Are Today's Parents Better Than Their Parents?

'I will be a better parent than my parents'. Is that the goal you've set for yourself? Well, how about being a ‘different’ parent, instead? Psychologist Mahalakshmi Rajagopal shares some insights.

By Mauli Buch

Are Today's Parents Better Than Their Parents?
Parenting across generations

If we look back and think, most of us would be surprised by how much we have changed after becoming parents. While some of these changes would have helped us become a better person, some may raise questions in our mind. One such change is the tendency to compare our parenting skills and styles with that of those around us, especially our parents.

We do this forgetting the fact that how we raise our children is considerably influenced by how we were ourselves brought up, by our parents. This is especially true in India. At the same time, while growing up, we imbibed new ideas and developed our own beliefs — which, in turn, reflect in our parenting. This raises the question, "Is it okay to compare our parenting skills with those of our parents?"

To answer this, we, at ParentCircle, engaged in a candid conversation with Mahalakshmi Rajagopal, psychologist and founder of Sahayam Intervention Centre, New Delhi. Excerpts from a chat: 

Do you believe that parents of the current generation are better at parenting than their parents?

I am not sure if ‘better’ is the right word. I think ‘different’ would be more appropriate. There is bound to be a lot of difference in parenting styles because, with every generation, there is a change in belief systems, which form the very foundation of parenting. For example, I grew up in a family that was autocratic and dominated by my father. He was the breadwinner, head of the family and the final decision-maker. So, automatically, I had little freedom to voice my thoughts. Also, when I was growing up, it was acceptable to treat boys and girls differently. It wasn't clear what a son or a daughter could do; what a son ‘need not’ do and what a daughter ‘should’ do. For example, I was supposed to be home by 6:00 p.m. while my brother could stay out till 10:00 p.m. But, the situation is different today. As a parent, I am fine with my daughters staying out late. So, using the word ‘different’ makes more sense.

Why do you think parenting is different today?

Today’s children are getting better opportunities to voice their experiences, ideas and needs. But again, as I said before, I don’t think we should use the term ‘better’. The change we see today is due to changes in various spheres, such as our belief systems, attitude towards the girl child, mothers being treated as having equal rights in parenting, and in some cases, as breadwinners. Our thinking has changed. This reflects in our parenting as well.

Surely, there are parenting styles and ideas that new parents learned from their parents and still follow.

Of course, there are many things that we learned from our parents and continue to follow throughout our lives. For example, I follow the value system my parents instilled in me — integrity, tolerance, and kindness. I believe in these irrespective of the changes in my perceptions and attitude. Also, we do follow in our parents’ footsteps when it comes to certain practices such as religion or respect for elders. A simple example is lighting the lamp in front of the deity. My mom used to do it religiously, every morning and evening. I follow the same ritual every morning and expect my children to do so as well. However, I don't do so in the evening as I reach home only by 8:30 p.m. So, with time, we stopped lighting the lamp in the evening. Eventually, it boils down to your decision on whether you want to keep following a particular practice or not.

When it comes to behaviour, do you feel young parents mirror their parents — subconsciously or otherwise?

Behaviours are always learned and this is a part and parcel of life and growing up. Most of our behaviours — including in parenting — are a result of what we learned from our primary caregivers generally our parents, or sometimes, teachers who influenced us hugely. However, the moment we realise that something in our behaviour isn't right, we should change it. For example, an individual grows up listening to abusive words from his parents. Chances are, he may imbibe the habit, even though he hates it and abuse his children. However, the moment he realises that he is following a wrong practice, he should unlearn it and learn positive parenting.

So, when parents become aware of a problem, they should ask themselves if they are happy persisting with it. Also, persisting with a practice is not only about being happy, but also about asking ourselves if what we are doing is beneficial. If the answer is ‘No’, then we should opt to change.

According to you, what are the things today's parents rarely imbibe from the previous generation?

Belief systems: As I mentioned earlier, belief systems change from generation to generation. My beliefs on how to raise an ideal daughter are very different from that of my parents.

Rigidity: Previous generations were rigid in following certain practices. For example, taking a bath first thing in the morning and not eating before doing so, not consuming onions and garlic, so on. The new generation is more relaxed when it comes to following such practices.

The older generation may, at times, vocally object to certain parenting practices. How can today's parents deal with such issues?

Certain things can just be ignored. I don’t mean that new parents should be arrogant, but it is best to avoid getting into an argument. Again, let’s draw from my own example. I listen to my mother on a lot of things that make sense to me. At times, I do try to reason with her, but sometimes, it is futile to argue. For instance, my mother does not approve of the way my daughters dress and she often tells me so. But, as I am not convinced that the way they dress is inappropriate, I choose to not do anything about it. Also, I know that no amount of explaining or reasoning with my mother would help; for she cannot change her ideas at the age of 73. There is no way I can get both sides to meet. So, leaving a few issues alone is the only option.

The bottomline is that you cannot really be a perfect parent, no matter what you do. But you can try to constantly evolve and learn, through your parenting journey. 

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