By Samai Singh
Whether you are a prospective parent, a new parent or one with kids of different ages there is one thing that all parents rapidly realise, every stage of parenting comes with its own set of challenges. And the other thing we realise is that everyone has an opinion and advice to give. The list of unsolicited advice from well-meaning relatives, friends and even perfect strangers is endless – from nappies and sleep schedules, to how to feed and discipline your child. Add to that a plethora of parenting websites and resources available at the click of a button. Before you know it, you feel like you are drowning in a sea of information and questioning every small or big decision you make. Being a parent is not unchartered territory but sometimes as a parent when dealing with a problem, one does feel you are navigating without a compass.
“Indian society is currently in a flux where older ways and family systems are no longer current and therefore new age parenting requires guidance and direction,” says Tripti Choudhary Vaid, child and adolescent psychologist. “Confusion is only normal when there is so much information available, but we do need to trust our instincts as parents and try and filter out what may not work for you. However, if you are still overwhelmed regarding a particular problem, never hesitate to consult a professional,” she adds.
As parents, we tend to set very high standards both for ourselves and our kids. We are acutely aware, over-analytical and have a tendency to put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves. “Finding the right parenting balance starts with finding compassion for yourself. Find a way to let go of perfection and find an approach that works for you. You may need to get rid of the crushing beliefs of parenting philosophies. Instead of defining balance as having things in perfect order, make it about intentional choice and celebrating doing one thing well in a particular moment,” advises child counsellor, Namrata Kaur.
Parenting peer pressure
Ever overheard a conversation between a group of mommies catching up? The topics are invariably about their kids, their various achievements, the activities they are enrolled in and where they are headed for their next family vacation. Usually underlying the discussions are subtle undercurrents. Most of the time it is not intentional (these are friends, of course) but elements of comparisons do crop up-whose kid has learnt to read, who eats independently, who goes to bed on time. Pressure among peers is natural, but the key is how one manages it.
Pressure also pops up through social media. We know that those perfect posts on Instagram and Facebook are not natural-fabulously fit looking new moms, fashionable kids looking well-behaved on vacation, clutter-free nurseries-but somehow in a spiral of doubt about our parenting skills, one ends up feeling that we are not quite coping. And then there are those individuals who lecture you if you are not breastfeeding, if you’re using the bottle, feeding your kids French fries, using diapers instead of nappies, not following Gina Ford’s sleep schedule-the list is endless.
Mom shaming is not just experienced by the likes of celebrities like Pink, Chrissy Teigen or Aishwarya Rai who was called out by trolls for kissing her daughter Aradhya on the lips, but also by you and me to varying degrees. The choices we make while bringing up our kids are constantly brought to question. “Parents are constantly bombarded with advice on what good parenting looks like. This steady stream of parenting tips comes from all directions. Parents are most often drowned with value judgments. Just as it can be very difficult to go against the tide for children, it can be tough for adults to do so too,” says Kaur. Her advice, “Think about what is most important to you as a parent. What do you both value? What do you want your children to learn? Having a clear vision and goal helps one plan and stay focused so you’re not derailed by every trend that is in vogue.”
She adds, “Trust your parental instincts. There are widely differing views on everything from duration of screen time to sleepovers. What might be right for one family might not for another, and as a parent, you get to choose. You are the expert on your child needs. How you handle parental peer pressure will teach your child how to handle peer pressure in their own life.”
Partners in parenting
Whether it is enforcing strict bedtimes or no sweets after 5 pm or larger issues like allowing your teenager access to social media and mobile phones, the list of trigger issues can be many. “Parenting is a combination of what both parents believe in. It’s about what is good for your child, which essentially means listening to one another. Effective communication is the essence,” says Vaid.
It sometimes seems our offspring are born with an instinct to find the weakest link. They know who will give in to their tantrums or tears and who to ask for that chocolate ice-cream. If the caregivers are not in sync over an issue, kids can use it to their advantage in a heartbeat. “Studies show that parenting styles start to develop in our growing years. The way you were parented, your experiences growing up, and your values shape how you approach being a parent. If both parents are not on the same page, a child will tend to take advantage and even resort to manipulation,” says Kaur.
A couple needs to sit down and have an honest discussion ever so often, of what their goals as parents are-how we want to raise the kids, what values we want to inculcate, boundaries to set, how much time to spend together as a family, etc.-and then stick to it. “Parenting requires a husband and wife to support and affirm each other,” she adds.
The guilt trip
Invariably, at some point, both moms and dads will experience a certain amount of guilt. Fathers usually feel the pinch when they work long hours or travel frequently and miss out on milestones. Meanwhile, career moms may feel the burden of managing both their jobs and households and SAHMs feel enormous guilt if everything is not always perfect or on having given up lucrative careers. “All moms, working and non-working alike, even the most amazing, attentive and committed, at some point feel they are not good enough. We tend to put more often focus on failings,” says Kaur. She suggests not allowing guilt to overwhelm you from being the best parent you can be.
Understand, accept and believe that perfection and parenting do not go hand in hand. Accept that you will make mistakes and be honest with your children when you make them.