Written by Team ParentCircle and published on 12 April 2021.
You take pride in being a modern parent. But, when you look back at your own childhood, were your parents just as modern? Does your parenting style reflect your experiences as a child?
This is a story about my family, about how my great-grandparents raised my grandparents, how my grandparents raised my parents, how my parents raised me, and how I plan on raising my children.
When I started writing this, I expected to learn a few random interesting facts about my family and ancestry, but I have found a lot about how parenting styles have evolved through generations.
Let's start with my maternal grandfather, whom we call nanaji. He grew up mostly on his own, reading mystery novels and books on Sikhism from his school library. I was pleasantly surprised by the mystery novels because those were the novels my mother read while growing up, and so did I. However, a bigger mystery for me is how he only managed one proper conversation with his father in his entire life. I asked him if he was afraid of his parents; he immediately answered,(but) I had a lot of respect for them. I had to ask a couple of times more for him to admit that he was afraid. He kept insisting on respect as if he was afraid that I would think horribly of parents who seem to provide for their children but allow little space for connection. I wanted to tell him about the immense respect I have for my parents, and that respect doesn't need to mean distance or fear. But I felt that if I said any of this, I might break his heart a little, or maybe he wouldn't believe me anyway. He says his parents never hit him. He says he had never hit his children either. But they claim otherwise, that he would mostly hit them when they weren't able to give the right answers in homework. I think he has forgotten that he hit them, and he might have forgotten his parents having hit him.
My parents are different from their parents, and they are probably different from most other parents. They had an arranged marriage but somehow managed to fall in love before their wedding. You can tell by looking at them, their flirtations, their smiles, the way they hold each other, that they are still madly in love. I think, to see so much love does something; it adds a pinch of beauty to life because somehow the love between them grows into the love among us. My parents kept me, and my brother close to their bodies and their hearts. I grew up wanting to be with my family.
My parents were lucky enough to find good partners and support each other, but their parents were not as lucky. Their parents were more distant from each other, who didn't show much affection for each other. Perhaps they didn't know or have the resources to be close and used fear and punishments for their children to obey them. I have been on and off afraid of my father, but not very much, and I haven't ever been afraid of my mother. I am glad that these days children are less afraid of their parents and share a stronger connection with them. According to The International Journal of Indian Psychology, parents tend to give more freedom to their children now and are less likely to give punishments (especially physical punishments) in comparison to their older generation counterparts. Moreover, now it's lesser about what comes to parents automatically but more about focusing on parenting as something that can be learned and improved.
I have much to learn before I become a parent, but I have also learned some from my own parents. I would tell my children that not even I can tell them what to do with their bodies, which only belong to them. I would do this because my family's religion was pushed on me and I was told that I couldn't cut the hair growing on my own body and because I have too many friends who weren't told that they had the right to say no. I wouldn't shy away from talking about sex and queerness, because I want my children to be safe and I need them to know that there's nothing wrong with something so human. I want my children to have good parents as I did and more, because no one is perfect, and I can only try to do better than my parents did. Jasmine Kaur, 22, Punjab
Intrigued by Jasmine's story, we reached out to some parents to share their experiences, with questions on various aspects of parenting, to understand how their parents raised them versus how they raise their children. Here are some interesting responses:
As a child: Yes, my parents and I spoke a lot. We discussed books, politics, and other general topics. But, we never spoke about anything that was out of line. Definitely not about sex or sexuality.
As a parent: I take every chance that we stumble upon to educate my daughter about adolescence and her body. For instance, if we watch something on TV, I'd slowly start opening a discussion with her, about infatuation, love, etc. She brushes me off saying, Oh, mom, I don't have any. But I've not spoken about safe sex or anything. Why give them ideas? That said, I'm sure my daughter connects with us better than I did with my parents. The connection is better with my husband, with whom she goes on and on about school fights, friends, and books she reads. It could be because he is a very patient listener!
Thara Ramachandran is a program manager from Kochi, where she lives with her daughter, Harita, husband, and in-laws.
As a child: I was never afraid of my parents but respected them. I think my parents made some rules very clear, which made things easier for us. One of the rules was that we get back home by 6 p.m., and I followed it even as a teen. They wouldn't have made a big fuss even if I had stayed out late, but I knew the rule and went by it. I see it as a good thing. I'd come back home, study, engage with my siblings and participate in household chores. We also had some family time together over pujas and dinner. My dad and I did not talk much. But my mom was open to conversations, although both were busy with their own responsibilities. They'd never speak about smoking or drinking, although it was clearly a big No. In hindsight, it would've helped if they had spoken to me about it. And I remember how my mom freaked out in the beginning when I said I had a girlfriend. Other than that, they always encouraged me in every aspect. They spotted my interest in music and enrolled me in a music class at a young age. My dad would always insist that I take part in any competition or event at school that I thought was interesting. He never stressed about winning. It's the experience he wanted me to enjoy. It has helped me in many ways in life.
As a parent: I think I have a few strict rules for my child. My son is still a toddler, but beating other children (even playfully), shouting, raising his voice against us, etc., is a strict 'No'. My wife and I spend a lot of time with him. We want to make sure he knows from a very young age that we are always there for him and that he can come to us for anything. We will make sure there is room and time for plenty of conversations and fun. As he grows up, I will try and keep the communication between us as open as possible. Since we are beginning the journey early, I'm sure we will have a lot of shared interests. I like outdoor nature activities, and so I guess I will encourage him to take them up. But I would not be crazy scared about his teen years or react the way my mom did when I learn he is in a relationship. I will be calm.
Arun works in naval sciences in Southampton, England, where he lives with his wife and son.
As a child: I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents and in boarding schools. My parents were in Kuwait and Id meet them only during the summer holidays. But, the time I spent with them was great. I don't remember them being harsh in any way. I learned a lot from my parents; they were to me like I am to my daughter with no restrictions and lots of respect for my choices. When I was much younger, they had probably scolded me for my grades, but as I grew up, they let me follow my interests.
As a parent: With my daughter Roshini, I'm more a friend than a father now. When she was very young, we gave her basic guidance on values like punctuality, respectfulness, etc. But there weren't any punishments. I do remember scolding her for not studying well enough when she was in her preteens. But as she grew up, I grew more confident about her choices. Since then, there have only been discussions; no one tells the other what to do. She works in the media industry, is married to the love of her life, and has a head and voice of her own. Both I and my wife are immensely proud of her.
S S Pillai is a warehouse and distribution manager. He lives with his wife in Madurai. His daughter works in the media and lives in Chennai with her husband.
What we observe from the parents is that there is a clear evolution in how each generation takes to parenting. Our childhood experiences tend to influence how we parent our children. For instance, if you've had an angry parent, you resolve not to be one to your child. However, you'll be surprised to see how you yell at your child exactly the same way your mom or dad did when you were young. It is therefore important to pause, reflect and then respond as opposed to knee-jerk reactions, which invariably worsen the situations. This reflection will help you understand and grow as a parent. Now, let's take some parenting lessons from what these parents have shared about becoming the parents they are.
1. Setting rules: If you set rules from early childhood, it's easier for your child to follow them as a teen.
2. Disciplining: Hitting or yelling at your child only makes for painful memories. Use words wisely and indulge in conversations. Even if your child is a toddler, a blunt NO can just be a sound to him. Try something like - That really hurt me, hands are for hugging, drawing, giving a hi-five and so much more; not for hitting. Such phrases can work like magic.
3. Maintaining a comfortable relationship: If you've shared a comfortable relationship with your parents, you are most likely to enjoy the same with your child. Being a comfortable parent also makes you emotionally healthy. This leads to better relationships, decision-making skills, and resilience. So, ensure your child is connected to you and not afraid of you.
4. Establishing family rituals: Family rituals such as a family fitness activity, or weekend fun, or simple family dinner time can help you bond as a family.
5. Encouraging communication: How you discipline and how you respond to your child's actions influence how your communication grows. Don't shy away from sensitive topics such as sex and relationships. It's better to talk about these so-called taboo topics to your child than hoping someone else will do it. And if you want your child to speak to you as a teen, listen to her today, with genuine interest.
6. No overindulgence: If you've had strict parenting, you might not want to be too strict with your child. The physical punishments you might have got could have left painful memories in you. While it's good you don't want to repeat the mistakes your parents did, it is just as bad to over-indulge your child. Be very balanced in your approach.
7. Showing involvement and encouragement: Be involved in your child's education and other aspects of life. Identify and encourage her talents. Guide her with her studies and career but leave it to her to make the choices. This will make her confident as an adult.
Jyothika, actor: My mother was a strong and independent working woman; she inspired us to know the value of being independent and to earn our own living. She clearly raised my brother and us sisters, equally. So, we had no trace of gender bias. We only learned to respect each other. Now, when I respect others and be independent, my daughter and son will naturally imbibe these values.
Parent takeaway: Never show gender bias at home. Teach your daughter and son to be independent, and also to respect and admire the other gender.
Siddhartha Basu: Renowned Quiz Master The values that mattered to my parents were lofty excellence, effort, conviction, service to humanity, and spiritual evolution. My parents didn't set materialistic goals in front of me. They never said this is the course you should follow, the job you should do, or the money you should earn. They nurtured me physically, emotionally, mentally, and culturally. I was fairly rebellious. My chosen vocation path in theatre, film, and television was highly adventurous by my family's standards. This was especially because opportunities in these fields were highly limited, compared to what it is today. Even though the route I took was unconventional and risky at that time, my parents were happy that I was able to support myself and my family. They appreciated whatever I was able to achieve.
Parent takeaway: Having a clear aim and systematically accomplishing it is the best definition of success. Find out what your child wants to do. Help him keep learning, keep growing, keep trying and keep doing - that's the best success mantra!
Imran Mirza, Tennis Coach and Father of Sania Mirza: The spirit of fighting against odds was something that always inspired me in my life through my own personal struggles, which began when I was barely out of my teens. I believed that overcoming failures and bouncing back from lows were the true tests of human character and we, as a family, took pride in facing up to these challenges. It was engrained in Sania Mirza's mind that along with success, failure was also a natural part and parcel of a sportsperson's life. As losses were not treated as something to get depressed about, it became a lot easier for Sania - the tennis player - to push herself and fight back from difficult situations. Provided she had tried her very best, a loss was never considered a big deal at home. I always kept in mind that there is a fine line between being encouraging and overbearing. As parents, we need to keep a balanced approach. There is no denying the fact that it is virtually impossible to succeed without parental support, but the support needs to be constructive, as otherwise, it works negatively and is of no use.
Parent takeaway: Be the biggest source of encouragement to your child. Teach your child the importance of failure. Allow your child to fail and see her bounce back with resilience. This will inspire and motivate your child in whatever she does. Remember to always encourage the effort, not looking for victory every time.
We asked some parents about the changes they see in today's parenting. They came up with what they considered as good as well as not-so-good changes. Here they are:
The good changes
To sum up, parenting has clearly evolved over the years there are some great learnings from the parents of the earlier generations, and some amazing takeaways from those of the current generation. Having said that, the core values of parenting have remained intact for generations. They all focus on bringing up children who are confident, compassionate, competent, and adaptive. After all, who doesn't want to raise happy, healthy, and successful children? And yes, children learn from what you are than what you teach. So, nurture, nourish, step back and see them flower into amazing citizens who will be the future of the nation.