The Instagram algorithm has somehow figured out that I am a terrible parent and now all the parenting advice that’s coming my way is killing me. Until recently, I thought I was faring well as a mother but in this age of post-Instagram parenting I am beginning to realise that not only am I inept at it, I also have the psychological profile of a toddler.
Suddenly, from self-appointed life coaches to psychologists and spiritualists, everybody has something to say on the subject of raising perfect children. All these words of wisdom might help a new parent but to someone like me, who is done raising teenagers, these posts spell doom. Aren’t you supposed to feel confident as a parent, aren’t you supposed to cultivate positive self-talk, aren’t you supposed to embrace your foibles because you are only human and you are designed to make mistakes?
According to the parenting experts on social media, apparently not. For instance, one of these ubiquitous handles advises that you must never ask your kids to “stop whining”. You are supposed to say instead, “Let’s brainstorm some ideas on how to handle this.” Imagine going through life without ever asking your kids to “stop whining” because god knows what incalculable damage it may do to their sense of self.
When your child is perched precariously on a tree, another post suggests, you shouldn’t yell, “Get down from the tree or you’ll break your neck,” because that’s leading by fear. Instead, you are guided to lead by love by saying: “I know you want to climb that tree. I want to make sure you are safe. Let’s find a different tree with stronger branches.” Excellent advice. Presumably, if the frail branch snaps during your psychologically balanced speech, you will at least have the satisfaction of having “led with love” as you attend to your child’s fracture.
I belong to Gen X. This means that I was born in the 1970s and am a child of the generation known as Baby Boomers. When I was growing up, parenting wasn’t a style that got discussed much. I do not recall seeing books with titles such as Positive Parenting or Raising Happy Kids lying around. There was a default setting that most of our mums and dads came with and it had authoritative written all over it. Our parents laid down some ground rules and we obeyed those rules because if we didn’t, punishment followed. The rod was rarely spared, bedtimes were fixed, good manners were expected, and good academic results were demanded. Our 16th birthdays did not bring us greater liberties, we were taught to be grateful for the smallest of privileges, and while our parents were friendly with us when the occasion called for it, they weren’t exactly our friends. Not too much fuss was made over our natural talents nor too much coaching given to tap the not-so-natural ones out of us. If we felt sad, we were allowed to; if we felt defeated, we were allowed to. And if we lost, we became losers, we had to deal with it. There was nary a parent that came charging in through your school gates to demand why their child hadn’t made it to the football team. If you got left out, you licked your wounds and carried on.
In some positive ways, my generation is more aware of the pitfalls of parenting. We have had access to literature on child psychology, and possibly more insights into the working of young minds. Having grown up under the highly popular reward or punishment system, we are careful to let our children feel loved unconditionally. We occasionally got whacked as kids when we crossed the line but most of my friends and I have rarely raised our hands on our children, although I cannot claim to never have felt the itch to plant my palm firmly on my children’s cheeks.
As it is, our generation has been induced to pussyfoot around our children because if they become insecure, under-confident, unambitious, insincere or underperforming adults, then it’s going to be entirely our fault. The irony, though, is that we have always had to operate from a place of fear. While growing up, we were afraid of our parents and now, as parents, we are afraid of our children.
Recently, a post on Instagram informed me that if my child rejects her dinner, I am supposed to respond with: “Thanks for telling me. Isn’t it great that we have all this food available to us, though? So grateful.”
I want to know who speaks to their children like that. Queen Elizabeth II perhaps, but certainly not us common folk, because I am more likely to say: “This is all you are getting today, I am afraid. The cooking for the day is done.”
With all the idealism and perfection being imposed on me, I fear I will be raising inauthentic children who will have high self-esteem but might have to grow up in a motherless world because I for sure will die from the burden of having to be consistently polite to them.
All I have understood about being a mother is that I am supposed to make our daughters feel safe and loved. I am to validate their emotions and encourage them to be in touch with their feelings. When my authority is questioned, I am to let my husband take over. I have realised that “Your father said so” is a foolproof way of raising children.
I often apologise to my children when I have made a mistake, and, being human, there are times when I have sulked with them too. I have come to accept that it’s all right if I cannot raise perfect adults by giving them a perfect childhood, all I know is I am doing my best and that living with a flawed but confident parent may teach them a little more about life than living with a perfect one.
Shunali Khullar Shroff is a Mumbai-based writer. Her latest book is Love In The Time Of Influenza.