Are you planning for a good turn in your way of parenting after this pandemic?
By Geetika Sasan Bhandari
The Spanish flu of 1918-1920 was followed by a period referred to as the ‘roaring 20s’, symbolised by mass consumerism fuelled by economic prosperity, a change in women’s roles, and a society given to excess, to lavish and reckless living. F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, once described it as “the most expensive orgy in history”. Coming after the flu, which had wreaked havoc and killed more than 50 million people worldwide, the next decade seemed to desperately want to compensate for the death, unemployment, illness, and economic insecurity that had preceded it.
How was parenting affected? According to historians, the mum and dad in an average American family still held on to their traditional roles, with the father going out to work and the mother staying home to cook, sew, clean, and look after the children. However, the size of the family became smaller with people opting to have fewer kids and most importantly, the approach towards children softened and took on a more emotional tone, where parents began to see their spouse and their children as friends. However, most of the parenting philosophies that we know now took birth only after WWII, or the middle of the 20th century.
A hundred years later, what will the post-pandemic 20s hold for us?
Yale professor, social epidemiologist and author of Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live Dr. Nicholas Christakis says in an article in The Guardian, that once pandemics end, often there is a period in which people seek out extensive social interaction. Christakis predicts there will be a second ‘roaring 20s’ just as after the 1918 flu pandemic.
“During epidemics you get increases in religiosity, people become more abstentious, they save money, they get risk averse and we’re seeing all of that now just as we have for hundreds of years during epidemics,” said Christakis. But hold on. A pandemic usually takes a two-year period to fade out and for the economy and social spending to become robust again. “In 2024, all of those (pandemic trends) will be reversed. People will relentlessly seek out social interactions.”
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This makes me wonder as to whether this will bring about a long-term change in how we live and how we parent. On one hand, with having witnessed mortality and that too the death of so many young people so up close, many people could go the YOLO (You Only Live Once) way and I can see how some would veer towards indulgences–the car they always wanted but held off buying, that super-expensive luxury holiday, buying their child every product and service they demand. With having spent so much time together, families could well be yearning to do their own thing, each one pining to make up for lost time.
Children, who’ve had enough of being locked in with parents, especially teenagers, and parents who’ve had to juggle jobs and home-schooling and household chores and who may want to now indulge themselves as a way of compensating for the time lost. And this may not always be together as a family unit. The individual will be a priority. It’s a lovely road to go down on, but one that’s tough to walk back from. After all, hedonism is not a coarse protective blanket, it’s an inviting soft cashmere throw, one that’s not easy to shrug off.
On the other hand, having spent time closely with family, having realised that investing in emotional bonds is as important as the ones in the stock market, having witnessed unemployment and mass migration of labour, I can also foresee a large number of people continuing their philanthropic activities, teaching their children to have gratitude and trim the excesses, and leaning towards a parenting style that’s more focussed on nurturing and less on products and brands. After all, our kids have survived almost a year-and-a-half without endless art supplies, clothes, birthday parties, big-screen movies, playdates, and catch-ups at the mall. Risk-averse parents would continue to save more, now that we know an exigency could well escalate into a life-threatening emergency, thereby imparting the importance of saving for a rainy day. They would push their children to study harder, to gain admission into a reputed college and pursue a career that’s considered stable and financially rewarding.
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So, what parent do you think you’ll be? The pandemic has given us enough time to introspect, to realise what’s really important to us and what we want to change in our lives. In fact, it is unprecedented to get an opportunity to pause till you’ve figured out which way you want the tape deck of your life to play. But we have got that chance and the pandemic has undoubtedly had a profound impact on each of us—on how we think, spend, whom we hold dearly and what we want our future to be. But has this also changed how we want our children to shape up? Has it changed our goals for them? Most importantly, have their own goalposts shifted?
Of course, most of us will strive to walk the middle path as the Buddha would advise, to teach important life lessons to our children yet take out more time to meet friends, to party and indulge knowing it’s been a tough few years, and that life is undoubtedly unpredictable. But some of us may take this as a turning point in our lives, where we now cultivate friendships with a much tighter circle, spend more time and energy on health and immunity, and choose to focus on contentment and gratitude, thereby showing our children a path to do the same.
So ask yourself this important question: Once this is over, who will you be?
(The writer is former Editor of Child, and has recently launched a parenting platform called Let’s Raise Good Kids. She has two kids)
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