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Children And Their Parenting

Parenting is a dynamic and an interactive process. The feature by Dr S. Anandalakshmy on parenting applies not only for parents, including adoptive parents, but also for older siblings, caregivers, teachers, nurses.

Children And Their Parenting

I begin by drawing the attention of the reader that "to parent" is a verb in the active voice. Parenting is a dynamic and interactive process. Grammatically, it falls into the present continuous tense. It is also a term that is released from any biological constraint. One does not necessarily have to be a biological parent in order to do parenting and one can parent persons other than one's own offspring. With this broadened perspective, the messages in the text that follows are expected to have pertinence not only for parents, including adoptive parents, but also for older siblings, caregivers, teachers, nurses and several others who take on a parenting role or responsibility.

From my long experience of research and counseling in Child Development, I have found some attitudes to children that persist across region, economic status and social class.

Many of these entrenched attitudes must be examined. One of them is that children are like soft clay, to be moulded into the shapes that the parents choose. This approach must be changed. The child is not the property of the parents or a moveable asset owned by them. Parenting involves being affectionate and available to the children, ensuring their health, safety and education, nourishing and cherishing them as they grow into adulthood. This sentiment is best summed up in the words of Kahlil Gibran in his poem, "The Prophet".

Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

It is good to let the child have some autonomy in choice of food, toys, stories, activities and companions. The child's age, level of functioning and his or her temperament will be the indicators for the autonomy that is optimal for a particular child. Parents must use their discretion to ensure that there is no excess, no imbalance. Firmness and fairness in dealing with a child go a long way in conveying a sense of a stable world to the child.

I have come across parents who feel that child rearing is a serious business, not to be trifled with. They are goal-driven and tend to conform rigidly to rules, schedules and procedures. In my view, unyielding attitudes, however good, are frightening. They must have some "give", a little leeway and flexibility in scheduling. A sense of humour (the ability to see the absurdity of one's own actions, or the funny side of things) is a wonderful asset for parents. When parenting becomes enjoyable, it is good both for the parents and the children. A parent can and should offer guidance and direction, but not try to fit the child into a pre-fixed pattern.

Parents feel that their children must achieve the top rank in everything they do, without considering for a minute, that such an ambition is totally unrealistic and entirely unnecessary. The fields may be those the parents could not master in their youth; these become the targets they set for their children. From the child's point of view, a goal that is too difficult to reach remains a constant frustration. The child's sense of self worth should NOT be tied to his level of achievement in academic pursuits or sports. It is true that when a task is done well and gets recognized as such, it is very satisfying to the child and to the parents. The success adds to the child's self-esteem, that magical core of a person. For the child, failure is likely to result in the opposite: a lowering of self-esteem. The most difficult aspect of parenting is to value mastery of tasks and excellence in performance in their children, without devaluing the absence of those qualities. This is the razor's edge of the parenting responsibility.

One way of walking on this razor's edge is for the parent to value the child as a person, not merely as a reflection of one's upbringing or an extension of oneself. As people, we tend to be accepting of our friends and a little intolerant of those related to us. If a parent can think of the child as a friend, who has chosen to enter his family circle, the changed perspective will transform the situation. It is true that the responsibility of parenting cannot be wished away or written off. The child is young, inexperienced, vulnerable and in need of protection and nurturance. The parental temptation to have absolute control over everything the child does or thinks should be stoutly resisted. What enables this to happen easily in most cases is the naturally strong ties of affection. After all, the secret to good parenting lies in that simple word: LOVE.

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