I have been told that Indian parents make life too easy for their kids. Critics have also helpfully noted the many other things we do wrong. We discipline too much and don’t let children have a childhood, but we also don’t deal appropriately with their tantrums. We have outsourced parenting to gadgets, but don’t do enough to get children ready for a digital future. We read too little to them and read all the wrong books when we do.
Observers have also pointed out that we are raising rootless children who celebrate Halloween and have Hebrew or French names that all sound the same.
I could go on but I’m exhausted. As are all parents.
Parenting is facing unprecedented scrutiny. All of it is based on a parenting manual that has a list of universally agreed principles around child rearing and all but parents have access to it.
This is how you know that we, as parents, are always either doing too little or too much of something. And, it is usually people without kids who are keeping track of these things and dutifully informing us. Just as well, because they obviously have the time.
Of course, there are also parents who think that they know better, but they get their comeuppance sooner or later. Parenting is nothing if not humbling, so they don’t annoy me too much.
Indian parents have been clearing roadblocks out of their children’s way for years, when they can, and this is hardly new. Paying for management quota seats and investing lakhs of rupees in coaching institutes have been around since I went to school. Chores for children or paying your way through college are concepts that are alien to us. So no, this isn’t new.
Is it ‘too much’ or just a nervous, desperate response to the world we live in? Part of what drives parents is the fact that our education system is in a shambles. Our universities, our admission tests and the sheer volume of applications for that one elusive seat mean that the odds are firmly stacked against your kid. Schools are unable to prepare kids for an international education or even the applications that are focused on writing — the one skill education in India lacks.
University cut-offs have shot beyond 99 per cent, with the best colleges rejecting children with a ‘disappointing’ 95 per cent. Hard work alone doesn’t cut it here — the child who scores a 99 hasn’t worked harder than the one who scored a 95.
Our governments also fail us — forcing those of us who can to privatise every aspect of our lives — healthcare, education, housing, security, transport, water and now, even air. You’re likely to have done so too. This costs money and access. In the absence of state-funded social security, decent public provisioning for health or education — and the less said about police and courts the better — the costs of not succeeding in India are very high.
Now, whether all these attempts to make life ‘easy’ are actually doing so, can be debated. Of course, it would be ideal to teach a man to fish than to just hand him a fish. But, is everyone only teaching their man or are they diving in and pulling out fish after fish and handing it over to him? What are the costs of not being able to catch a fish the first time? Do you get a second chance? How many fish really are there and how many fishing rods already in the water? Do you go hungry if you can’t catch a fish?
I’ll stop with the fish.
I am aware that this isn’t fair; that it perpetuates inequalities, rewards privilege and excludes those on the fringes. Parents know this. They just don’t have the courage to let their child suffer the consequences of a world that he or she has had no part in creating.
I have no doubt that letting your child fail, and giving her the skills to deal with setbacks is valuable, even critical. But given the world we operate in, parents don’t always have the stomach for it.
I don’t believe that Indian parents are making life “too easy” for their kids. They are responding to their circumstances and doing exactly what they feel they need to, what generations of parents before them have done and what you will do if you were in their shoes.
If you still think you can do better, will you please allow me to hand over my five-year-old to you so that I can go on a much deserved holiday?
(Amee Misra is a development economist and the author of Stop Licking My Arm)
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Updated Date: Apr 12, 2019 14:46:05 IST