There is an old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”. This is something that we, as Indians across the years and through the generations have always known and realised. But in today’s age of nuclear families, there is far less of the village to go around. Families have evolved over time into a combination of units, some families still function as joint families with three generations living under one roof, others function as smaller nuclear units with one or both parents working and, in some cases, it’s a single parent family.
Parents and children get caught in their daily schedules and routines, flitting from one activity to another and as a result, they barely have any time to spend with one another, let alone any members of their extended family. It’s a pity as each of us are surrounded by wonderful friends and family that can teach our children so much and by interacting with them in a meaningful way, our children can truly benefit.
A couple of years ago, my older son (aged 8 years) was learning chess recreationally and the chess coach had recommended that we play chess with him in his free time to help him improve his game. Unfortunately, I had never gone beyond the basics as a child and wasn’t able to help him much. But, thankfully, we have a family friend who had played chess professionally when younger, who volunteered to spend a couple of evenings playing chess with our son. While one might argue that it was just a couple of games played over a couple of hours over a couple of weekends, in my mind, it cemented their relationship. My son enjoyed his time playing chess and his game improved by leaps and bounds. And our friend got to know and bonded with our son in a way that casually hanging out would never have let him do.
My children have a talented, musically inclined aunt and one of their favourite pastimes is to spend time singing songs together. Yes, she is a patient aunt as it isn’t always as tuneful as one would like, but it is an activity that they all enjoy and look forward to. I watch their interactions from afar and feel truly blessed that my children have someone like this in their lives, someone who shares their interests, who teaches them more than just music, who laughs and jokes with them and plays games with them.
Grandparents too have their own special and unique interaction with our children. They have the patience and understanding that we often lack. They have a world of experience that they are more than willing to share with us. There may be a few generational differences in opinion, but they are the ones who brought you up and you turned out okay (for the most part). When the children are younger, enlist their help in reading books to your child, playing games and telling them stories of your childhood. As they both get older, spending time with one’s grandparents raises a gentle, sensitive and empathetic child; a value much required in the world today.
However you choose to build your village, and whoever you decide to make part of it — whether grandparents, aunts, uncles or friends — make sure that you create real opportunities for your child to interact with them and allow them to get to know each other. Coordinate and organise shared experiences for your child, depending on his interests and theirs. A shared interest will ensure involvement and participation on both sides.
A day out at the zoo, FIFA games on the PS4, board games night, an hour at an indoor play zone followed by lunch… the opportunities are endless. Either way, your child will benefit from these interactions and will develop his social, emotional and interpersonal skills. And your friends and family will get the opportunity to form real, long-lasting bonds with your child. And you can get some quality time out for a lunch date with your spouse. It’s a win-win for all.