“We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control……………..
In Western countries, I know of wealthy professionals who tell their offspring that they will have to pay their own way through college because the parents feel that they have done their bit for their children and don’t really want to shell out $50,000 a year for the child’s college education and thereby sacrifice one of their three annual holidays. Most Indian middle-class families, on the other hand, would work their fingers to the bone and eat only one meal a day to put their child through college……” Jayanthi Natarajan( Indian politician) in an op-ed piece in The Asian Age (http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/opinion/op-ed/to-idiots,-with-love.aspx) .
Interesting thoughts! Are Indian parents that different from Western parents? Can we generalise? Personally, I think, the answers to both are “yes” and “no”. I have met Western parents who fit the stereotypal “Indian parent” mould and I have met Indian parents who are more disengaged than the wealthy professionals Natarajan is talking about. And since no one has done a comprehensive survey of attitudes of Indian parents and Western parents in recent times, it is hard to toss empirical data and shout ” I told you so”.
Having said this, I think there are customary practices especially among professional middle class Indians, the demographic I am part of. For example, many ‘board exam parents’ ( whose children will be appearing for the class XII board examinations ) firmly believe that the results can make or mar a child’s destiny and voluntarily retreat from social life for almost a year in order to “prepare” their offspring. At a New Year’s eve party in the house of a senior bureaucrat, I got some illuminating insights on why this happens. A prominent academic, married to a Stephanian-bureaucrat( who was a topper) , and whose son, a topper, is now in the US, said ” one helps in whatever capacity one can. Some mothers like to make sure that their son or daughter is plied with good, nutritious food while h/she is studying. Others may pitch in, filling in application forms to various Universities in India and abroad, leaving the youngster to concentrate on studies.” Most professional middle class Indian parents I know also prioritise their children’s education over their own comforts and pricey annual holidays. IN extended families, grandparents also pitch in , do whatever they can, do make sure the child succeeds academically.
This has it pluses. You only have to look at the role of the “stable family” in churning out succesful professionals within the Indian diaspora communities abroad. But there are minuses too. One minus is the tremendous expectations that middle class parents have, and the consequent pressure. Parents trade their own immediate happiness/comforts for their future well-being and that of their offsprings. If a child doesnot make the mark, it becomes a family tragedy in addition to an individual tragedy. The notion of success varies, creating further problems. To the older generation, a senior position in a firm with all its parephernalia ( e.g the 46 inch flat screen TV) is SUCCESS. Many youngsters, especially those from the comfortable classes, take material comforts for granted. They have lifestyle goals, rather than career goals. Being out there, working as a wild-life photographer in the Brazilian rainforest ( as in the film, Three Idiots) could be vastly more appealing than a chair, a table, a room, even if a big one, and lots of files.
Upper-middle class Western parents, especially from the professional classes I know, are as concerned, as involved, with their children’s education, as most of us. The focus on private schools, extra classes, foreign languages, accomplishments have time and money costs . International professionals who are working in senior positions in multinational companies, United Nations, and such like, are prepared to invest both. Many international professionals I know even stay on in faltering marriages “for the sake of children, their education” ( a line we hear often enough in India).
So what is the best approach? As a parent, I am constantly looking at this ongoing debate from various angles. Personally, I feel comfortable with a mix of both approaches — the nurturing environment at home, the parental concern, involvement creates the support system necessary for a child to focus on excellence. It is a personal opinion but I think if a child thinks his parents are the sort who will put their happiness over his/hers, h/she may either rebel, break away, and chart his/her own path. That act of rebellion could be hugely motivational and lead to success in the track of the child’s choosing. But there is an equal chance that h/she who does not respect his/her parents for whatever reason is also disdainful towards the adult world in general and disengages from all notions/activities which h/she associates with his/her parents. The end result could be sad, unless h/she meets someone who understands and can counterbalance this rebellion.
Anyone can be a parent. But to be good parents, Ah, that is a tough one. My personal goal is to create a nurturing environment at home which boosts a child’s self-confidence, involvement to the extent it contributes towards making the child independent and boosts self-image. Once that is done, let him/her fly away, rebel, listen to his/her own drum. Whether h/she has a 46 inch TV doesnot matter. Let him/her create his/her own music. Everyone doesnot have to sing along but hopefully oneday there will be an invite to join the chorus if the bond between parent and child has not snapped.