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Opinion | Vision 2020 for parenting

As the pandemic changes our world view, we now have to go back to the drawing board and redefine our parenting goals.

Do your kids a favour and leave them only financial assets as their inheritance. Leave them real estate-free. Photo: FatCamera
Do your kids a favour and leave them only financial assets as their inheritance. Leave them real estate-free. Photo: FatCamera

My vision for parenting in 2020 is far from the literal 20/20 vision we so desire for our kids—desperate for miracles for them. I am kind of short-sighted (no, really I am), and I believe that this compromised vision can solve several parenting problems. Allow me to explain. 

2020 is already changing the way the world views parenting, brought about not just by severely tired and dry eyes from screen overuse, but also due to shifts in perspective. Rules for parenting are many, and so unique that one can follow a philosophy every week and still not run out of them. My vision isn’t a path breaking one, but is honest, authentic, practical, consistent, and one that promotes being true to our unique abilities and realities. 

Shwetambara Sabharwal
Shwetambara Sabharwal

From being categorised as helicopter, tiger and race-to-the-finish line kind of parents, or ambitious, encouraging, conscious and spiritual, whichever you identified with, we find ourselves being catapulted into a new space. We now have to go back to the drawing board and redefine our parenting goals. We have to focus on the issues, pressing at us in this moment, as opposed to what we make of them 20 years from now. Perfect for a short-sighted parent such as me, 2020 has brought some fascinating parenting issues to the forefront. 

For one, it has shaken us out of the herd mentality. The last four to five months, with students have been away from physical classes, have taken away the need for fancy tiffin boxes and bottles, school bags and branded shoes, which we bought in the name of needs, comfort and petty competition. It has also driven away small fights about who invited whom for a playdate, who sat next to whom during lunch. There haven’t been any birthday parties to attend or organise to create evidence of our love and nurturing on social media. 

This close call with a near-fatal viral infection and the potential threat to what we thought was perfection, security and stability, is the rude stroke of nature that has brought us back to basics, and pardon me for being straight, probably some of us to our senses.

There is such power and freedom in accepting our truth. Children observe their parents very closely, and reality, when denied, frustrates and confuses them. They make their own interpretations and weave stories around it. Being denied the truth may make them feel unworthy. To raise a confident, assertive and empathetic generation, honesty is truly the best policy. 

Personally, I have never sneaked out of the house in the day or at night to work or for a party. I have made it a point to inform my kids about where and why am I going—be it for a meeting, a patient-related emergency, a party or just for a coffee with a friend. This doesn’t necessarily prevent every revolt, but it exposes them to my reality. They are free to question and even fight, but not to judge or wonder in confusion about what they did wrong to be left at home. 

I understand that this might not be all that easy for all. Recently, many couples in counselling reported fighting in front of their kids, especially now that there is nowhere to hide. Kids are at home, watching you scream, cry and bang doors.

Uncomfortable truths about parent’s fights, working styles, family issues, consumption of tobacco or alcohol, finances, disease and fatality are being eavesdropped on, or sadly being witnessed first-hand. We are left with no choice but to gently acquaint kids with what struggle feels like and teaching them to deal with this—equipping them with strategies to face challenges. Regulating language and number of details shared is key. “Mumma was angry and was harsh in her words with Dad, and I am not proud of it. I hope to find better ways of expressing my disappointment next time," or “I am sorry you had to hear Dad shout like that," can all be understood when expressed in age-appropriate language. 

Looking beyond our own anxieties and being a keen observer, active listener and paying attention to our little ones is very important. It will give you clues about the need for intervention and support. 

Put your gadgets away, make eye contact, take their little faces in your hands, kiss them and listen to them. They might not remember vivid details of the pandemic when they grow up, but they will cherish this year forever for when their parents held them close, the way the family bonded and how it made them feel. A new study from UCLA suggests that loving parental figures may alter neural circuits in children that could influence health throughout a lifespan. On the flip side, the negative impact of childhood neglect or lack of parental affection may take a mental and physical toll, which can also last a lifetime. Active listening is one of the most important gifts you can give them, especially in these deeply confusing and anxiety-provoking times. 

With work, chores, less help and more stress, this might seem overwhelming. But it can be managed with just a bit of creativity. A jar to leave problem chits in, anxiety drawers, loving notes written on post-its, letters under pillows and emails with pictures, resource links, and just ‘I love you’ messages will provide the extra touch. Honest communication when you need time to work, finish chores, run errands or rest, will only help them adapt to the reality of life. 

I recently told my three years old that I was sad because I had gotten some bad news. She asked me if she could be a happiness doctor like me and make me feel better. When I said yes, she ran for a notepad and pen to make notes like I do and scribbled away hearts, stars and circles, tore it and handed it to me, saying, “You’ll be just fine!"

Tell them you had a hard day at work, an argument with someone, that you regret being rude and wish to make things better. Ask them how they would solve a problem if they found themselves stuck in a dilemma, what would they do when confused about a decision and at times just ask for some alone time to get rest and silence. By doing this, you have them being educated in life skills, the need to be empathetic, solve problems, understand that it’s okay to be vulnerable and succeed in living a healthy life, while being rooted in a solid home environment that is consistent, nurturing and honest. 

Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.

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