wednesday nights or a Doordarshan serial, like Byomkesh Bakshi or Udaan and 2-3 hours on a Saturday night, which was usually a much anticipated Hindi movie blockbuster. Once in a month, we would catch the latest movie on the big screen. Burgers, pizzas and thick creamy milk shakes were non-existent during most of our childhood. We only knew of its existence in the colourfully illustrated Archies Comics wondering what it tasted like in reality. 

We were happy playing gilli-danda, hopscotch and cricket in every galli and nukkad of the city. We ran outside carefree and made our own friends, unassisted by our parents. We had our own colourful childhood life, distinct from our parents. We certainly did not have them breathing down our necks, assisting and checking on us via cell phones.

Birthdays were a simple affair compared to the ones celebrated today. We gladly distributed candies to our classmates which were potentially a choking hazard but no one seemed to care those days. This was followed by a simple birthday celebration at home. My mother would recycle and cut old greeting cards into birthday decorative items, make our favourite food and be glad to provide us a special birthday experience compared to the non-existent birthday celebrations she had in her childhood. 

We moved from Doordarshan to the bold and spicy network of Star and Zee channels. Technology invaded our lives towards the later part of our adolescence. And our lives were never the same again. Some of us followed tradition and married according to our parent´s wishes. While some of us fell in love and chose our partners. In many ways, we were the Sandwich generation. 

Parenting in the Millennial Generation era 

I remember pregnancy was a huge and special momentous occasion for me. I had a ball flaunting my big tummy ball to the world in pretty maternity wear and posing excitedly in all different angles for photo shoots. 

Much to the amusement of my father who remarked cheekily to my mother, "For this generation, pregnancy is like the 8th wonder of the world. They think they are the only special creatures to have become pregnant in the entire history of mankind. By the way, how come you did´nt do all this?"

He failed to understand what this big fuss was all about - flaunting the baby bump, maternity fashion, posting week to week tummy updates, maternity photographs and all that jazz. 

Anyway, it is what it is!

Welcome to the world of yummy Mummies, hot Daddies and Kidults! Where the incomes have doubled and the offsprings have dwindled to 1-3 children! 

Peer pressure and being cool and popular has caught on children from a very young age. Children as young as 6 and 7 years demand the latest version of the iPhone. Leisure time is interacting with Talking Tom, watching Barbie in her Dreamhouse or tuning into Netflix after work. Socialising is via Facebook, Watsapp and Twitter. 

Parental over-indulgence has taken an all-time level of high. Parents are wilfully serving their children like never before. From splurging on the most priciest and branded newborn wear to fancy nursery rooms to buying all the latest toy collection and gadgets to enrolling them in the most happening sport or leisure activities, parents today are singularly focussed on giving nothing but the best for their children. 

But the fundamental question to be answered is - At what cost? Many parents today fail to realize that it is often at the cost of their own future as well as their kids who they unconditionally love. With the increasing pervasiveness of Technology, social isolation, economic inequality and poverty, depression and substance abuse amongst young Millenials are at an all time high compared to any other generation in the past. No surprise there, that the Millenials are officially the most stressed and anxious generation in History.

It is indeed time now for us, parents to hit the ´Pause´button and retrospect back into our past and see if we have forgotten an important missing link or two along our path of Parenthood. 

The Dangling Conversation

I did just that. I went in search for the missing link.

I asked my mother  if there was anything she did not like about the way her parents brought her up. She said there was nothing she could think of and that she was only grateful for all that they did for her. 

She recollected how easy parenting was in those days and not considered to be challenging at all. They feared, loved, respected and looked after their parents in their old age. Like there is a good fat and bad fat in the nutritional terminology, there was also a healthy dose of ´good fear´in the children towards their parents in those times. Children were fearful of their parents, extremely obedient, not demanding in any way. They didn't know more than their parents and didn´t need much either in order to be happy or satisfied in life. All this meant that the family and household functioned smoothly like a well-lubricated bicycle wheel. My mother complained that today parents fear their children.

I counter argued with my mother that bringing up one child today is equal to raising up 5 children in the past. I told her that the times are very different today. Our children are born in to technology. We are bombarded with so much information and news about lurking pedophiles or pesticide laden food and more. We have to be cautious and vigilant of our children today, I strongly argued.  

Some marriages survive while some crumble. Divorces are on the rise. The norms are changing and being redefined. Broken families..dysfunctional families..interracial families and more! The traditional definition of a family has drastically changed. A far cry from the olden days, where there were two clear gender types - male and female and only one kind of sexuality, heterosexuality! Today´s generation comes with its own set and baggage of new rules, definitions and changing norms of gender and sexuality. 

Finally, The Missing Link! 

Parenting is challenging than ever before in the history of Mankind. My mother certainly understood the plight and situation of today´s parents. She also agreed that the ´Old must make way for the New´. At the end of the day, every generation knows and does what is best for their children. 

Nonetheless, there are some golden nuggets of parenting wisdom and practices are as timeless as the Universe itself. The forgotten missing link in today´s parenting styles, as I would like to call it. 

1. Stop Parenting out of Fear 

Today´s parenting is largely driven by a sense of fear. Thanks to rise in information and social media news! Whether it is about lurking pedophiles or pesticide laden food, we have become over-proactive of our children, shielding them from every possible danger. The irony of it is that crime rate today is much lower than it was ever before in the history of mankind. In America alone, the crime rate is the lowest in the last 40 years. The older generations were not bombarded with horrifying breaking news and fearful social media updates even though the crime rates were much higher. And so, their parenting style was not driven by paranoia or fear. 

We fear that our kids will be molested. We fear that our kids will have to sacrifice happiness in exchange for a successful career. We fear that they will turn out to be ordinary far more than their failure. We fear that if we are not enrolling them in that expensive international school or tons of sport or music classes, they will be left behind in the rat race. We fear the word ´punishment´leave alone enforcing them. We do not know how to effectively discipline our children fearing it may hurt them more than doing any good. We fear seeing tears in their eyes and them, feeling hurt and disappointment. We fear we are never ever good enough for our own kids. 

Please note that I am not advocating being careless with regard to our children´s safety. We have to be vigilant of our children´s safety online and offline. My point is simply that our parenting approach should not be driven primarily by fear. 

2. Show some ´Tough Love´ to your Children 

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)

“Lalayet panca-varsani, Dasa-varsani tadayet

Prapte tu sodase varse, Putram mitravad acaret” (From Niti Sastra)

The first verse from the Bible is self-explanatory. The second verse in Sanskrit is taken from Neeti Sastra. It tells parents to be gentle with children until they are five years, then be extremely strict until they are 16 years and after 16 years, to be a friend to them.  

Today, parents are afraid of using the term ´punishment´leave alone enforce it, fearing the damaging effects on their delicate children´s psyche and mental well-being. In the previous generations, parents were least concerned about the happiness or mental health of children and if their behaviour or actions were the cause of it. They were more focused on inculcating moral values and ethics in their children. If punishment was one of the ways to set their children back on track, so be it. There was no second guessing on that one. If a slap on the cheek worked for our grandparents, it could work for some of our over-indulged kids as well. They may cry and curse us today but will surely thank us for doing so many years later. 

3. Inculcate in them a Moral Compass 

In a world of degrading moral values and ethics, it really pays to teach our children that things are to be used and not people. Often, in the pursuit of providing material prosperity, comfort and success, parents forget to inculcate moral values in their children. Parents should be firm and not let media and popular culture dictate values to our children. While they should definitely not be judgemental, they should be taught at home, by the parents, the clear difference between the ´right´and ´wrong´ and the ´good´and ´bad´. 

4. Stop Over-Protecting your Child

If you look at the Western world in order to learn from their mistakes, you would be amazed at the shocking rise of kidults who get a kick out of Pokemon Go, Snapchat and the likes. In a recent UK survey, uber cool Brit kidults don't think they are grown up until they are 33 years. So what that means is you have young adults who behave and live like teenagers well into their thirties, still  financially dependent on their parents, unable to keep a job, buy a home or raise a family. Today, it´s cool and smart to be a kidult apparently. According to the American Psychological Association, the Millennials are the most stressed lot than any other generation in the past. 

This is where we can learn parenting from our ancestors. Our grandparents did not give a damn if our parents got hurt and bruised on the playground or even broke a bone or two. They rubbed and kissed their wounds away and got on with Life. Children in the past were responsible and accountable for their actions and its consequences including failure and disappointments. Every one has to undergo the bitter life lessons learnt the hard way and that is the only way to cope and come out stronger. Our children will quickly learn that the life is not fair and will learn to adapt accordingly.  So, do them a favour by letting them cry it out and move on ahead in Life. 

5.  Say ´No´to Over-Indulgence 

The last thing the world needs is over-indulged brats. It is not uncommon to see parents splurge on lavish and unique ´Pinterest inspired´ birthday theme parties. It is equally not uncommon to see children being dissatisfied or annoyed at the quality of birthday gifts received by the guests, expecting each and every gift to match up to the ones given by their parents.

There is a heightened sense of false entitlement and disillusionment with Life itself amongst the young Millenials, when the reality doesn't meet their tall expectations. Children today are bestowed with luxuries and seldom have to earn for them. They don´t know the value of hard work and money. Our children are not unique snowflakes and nor are we. In the age of selfies, social media and oversharing, we have to be mindful that our narcissism does not rub on to our children as well. 

Our ancestors had no time or money to splurge on frivolous extracurricular and sports activities. Most of their children were not going to be professional athletes or famous singers anyway. So, why even bother! Besides, they had to work, drink, eat and be merry in their own lives while saving up some dough for their old age too. The children can fend for themselves when they were adults.

Parents in the past generations were smart not to overspend and wise to plan for their retirement as well. Today´s parents are blinded by their love for their children that they splurge on unnecessary luxuries, save up for their children´s pricey education often at the cost of their retirement savings. Many of the parents today do not expect their children to look after them in their old age, making it all the more vital for them to be smart about their retirement savings and future as well. Lest, they get a raw deal and find themselves at the short end of the stick. Your children may or may not become a famous Soccer player or Olympian or Nobel Prize winner, but you will surely get old. So, enjoy like your ancestors did when they were young and save up some for your retirement years. 

6. Teach Children the Importance of Gratitude 

Finally, teaching children the important lesson of gratitude and seeing the brighter side of life will help them tide through many of the challenges that life flings in their direction. It will help them to count their blessings, be grateful and contended in their lives. 

(This article was published in mycity4kids. You can click here for the article. https://www.mycity4kids.com/parenting/beauty-and-the-mom/article/parenting-then-and-now-is-there-a-missing-link-part-1)