Happy Independence Day: Isn't the whole point of life to live and learn? To stumble, fall and get up? To learn from one's own mistakes? To find one's own path through trial and error?
By Kartik Bajoria
Independence Day 2019: This August 15 marks yet another celebration of India’s independence. A momentous occasion on which the entire nation, 1.3 billion people come together as one and pay homage to the country, to the men and women who fought for our freedom. A democratic union which enshrines a Constitution for the people and by the people, holding sacred, values such as freedom of speech, thought and expression. Having said that, this day may serve as a reminder of how lucky we are as a people, we must also, especially as adults bringing up a new generation of young Indians, examine, and practice, a deeper meaning of freedom, by giving our children the independence to be themselves, to learn, discover, grow and develop as they choose, and to support them. It is in this vein that I, as a parent, interpret the true essence of freedom. And I hope that the few insights I am about to share, are facets of parenting that readers will ponder seriously.
Independence from patriarchy
While our country might have gained independence several decades ago, there are societal evils that we continue to be held hostage to. From a parenting perspective, one of the worst impacts on a child is at the hands of the long-standing patriarchy that exists in our society. The blatantly higher status accorded to the male sex, be it a child, or an adult, has skewed Indian society and robbed us of any equal rights. One hears all the time, even knows personally, of countless examples of how deeply embedded patriarchy leads to biased and unfair treatment of girl children.
Within the same family for instance, while the male child will be supported, encouraged, and sent abroad for higher education, the girl child will have been consistently brainwashed, ‘trained’ to stay home, rehearse being a ‘good’ homemaker and denied that same education, exposure, and opportunity (even though she is likely more deserving than the male child)! This kind of one-sided outlook exists not just in pockets of Indian society; unfortunately, it is a pan-India phenomenon straddling rural as well as urban sectors. As parents to India’s next generation, we owe it to ourselves and to them, to remedy the wrongs of our predecessors, and disrupt this patriarchy by granting true freedom to one and all.
Freedom to explore, discover and make mistakes
As parents, albeit well-meaning, our actions often hamper the natural growth and development of our children. Without even realising it, we sometimes push our children towards certain career choices. This begins with ‘helping’ them choose their subjects in higher grades, ‘helping’ simply being a euphemism for ‘directing’, gently. The same kind of overbearing presence is felt in most all important facets of a child’s life. In their later years, we often dominate and choose life partners for our kids, determine when and how many children they will have; the most vital decisions that ought to be made solely by an individual, are made by Indian parents. That strikes me as rather odd and regressive.
We also place the caveat when questioned, that these unilateral decisions that are being made by us on behalf of our kids, is to help them avoid making mistakes, or getting hurt. Isn’t the whole point of life to live and learn? To stumble, fall and get up? To learn from one’s own mistakes? To find one’s own path through trial and error? The very reason to live is to experience one’s own individual journey, not have everything prescribed or preselected and arrive at a destination selected by someone else. Perhaps this Independence Day is an opportunity for us parents to reassess the environment we create and give our children. To truly accept them no matter what and let them be.
Freedom from the weight of obligation
The final behavioural pattern with most Indian parents that, I believe, hugely hampers the spirit of freedom and discovery among our children is the constant, conscious or subconscious, weight of obligations that most kids feel. As parents, we seldom miss an opportunity to remind our children of the immense sacrifices we have made for them. Or how hard we have worked for them to enjoy the huge privileges they do, be it the kind of education they receive, the type and frequency of holidays they take, or the kind of access they have to ‘things’.
While we may be doing this to instill a sense of gratitude and out of worry that they’ll take us or their blessed lifestyles for granted, what we perhaps don’t realise is that in the bargain, in most cases, all this can create a very high-pressure situation for the child. With the already-existing race for top marks and pressure from peer-groups to be cool and fit-in, kids are plagued with stress as it is. We pile it on further by always announcing to them, how much ‘we’ have done for them. If only we could ease off on this incessant announcing, children can grow up infinitely more relaxed and their decisions, in terms of education and career, will not be a result of having to build a certain kind of life that is commensurate with the parents’ expectations.
Independence Day ought to be about true freedom. We might live in a nation that is free from foreign rule but we are still grappling with our own internal demons that hold not just us hostage, but also adversely impact our children. Let us take a sincere look at our own parenting philosophies and gift our children the true essence of independence.
(Kartik Bajoria is a writer, educator and moderator.)
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