Being a parent is a daunting thing. There is no easy way around it. It takes an immense amount of courage. It is signing up for fear and anxiety for the rest of our lives. Parenting is an art that comes with no one-size-fits-all manual. There is no fixed right way in parenting, but there is a combination of lots of good, not so good and bad ways to do it. What works for one parent-child duo may not work for another, because each child is different, and so is each parent.
As parents, we are amalgamations of the parents we grew up seeing, their mistakes and successes lessons our mind has imbibed and stored for a later day, and the parents in our dreams. Who we are born to is something we cannot control or change. This definitely has a huge impact on who we are and who we become. And despite our best efforts, we still retain strains of the parenting we were subjected to.
One of the most unforgettable movie lines imprinted in my mind is one from the movie The Family Fang (it was originally a novel). Father Fang says:
“Parents damage children. That’s what parents do.”
The ugly truth encased in that statement is horrifying. In some way, deemed as good or bad, all parents damage their children, I realized when I thought about it. Some parents are abusive and it requires no further explanation on how it can damage a child. But some parents are overtly protective, enabling and cajoling, which is just as damaging as a child grows up into an insecure, dependent adult.
Not to mention parents who attack children emotionally. Emotional blackmailing is aimed at the empathy, sympathy and guilt centers of a person. It is a very common practice in Indian families, where parental control is a life sentence until and unless the children dare to break free and drift away.
Parenting is very culture-specific. Very much entwined with the society model we are part of, there are marked differences in parenting culture in the East and West. I often come across brown parents v/s white parents memes and they hit hard, making me bend double in laughter, because of how relatable they are usually. But reality is not all that funny.
The Emotional Weapon Called Sacrifice
One common weapon most parents use very often from where I come from is opening an account on the sacrifices they made for the children. The things they did or didn’t do for the good of their children, the wish-lists they compromised on, the dreams they sacrificed for the sake of their children, the journeys they missed out on, the sleepless nights they have spent to nurse their sick child, the clothes they did not buy to save money for something and so on. They keep tabs.
The list of sacrifices is literally endless.
Whenever a child (who is also a person with individual preferences, likes, dislikes, abilities and inabilities, regardless of age) voices his or her choice or opinion, even as an adult, at first, the parents try dissuading in the name of the social norms and expectations or the aftermaths (read disgrace) of disappointing those expectations.
The next tactic they resort to are akin to:
“You have no idea how much I sacrificed to bring you up to this state.”
“You are so ungrateful.”
“You do not have an ounce of respect.”
“You have no idea what it took us to educate you, to give you a home, and now you want to marry someone without even asking us!”
Or another instance would be if a child decides to pursue a particular career:
“You don’t know how hard your father worked to send you to that school and now you want to pursue writing/photography/painting/whatever shit classifies as art.”
Well, it would have been the “asking them” that elicited this whole drama. But forget the drama part!
Stop right there, dear sacrificial parents! The child never asked you to do all this. Let’s clarify that part.
When you decide to have a child, to become a parent, you are signing up to provide for its existence, survival and growth. Being a parent does not entitle you to remote control lives.
Parenthood — A Voluntary Choice Or A Basket Of Sacrifices?
Parenthood is often a conscious choice we make. Unexpected parenthood and its consequences are a different matter altogether. But even in that, we always have a choice whether to lunge into the task of being parents or not. Young individuals who end up with unexpected pregnancies or have a child before they are settled and have to readjust their lives for the new, needy person arriving in their lives might often end up sacrificing a lot.
Those who feel incapable of raising a child healthily may think of giving the child away for adoption. We cannot and should not judge them, because in the long run, a child is better off without a confused parent who might hold them accountable for their misery.
When you decide to have a child and propagate your family and thereby the human species, you are agreeing to care for a person until they don’t need you, by default. When you choose a path of love, respect, empathy and plain basic etiquette even when you deal with that little human you so painfully pushed out to this world (or helped to), the same goodness comes back to you without grilling them for it. This is a time-tested truth.
So when you sign up for parenthood, do it wholeheartedly or don’t do it at all.
Why Sacrificial Parenting Is A No
When you resort to your list of sacrifices, you are breeding a generation afraid to make commitments. You are setting up a green house to grow weeds that will ruin beautiful gardens of relationships, parenthood and family in your child’s life, too.
When you tell them how much you gave up for their sake, you are holding them accountable for your cowardice and lack of motivation rather than teaching them to show gratitude and respect.
When you mark every dream you set aside in order to take care of your children, and later end up indirectly blaming them for your thwarted dreams, you are contributing to another generation of humans afraid to pursue their own dreams.
And that is a scary thing to happen. Few people arise from the burnt down excuse of an existence and manage to fly to chase what they want in life. Most of these people end up holding themselves back with the invisible chains of bitterness, formed deep down when their parents held them responsible for several unfulfilled dreams.
Having a child is a blessing that many people are not bestowed with. Every birth is a miracle and every child a plant in the garden of life that deserves love, care and respect. Nurturing includes not bombarding your offspring with your sacrifices.
The Alternative To Sacrifices
One resolution I have made as a parent to a little girl is to not make sacrifices. I will not give up on my dreams, aspirations, goals and wishes just because I am a mother and my daughter needs me. If ever I do decide to miss out on something to make time for her or to take care of her, it will be solely my logical, conscious and voluntary decision. Just so I will never harbor any amount of bitterness as she grows up and eventually unleash it on her as a sacrifice I made for her sake.
I am an author, writing fiction, articles and poetry and have been a writer since my teenage and way before I got married and became a mother. A child was also a dream, but always separate from my writing goals. Life’s ups and downs have often meddled with my convenience and yes, parenthood does limit certain things I would love to do as a writer. But, I have chosen to understand that while they are mutually exclusive, they are both important to me as roles that I have assumed voluntarily.
This acceptance mellows all inconveniences and motivates me to keep doing what I have been doing and try more. Whatever I have not been able to do because of parenthood will be done if and when a time comes when I can. If not, I will always have had the chance to be a mother. I am not letting go of the hope that someday, I will be able to get to the little things I have wished to do but have had to set aside because of being a mother. But I also realize proudly that I have not set aside much because of parenthood, than I have set aside due to financial constraints and other limitations.
This decision to not let go of my wishes and dreams is at once a resolution to not be a bitter parent, but a better one, as well as a lesson to my child to not let anything come in between her and her dreams. The best way to create aspiring and inspired people is to show them the joy of following one’s heart.
Dear parents, consider parenthood a boon, a chosen responsibility and a voluntary choice rather than a cage you ended up in. Adorn your parenting with the realization and pursuit of your own dreams and goals, so that your children grow up seeing a role model in pursuing their dreams rather than a heap of disappointment in wrinkled skin and wisps of grey hair, complaining of all the things you could not do because of them.
Avoiding The Existential Crisis
The worst mistake you can ever make even as a non-abusive parent is pushing the limits of your child at any age to the point when they would ask, “Did I ask you to….?” Complete it with all the sacrifices you have made in the name of parenthood and presented to them with self-pity. No amount of name-calling and accusations of ingratitude is going to undo that question.
The Existential Little Warrior
A poem on a school morning when my daughter asked me why I decided to have her
The above poem was a hilarious moment with my five year old daughter but at the same time, it showed me the possibility of being asked the existential question of having brought a child to the world if we cannot take care of it without burdening it with our own disappointments.
Please, don’t put yourself there. Do what you need to do. Follow your heart. Kindle your passions and pursue your dreams. Your children will thank you some day.
Being a parent should not be an excuse to put the onus of your lack of motivation, passion and self-worth on another individual, be it your own child or someone else. Every person deserves freedom and most of all, freedom from undue blames and burdens.
Your children are not accountable for what you did not do. Your children are not accountable for what you must do for them as parents. When you lift this burden off their shoulders, they will give you the love, respect and gratitude every good parent deserves.
Let’s remember Khalil Gibran’s verses On Children at this point:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
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