She came to pick her little daughter up from my language development class. And she looked harassed. Now she is normally not a mother to look like that, so I asked her what was wrong.
“Sunita,” she said, almost in tears, “I feel like such a bad mother. I don’t know what to do”
“Why? What happened?” I asked surprised. She is generally one of the most sensible mothers I know. “Riya starts her appraisals tomorrow and I am terrified that she will do badly,” she said.
“But she is only in the first grade. And these are the first appraisals of the year. So why are you so worried? And even if she doesn’t do well, it’s just a school appraisal. Why are you so tense?”
“I was not tense. Her teacher made me tense. She says that Riya does not do anything in class.”
At that moment, Riya piped up. “I learnt vowels in school today. You put an before apple and elephant because a, e, i ,o and u are vowels. But you will say a book or a fan.”
“See, she is learning. Isn’t that what matters?”
“I thought it was. But all the other mothers have even stopped looking after the home to sit and take up their kids studies. Their husbands help in the house. I cannot afford to sit with their lessons all the time like that.”
“Do you want to?” I asked, “And why?’
“I don’t want to …..but then when I see how much the other kids are doing , I start feeling guilty. Even her teacher was critical of me as a mother.”
“Tell me, is Riya happy? Is Riya healthy? Does she talk to you and share everything that happens in school? Is she friendly and sociable? Doesn’t she love going for her dance and drawing classes and as you said, she hates missing our language classes.”
“Yes, I know and I felt that I was doing a good job till I realised what the other parents are doing.”
“And what are they doing?” I asked. “Turning their kids into assembly line people. Into school at 3 years and out at 18; all of them with the same mindset, the same ambition, the same goals. Get a good job that will pay me well for which I have to slog my whole life, live the same life as everybody else and finally die.”
“They will never have a single original thought in their heads. They will never be independent learners because Mom or Dad is sitting next to them controlling and directing their homework, their projects, their lives.”
“What you have done is you have allowed your kids to chose. You do not tell them not to go for dance class because they have an exam tomorrow. You do not sit with them the whole time they are studying. You are teaching them so much more than school will ever teach them. You are teaching them to be independent learners, not just students. You are teaching them to be responsible. You are teaching them that life is meant to be more than just chores. While other parents are preparing their kids to earn a living, you are teaching them how to live.”
“Thanks, Sunita,” she smiled, looking vastly relieved. “I feel so much better now. I guess, being a parent is such a responsibility, that we are always second guessing ourselves, especially when we are doing things that no one else is doing. As they say, kids do not come with instructions booklets; it’s trial and error all the way.”
As she left, I couldn’t help thinking of the many parents who want to do something different with their kids, but buckle down to the system and become “normal” parents with “normal” kids.
When we become parents we are given a gift. A gift that is so unique and beautiful. Every child that we have is precious not only because they are our kids, but because there is nobody else like them in the world. I have a pair of identical twins, and believe me; even they are so different from each other.
And what do we do with that precious gift, we immediately try to change it and make it just like the millions. If you were to own something unique like say, the Kohinoor, what would you do? Would you change it and make it just like any other diamond? Or would you do your best to ensure that its inner fire sparkled? Then why don’t we let our kids sparkle? Why do we dull their fire? Why do we not let them be what they are born to be?
There is a reason why kids do not come with instruction manuals. That’s because each child has to be brought up differently. Each child is different. One manual would not work at all.
You as a parent have a choice. You get to chose whether you want your child to be one in a million or just another kid in the system. YOU CHOOSE! Because the kids can’t. And by the time they are old enough to realise that they could have been different, it’s generally too late. The years of conditioning have taken their toll. They are too weary to even try.
So what can you do? First of all realise that getting good marks in school is not everything. A school can make your child study. Only you can help your child learn. You can allow your child to explore different things, which are not necessarily academic. Is your child passionate about dance or drama or drawing or even cooking, encourage him to learn as much as he can. You never know, that might just be their ticket to fame. But more important, it will give them something that will add meaning to their life, something that will flavour an otherwise insipid existence and make it delicious, a life worth living!