Friday, April 18, 2008

Parenting: Harder or easier now?

Let's face it. Parenting is hard. But what is hard? If sleepless nights are the worst thing that could happen to you, it could be a matter-of-fact thing for me. I could crib about loss of freedom while you might look at me as if I am nuts.

It is all how you look at it.

But I received this link in the Baby Center bulletin and it got me thinking. In the Indian context, what is it like?

The first person I asked was my mom. "It is easier now", she declared. "You have a million facilities to ease and aid you. Disposable diapers, for example, and washing machines, and bibs and strollers... lots of facilities.... but to think of it, the actual parenting is harder now. It is easier for a child to go the wrong path in these days...." As she thought, she brought up both pros and cons of parenting now and then, and then she concluded, "Physical work is easier now, and conveniences are more, but the actual parenting is harder."

I tend to agree with her.

I had made this list before I asked you for your opinions.

[By the way I am talking only about the class of society that I live in and am familiar with. ]

Things that are easier now -

- Modern conveniences, for e.g. Disposable diapers. My mom tells me she used to wake up 2-3 times at night to change us! Ugh! As for the times they went out? They had to carry change and the effort... phew! While now? Fit it, tape it down, forget it is our mantra!

- Electronic gadgets for ease of work - Washing machines to wash the piles of clothes, mixers to grind food, microwaves to heat food, refrigerators to store food... I could go on. I shudder to think how they managed then.

- Ease of travelling. Cars are very common. Air travel is affordable. Three days in a train with an infant is unthinkable, isn't it?

- As a woman, I can say this - more involvement of the father in the upbringing of the child. After S~ gets back home, I can hand over charge and put my feet up and relax for a while. It would have been unthinkable in the previous generations.

- Better medical facilities.

More difficult now -

- Too many choices. Starting from - this diaper or that? This baby cereal or that? ... right up to This school or that? Back then, life was so simple.

- Schooling. It was so easy - go to the nearest school, and get admitted. Nothing like pre-research, research, standing in lines overnight for application forms, donations.... and what have you... and then exam pressure.. never ending.

- Peer pressure. - Neighbour's son owns the latest electronic games. Should I buy or not? Friend eats out every night. Child wants to too. How do I explain?

- Too many distractions - easier to go wrong.

- Expenses are much higher. Luxuries of yesterday are necessities of today.

- Roles were clear back then - the man is the provider, the woman is the care-giver. Now, with women holding lucrative careers, the agony of giving up a job, the difficulty of handling both career and motherhood, the guilt, the confusion... not easy.

I received some very interesting inputs in the comments section in my question post, and I urge you to have a look at them.

I was sure my generation would agree with me and say that parenting is harder now, and so I was looking forward to inputs from my parents' generation - and I received quite a few - five or six. Barring my uncle, who says that the grass is always greener on the other side, and says that this is a question that has no answer, everybody else said that parenting is harder now. Interesting, huh?

Usha, who belongs to my mother's generation, sent me a mail which says about everything that I want to say, but she has put it so well that I have just reproduced it here with her permission.

Parenthood has always been an enormous task - earlier one had to be a parent , Guru, a role model - I mean until about 150 years ago. Children learnt almost everything about life, universe and everything from their parents. Except for the Brahmins who went out and had the benefit of Gurukula. A child's world view, values and concepts of right and wrong - all came from the family and ancestors.
But it was easier in one way because they used authority. One did not question the wisdom of ancestors. Rebellion was very rare as it meant being thrown out of the secure confines of family support. And one did not have many options outside of one's family and well knit community.
And there was enormous family support and a rich pool of experience available to bring up babies which young parents could draw upon.
So in a way parenthood was easier but was it the ideal way to bring up children is an entirely debatable point.

In more recent times, many young parents bring up their children entirely on their own without much family support. So every day is a new learning and the learning can be stressful when the child falls sick or hurts itself as it seems the worst calamity on earth. Blaming oneself for not preventing it, feeling inadequate to handle the crisis and the emotional stress of it all is more without someone more experienced telling them that it happens with every child and is no big deal.
And being available for the child all the time is becoming a problem with both parents working which is a norm now.
And in my time we did not have to worry about whether to use a disposable diaper or cloth, breastfeed or not, career or child - the decisions were known a priori. the priorities were clear. Choices were less.
Today every decision relating to the child is a national debate and with so much information available, there is always a doubt regarding the best thing to do by the child.

And adolescent years can be a lot more angst ridden in today's society. There are a lot more of distractions available to them - films, internet, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes. Authority no longer works with today's children who want a reasonable explanation for everything. "Do it because I am telling you to" wont cut it with them. They will only clam up.
You have got to be aware of what they are up to but without appearing to be too interfering or dominating, give them enough freedom while making sure that the communication channels are open and be available for them when they need your advice - a very tough job.
It certainly was much easier 30 years ago.
But then of course there have been rebels in all ages. Only their percentage was much less then and they seem to be the majority now.

happy parenting. :)
(I am pretty sure I'd have multiple break downs if I were to parent a child today. hehehehe)

The other mail I received was from Anitha, who has beautifully expressed her views about parenting through the ages. Her analysis and reasoning are excellent. Trying to add anything to that or after that, will be quite useless.

It's difficult to say really if parenthood has become more difficult. I guess it has become difficult because of the number of choices available now have multiplied. Otherwise, the core issues remain the same, no?

If you take from the grandparents' time, that was a time when India was fighting for her freedom. Times were hard, there wasn't enough to eat, families were large (which meant more dissensions to deal with), and the primary focus of life was just to get on with living. Parenting never had the focus it has today. Kids were not treated very specially, or singled out for attention. They were part of the gang of kids, and they learned to live as part of the community in order to survive. Parenting must have been a non-issue if you weren't bothered about your kids, but must have been a heck of an issue if you wanted your kid to be different or follow some other path. Of course social ostracism was always dangled in your face if your kid did something out of the ordinary.

If you take from the parents' time, that was a time of hope, when India was learning to stand up on her own feet. Bulk of the middle-class (here I'm making a sweeping generalization) benefited from the public sector and the lifestyle it promoted. Lives were more stable, economic conditions were better, and parenting was not entirely left to group dynamics. The environment was conducive to parenting intervention without pressure on kids or parents.So parenthood, though not exactly a breeze, because it was more involved than the previous generation, was still relatively easy because of the support structure that evolved. The colony was an extended family with more variety.

If you take our time, India is in a state of flux. Liberalization has affected us in several ways, most notably the rise of the nuclear family. With no firm anchor, parenting becomes very challenging because you have to start from scratch. All the rules you lived your life by are now thrown to the wind, and you have to make up new rules because the environment itself has changed so much. Independence is valued more than interdependence, individual is put higher than the community. When this balance is upset, you have more issues to tackle as a parent, because you are redefining what is more important. Parents themselves are under pressure, not just from all other things that the outside world brings, but under pressure to "perform" as a parent. And they compete against other parents in a bid to "out-perform" them, forgetting that there is no raise or promotion in all of this - the prize is the child itself growing up into a balanced individual. Parents apply corporate principles to their personal lives, forgetting that the basic principle that governs a corporate is to make profit, whereas in parenting, there is no profit, only self-satisfaction.

I've rambled enough, so I'll just stop here. Parenting was never easy, and will never be easy. The emphasis on parenting has increased tremendously now because of both necessity and increase in awareness, and that is why it has become even more difficult now.

Once again, what do you think?


Usha said...

If only all children were identical and there was a single golden rule to parenting!
I loved anitha's presentation of the issue - she has said it all beautifully.

Anonymous said...

Nice conclusion to the parenting question that has an elusive answer!

It appears most, if not all, parents agree that parenting these days is harder that it was during our parents and grandparents time.

I must add in the end that I wonder how you do all that you do with your blog with a little one at home since I know, with a toddler at home, how demanding it can be with kids at home.

It appears that you are changing one persons opinion about life and events through one blog entry at a time and trying to making this world a better place to live one blog reader at a time!

Great work.


Abhishek Upadhyay said...

My god.You have written mini thesis on Parenting.

snippetsnscribbles said...

Great job! Very concise yet very descriptive. Both Usha and Anitha have penned down the real issues very beautifully!

Thanks for this wonderful insight, Shruthi. For not-yet-mothers like me, its was a very knowledgeable read!

Keep posting such real time issues along with Puttachi's updates.

Deepa said...

Hi Shruthi,

Recently found your blog and first time commenting here.
Now that I am a mother of 4 year old, couldn't agree more with what is said by you, Usha and Anitha.
Really great article.
You have a wonderful blog here and I am hooked up to it. Count me as a regular here from now on.
Happy parenting!!

- Deepa

Kadalabal said...

Nicely carved out post. inputs from your mom and smt.usha of your mom's generation and from anitha of your generation are all well conceived ideas and and I am sure have been put into writing after lot of introspection.
Yah as Smt.Usha said if only all children are identical like that if all parents are identical which can not be so each one has to suitably adjust their requirements to suit them.
life is a journey make it pleasnt and again it is not a bed of roses
divide/substract sorrows multiply/add joys so that your parenting will carve nice
citizen for future


Sushma said...

Shruthi Akka!!!!!!!
Put up some post I can relate to!! Please!! :D :D

LAK said...

Both Usha and Anita have put it really well. It boils down to choices, doesn't it?Talking abt angst-ridden teenage, I assure you being a parent of teens is equally angst ridden!This is the time that it is most difficult to be an ideal parent. For example, we all say that we shd not push the kid into career choices. But when it comes to the crunch, can we honestly stand by and watch while the child says he wants to be say, a DJ, or a model?Not that these professions are bad, but for people like us (middle class South-Indian, academically minded!), they don't spell solidity!

- -