We all need someone whom we can share our feelings with- frustrations of work, issues in the relationship, family-problems, financial struggle, and so on.
I have been born and brought up in a joint-family in Allahabad, a small city in Northern India. There has been not a single day in my life as a child when I have not found my mother or a closed one at home waiting for me when I came back home from the school/college. If I had a rough day, someone was always there with whom I could share my feelings with. I now realize how big a privilege that is.
We all need someone whom we can share our feelings with - frustrations of work, issues in the relationship, family-problems, financial struggle, and so on. Sometimes a single partner fulfills all our emotional needs, and sometimes we need different partners to share different stuff. When we are an adult and grown up, we know who we need to reach out to for what sorts of issues.
But for a child these days, it's not that easy. If a child wants to share his/her feelings, he/she doesn't know who he/she can trust enough. He/she also doesn't know if his/her feelings are normal or not. And sometimes even though he/she desperately needs someone, he/she may not have anyone around he/she could go to and pour her heart out.
Lifestyle has significantly changed for all of us. For my mom and her mom, their lives had similar patterns and purpose. Simple education. Got married by the age of 20. No traveling. No stress related to traveling or work. Taking care of the family has been the sole purpose of their lives. Full stop!
It's not a similar case for my mom and me, and it will never be a similar case for me and my daughter. I am a working woman. I solo travel once a month for work or leisure. I am independent and I take all decisions of my life on my own.
I am scared how am I ever gonna raise a child in such lifestyle. Job opportunities have led us to migrate to metro cities far from our hometown. My child would not have a joint family if my husband's family would also be somewhere in a remote city. Some of these thoughts really scare me often.
Many of my married friends are living in exactly the same dilemma. They are trying hard everyday to cope with home and work. Their kids are being raised in a nuclear setup where they have no one to love or fight with other than their parents who may or may not be available all the time. I feel this kind of setup is making our kids to become an extremely introvert, reserved, angry, anxious, abnormal and sometimes even a sociopath child. There are other factors responsible too for the child's abnormal behaviors which could be linked to mother's stress levels, use of contraceptive pills, lifestyle during her pregnancy etc. But I am leaving that part from current discussion for now.
Sometimes I also feel I have no right to judge the parents or kids. I have not even participated in raising any child, let alone giving birth and parenting. But I am deeply concerned; and so I do want to explore further on this to improve my own understanding on this topic and contribute from my experience.
I have had 98 girls in my classroom during my two years in Teach For India fellowship. I interacted with almost each of them on a daily basis. I could tell from a girl's face if she is having any trouble at home or classroom. Things that may seem so simple to us can be extremely disturbing topics for our kids. They get disturbed even if there is a silly fight with their friends. The pressure of studies, or problems at home can add up more and affect their mental health. Using my fellowship experience, I am sharing a few parenting advice here:
If you think your child is not sharing a lot of stuff with you, it might be because you were not available earlier when he/she wanted to. But do make up for that as it's never too late. Spend time with your child in stupidest and simplest activities. Let them know that you are there for him/her all the time when he/she needs it.
Don't try to be your child's master by telling him/her what to do. He/she won't do in that case. Be his/her friend. Be someone who he/she can play and fight with.
Don't every over perform in your parenting job. Do only as is necessary. A child needs to play with other children. Provide them an environment where they have friends of her age in the neighborhood. Also do not let your child take you for granted. Don't make yourself available to him/her all the time. Let him/her value your efforts and let him/her show love to you every once in a while.
You cannot abstain your child from junk food, sweets, television, phones thinking you are doing best for him/her. Your child would pick up on all of this someday or other, at some other place if not home. So make sure that you are not overprotecting and thereby making him/her an ignorant person. Let him/her access things and simultaneously teach him/her to be disciplined.
It's human nature to make comparisons. But don't do comparison with your children. All children are unique with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. Studies say that if a man and woman give birth to 300 billion kids, even then they all could be extremely different from each other.
Don't get carried away in the society's pressure of producing and raising a perfect child. No body's is. In fact the more imperfect your child may seem today, more are the chances that your child would turn out to be a unique and smart as an adult. You never know!
I believe the rule of the thumb is:
Do not ignore a single disturbing behavior of your child.
I have seen most parents become so protective of their children that they unconsciously, blindly ignore all abnormal behavior of their children. They just don't want to accept and admit that their child could have any problem. Make sure you are not being one such a parent. If you find any abnormal behavior in your child, or anyone else tells you anything about that, please do take it seriously and handle it with tenderness and objectivity.
I have a few suggestions from my experience which I would like to share here:
Children show how they feel by the way they do things as well as by what they do. Spend a lot of time observing what your child does when she is in group and when he/she is alone. What kind of drawings he/she makes or stories he/she tells. If you find any disturbing pattern, do note them.
Do take a few trusted friends' opinion. Ask them if they know why your child is displaying any disturbing behavior. They may know something which could help you understand why your child is troubled.
There is never any harm in going to a doctor and sharing your concerns. If there are any issues with your children, the sooner you seek help, the easier it would be to treat them. If you ignore any issues for a long time, it can get riskier with time.
Last but not least, I honestly feel that more than children, sometimes we as parents need counselling, love, support. None of us gets any parenting education even though it's a hell tough, scary and life-time job. None of us can be an excellent parent at all times. We all fail at something or other. Do not hesitate to seek advice from your friends or counselors as and when needed. You are a kid yourself deep at heart. It can make mistakes and can certainly improve with right support.
There is a proverb in China,
"It takes a wholesome village or community to raise a child; Let alone the family."
So if you are doing this job all by yourself, be proud. Don't let this parenting job take a toll on you. You deserve to celebrate yourself everyday!
PS- Some of my thoughts are inspired by recent conversation with Mr. Gopi, founder of Little Bluejays Care center in Bangalore, which provides counseling to children who need special care. Do feel free to connect with him for any further help!
Swati is the General Manager of Social Venture Partners (SVP) Hyderaad, where she builds powerful partnerships with non-profit organisations to tackle India's most pressing social challenges. SVP is the world's largest network of engaged philanthropists, with over 3,200+ investor-donors across more than 40 cities worldwide. Swati is a Teach For India Fellow - she has taught 100 girls for two years in a slum community in New Delhi. She has previously worked with Hedge Funds for four years as a consultant in New Delhi and New York. Swati holds a bachelor degree in Computer Science from the Institute of Engineering and Rural Technology.