It hasn’t been easy finding a middle path. When I became a parent, I spent a lot of thought trying to determine what sort of a parent would I be, would I be the firm, authoritative parent? Would I be my child’s friend? Would I be permissive and indulgent? Would I be, that horrifying thing, the helicopter parent? Would I be a blend of them all?
Things have changed since my mother brought me up, for one, the world is a lot less safer for children than it was in my childhood. I was a latchkey kid who traveled via public transport and returned home to an empty house, in an era of no telephone at home. The mater would know if I had reached home safe and sound only when she reached home from work herself, late in the evening. Today, the brat has to call me to let me know he’s reached home after I drop him at the elevator bank post picking him up at school. When I start the “When I was your age, I used to travel Goregaon to Bandra alone on a BEST bus and cross three main roads and open the door with the key…” number, he gives me a raised eyebrow, and tells me, “But you don’t let me travel alone…” I am effectively shut up for the next week, until the next incident comes up and I need to remind him of how independent I was at his age. Perhaps I am to blame, at almost ten, the brat is dropped to school and picked up by me. At his age I was sent off on errands to the neighbouring stores to get groceries and basic vegetables, this also included crossing a not so crowded road. He is not allowed out of the play area if he is down alone, even into the two floors of parking that we have, forget going out of the gate unsupervised.
There are a series of checks in place, he knows all necessary phone numbers and addresses by heart, he knows the route to home from every possible access road, he knows if he ever gets lost he has to find the first security person he sees, or a policeman and only tell them that he is lost, and he needs to get in touch with his parents. No one else. He knows what he is to do in case of a fire, in case the elevators get jammed, in case he is separated from the group on a school trip. He knows how to cross a road, and how to read traffic signals. I need to start gradually sending out for small errands, supervised and then unsupervised, I need to stop being queasy about the randomness of the traffic on our roads. That is on my to do list for this year.
On the being a friend to your child business which seems to be the accepted parenting norm now, unlike most of my peers, I am clear I am not his friend. I love him to bits in the most unashamed manner, but I remain, very firmly his parent. This is something I take from my mother. There is the rest of our lives ahead to be friends with each other, and that can come about when he becomes an adult, but right now he needs an authority figure to set boundaries, to inculcate responsibility, to discipline. And that is my job as a parent. Perhaps, as he moves into being a teenager, I would need to start segueing my parenting style, to allow him to start individuating. That is a natural process, we went through it ourselves, when we hit adolescence and suddenly the parents who seemed so wonderful to us were anything but, and it took until we reached our mid twenties to realize that yes, hormones had fried our brains for the few years that it took for us to turn into adults from hormonally overdriven teens, and indeed our parents were the best thing since sliced bread. I know that will happen, and I’m preparing myself for it. Right now I will be a friendly parent, a parent who sets limits, defines responsibilities, disciplines, pulls him up when he slacks and god forbid, if he asks for it, administers punishments or recall of privileges. I try to pass on the values I learnt from my mother to my son, and I realize that for all our talk of democratic parenting versus authoritarian parenting, permissive parenting versus disciplinarians, the basic premise of parenting never changes. It remains to ensure that one equips one’s child to deal with life, independently, when one is not around. That, in the end, is what good parenting is about. To know that you have a raised a child, with sound values, innate discipline and a strong moral compass. And yes, I still have Mom’s voice in my head reminding me to brush my teeth every night. When he grows up, I’m sure the brat will have mine too.