I can see the word cliché flashing in your head as you read the title of this post, but I promise you I have a new thought this time. Just hear me out, it is momentous – me having a new thought, that is! And I promise not to beat around the bush but get to it….soon.
My children are deprived of the love and indulgence of their grandparents and extended family. Having grown up with a doting grandfather who I bossed around as a child, I feel my kids are missing out on a huge part of childhood joy. On Grandparent’s Day at school, Sahana and Ryan are generally ‘adopted’ by a friend’s grandparent for the day. It breaks my heart. At sporting events, grandparents of teammates cheer for my two. I miss my parents and my in-laws at these, they too miss out on so much! Skype and other social media have certainly made the world smaller but it is still not the same as getting a kiss from your Grammy or Didya. Living so far away from family is never fun! While rocking a screaming baby and reading to a demanding five-year old, I often wallowed in self-pity. Where were those extra pairs of hands I needed so badly? Why are my kids growing up without the cuddles of grandparents and all those uncles and aunties far away in India! So unfair that I have to raise them alone with the occasional help of my traveling spouse! Doesn’t it take a village? The discipline of us parents needs to be balanced by the indulgent love that the grandparents shower over the little ones. The grandparents get to enjoy the young ones yet don’t have to bear the responsibility of raising them, in most cases. Win win for all! Or is it?
A friend married into a family where the mother-in-law wanted to have a major part in her child rearing technique. If my friend took away the privilege of dessert from her son for bad behavior, the grand mother took the child behind the couch or table, and gave the dessert in stealth, with a warning not to let the mother hear about it. This is just one occasion of many when the parent’s authority is undermined by the extended family, sometimes blatantly and sometimes behind the back, and often times in my country, India, the parents bite their tongue and stay quiet to prevent family discord.
But this is a new age of parenting amongst the middle class world
wide. Parents are becoming more aware of the effectiveness of good parenting, they are hitting books, taking counsel. Often times,they disagree with the method the earlier generation used for child rearing which involved corporeal punishment and also giving in to unreasonable demands. Authoritarian parenting versus more democratic way of parenting that many practice now. The children were seen, not heard a generation earlier. Now the children are not only seen and heard, but they are the center of the parents’ universe around whom their lives revolve.
The older generation, often times, disagree with modern parenting. My parents never utter a single word in front of my children when I am disciplining them, but out of their earshot? Oh, watch out! They make it very clear, I am too harsh and I shouldn’t have taken away privileges for not putting away toys even after the umpteenth reminder. ‘They are only children, they will learn!’ Learn how? If I always pick up after them, I don’t see them learning anything! They need to know that action or inaction in this particular case, has consequences. Anyway, I am very grateful, they don’t undermine my parenting but many are not as lucky as I. I have heard stories of how the mother or the mother in law reprimand the parent, in front of the child, for disciplining him or her. What kind of mixed message is the child getting in that case? The child is the real sufferer here since this is what she understands,’I can make a bad choice, if my mom and dad scold me, grandma or grandpa will scold my parents so my parents don’t have the ultimate authority over me anyway! So why should I obey them?’
I live far away from both sets of the family, and I certainly miss the love and affection my children are deprived of. But I am envied by my Indian counter parts that nobody interferes with my way of dealing with bad behavior. Over the years I have made it very clear to my immediate and extended family that what I say to my children is the final word, nobody can override my decision. But that doesn’t mean I am not berated for being too harsh or tough, but that is all said in love and away from the children’s ears! I can take it! The uncles, aunts and grandparents are such an integral part of children’s life and they provide a such a fantastic sounding board to air out the grievances against those mean parents!
So here’s my two cents, finally! Where is the drumroll? I think, while it takes a village to love and nurture a child, the discipline shouldn’t be left to the village to handle. The village Elders, a.k.a parents should be given the SOLE responsibility of that department. What the Elders decide for the child should be followed by the villagers. Ye or Nay, what say, all?