The Balancing Act: ‘Can I Escape The Unwritten Parenting Law?’
By Sonali Gupta
Every other week, Sonali Gupta draws on more than 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist to answer readers’ questions about parenting, family dynamics, relationships, mental health, and more.
More To My Conversation: How can I escape from the unwritten parenting law that one must talk about one’s children all the time?
Sonali: I love the question! I’m sure this sentiment would resonate with a lot of mothers.
In my experience as a therapist and a parent, I do witness people’s obsession with their children. With social media and various WhatsApp groups, I see this translate to a different level: showing off. (I must mention here that I see more mothers than fathers being consumed by this.) Some parents seek validity from their children’s achievements. This kind of overinvolvement and helicopter parenting is giving rise to the phenomenon of ‘The Trophy Child,’ and I wonder if people sometimes use children to soothe their fragile self-esteem.
This act of consciously or unconsciously burdening children with expectations, however, can hinder their emotional and social development. Parents’ obsession can lead to enmeshment, which prevents a child from developing his or her own sense of self. Parenthood can be a great source of meaning and identity; but when it becomes people’s sole source of meaning and identity, it further contributes to enmeshed relationships. In the long run, this pattern impacts not just the child, but also parents’ mental health negatively.
By creating your own rules around when you speak about your own children, you are drawing a healthy boundary. And your actions may influence others to do the same. It’s normal to experience a sense of frustration as one hears parents bragging about children’s achievements. I must thank you for stating this so explicitly. Parents who choose to find their own voices and identity live their own life – and help their children grow – holistically.
Falling Behind At Five? I see other parents obsessed with putting children into phonetics, maths and other academic classes. How important are these? Is my daughter (5) missing out by not going to a class?
Sonali: I can understand how concerned you feel about making the right choice by not sending your daughter to a class based on academics. It’s normal to feel peer pressure when most parents seem to be doing this. But, in my opinion, the choice is entirely yours.
I think Indian parents are developing FOMO, that is, Fear Of Missing Out. They worry that if they don’t send their children to these academic classes, their children will lag behind. The reality is, a lot of what is done in these classes is also done in school. I wonder how interested and intellectually stimulated a child will be in school, if she has already learned the lesson in extracurricular phonetics or maths class.
Children these days have busy schedules, with no time left for unstructured play. A lot of our ideas about self, creativity and critical thinking emerge from having time to play, explore and discover the world around us. Learning to enjoy free time and one’s own company is one of the little joys that is slowly disappearing from today’s childhood. Children today have busier schedules than adults, leaving them with more stress and less time to relax. In short, leaving them without a childhood.
It may be fine to schedule one or two classes per week. (I suggest a skill-based class, such as swimming, martial arts, sports, music, or art depending on where your child’s interests and aptitude lie.) Research does show that competence in a skill can add to a child’s confidence and self-esteem. Sports and martial arts also teach children about fair play, cooperation, team spirit and healthy competition.
But what matters most is how you choose to form a relationship of trust and empathy with your child. Your daily interactions and conversations have the power to help your child grow into a good human being with faith in her own abilities – regardless of whether she takes extra classes.