As a participant-observer in the parenting tribe, Rushabh Mehta from Mumbai reflects on his three years’ experience as Poppy to his daughter Kavya.
Kavya is already three. For first time parents, there is always a feeling that there was an era before parenthood and after parenthood. Before parenthood, life is much simpler. With a child around, the amount of activities suddenly explodes. Also if you are someone who is not used to anticipating and planning, you can quickly get behind the task list, that just keeps on extending. Next thing you know is that you are on a treadmill – tasks at home, tasks at work. Then there is confusion on who is responsible if the task list does not get completed. This keeps on happening until you decide that certain things are just not worth the effort. Never mind if someone has to feel bad.
You are also learning on the job. You are learning what it means to step back from a “situation” and see what is really happening. It takes time to realize that you do not react if a child is crying. You do not react if your child is provoking you. You do not react if your partner is angry. You just step back and let things settle down a bit.
If you happening to be the questioning kind, specially if you have any affinity to the question “why”, then your troubles are bound to multiply. Because almost everything we are conventionally taught about raising children is based on shaky ground and opinion. Books on parenting can have diametrically opposite opinions. You can try to raise your child as an achiever (producer) or a thinker. A lot depends on what you think and how you react to the situations.
With Kavya, since she is the only child in the house with five adults, she gets disproportionate attention. Judgement is passed on almost every act, and it is usually amusement or praise. So she has tended to be a producer. She has learnt to answer back nonsense because adults seem to love that. She also knows that everyone in the house has different levels of patience. So if she cannot get a response from one adult, she goes on to another. After the basics (input, output, rest) are satisfied, children want to learn and want attentions from adults. They think that the maximum learning happens from an adult, so they want all of them engaged. Adults are not always in the mood to respond, so children try different antics to get attention. A child does not realize that they are annoying someone by licking the floor. All they want is to test a hypothesis on how long can a particular adult tolerate me licking the floor. They also want a response from the adult. For them a groan or a retort is a victory. Once they find a pattern, they keep trying it again and again with some minor variations.
Soon it will be time for her to go to school. In school she is going to realize that getting attention is going to be much harder. What she does to get that attention, or will she be okay not getting it will be interesting. The current system of schooling is a big failure, you realize thanks to John Holt. If they really taught concepts, then why pre-determined questions for exams? And how can you create inspiration that will make you learn? What really happens is that children are playing games all the time. Whatever “learning” (abstract or academic learning) happens is in spite of their schooling. Abstract thought often comes in solitude, when you model the system you are trying to understand in your brain. In school you only pick up patterns or skills. Mostly you learn how to stay out of trouble and kill your will. The incentives of schools are stacked up in such a way that exploring on your own will land you into trouble. Soon we will have to decide what is our role in this phase. How much should we submit to the schooling system so that we can stay out of trouble with our families and friends.
Though it can be nerve wracking, the best thing about parenting is that it helps you decode your own childhood. Without being a parent I would have never realized why I respond to certain things in a certain way. Schooling did not work for me, but I realized this only after I became a parent. I was under the false assumption that I knew a lot more than I actually knew. I am sure there are many more things to learn, if I get the time to reflect.
Some people say parenting is rewarding and helps them unwind. I think parenting it is natural activity and there is nothing specially rewarding, and rather than unwinding, it draws you deeper into life. Maybe it could be because different people react differently to parenting. Perhaps because of they way they themselves were raised. The good thing about being a parent is that once you can handle the intensity of the job, there are few jobs that you will not be able to handle.