Childhood In The Age Of Google

“What was it like when you were pregnant with me?” I asked my mom. “It was not what it is now,” she answered simply. And in that statement lay the weight of what motherhood has become today.

We often hear from our parents about how simple and uncomplicated our childhood was, how they didn’t think as much as we did, how they followed their doctors advise and those of elders around them, and we all turned out fine. I remember fiercely opposing that statement. I didn’t turn out fine. Kids my age didn’t turn out fine. We all have our fair share of trauma and baggage. But was my childhood unhappy — I don’t think so. Do I have memories of meltdowns and tantrums (I know my mother doesn’t), of fighting over screen time and being told to clean up? No, I don’t. I remember playing. That’s about it. My baggage is not from my childhood. It’s from a multitude of other things, situations and circumstances outside my mother’s control.

When I was pregnant, I scoured over books, googled everything and ensured that I was up to date on the myriad ways of parenting. I had friends who had done the same. I also had friends who had done no reading whatsoever — some in defiance of what was expected of them and some out of sheer laziness and the knowledge that maids, nannies and their mothers would tell them what to do when the time came. When Lila was born, I was determined to put all that reading to good use. Some of it helped but most of it confused me even further. I began to fight my instinct and kept going back to ear marked pages in books to see if I was doing the right thing. I needed each move to be validated by an author, a specialist so to speak. I wanted to be a perfect mother and a gentle parent.

After 12 long, strenuous and stressful months, I gave up. I was not getting it and it was not getting me. I turned to my mother for advice expecting a lot of “I told you so’s,” and “I always listened to my mother,” etc. But all she said was — “A mother knows best. Trust your gut.” I did and that’s when the magic happened. A huge load lifted off my shoulders. I stopped getting offended from well-wishers who continued to give unsolicited advice. I couldn’t care less about milestones and self-feeding. I did what felt right to me and what came naturally.

Then I heard about gentle parenting through a facebook group. I rolled me eyes and was going to pass it off as another “type” of parenting style — none of which had worked for me — when I happened to glance at the groups “about” section. It was a simple, short description and it was beautiful.

Gentle Parenting is a conscious shift away from the traditional authoritarian, from-the-top-down style of parenting to one based on connection and mutual respect.

The premise was respect. It’s an interesting word isn’t it? Respect. When I was growing up, I was told that I must respect my elders simply because they were elders. As I grew older, I started questioning this very basic premise. In art school, over a cup of saccharine sweet coffee, amidst a heated discussion with friends, I heard an interesting take on it — Respect cannot be demanded. It needs to be earned. This changed everything for me. I was in charge of who I respected and why. It’s the toughest thing I have done, am still doing and will continue to do. It’s against everything that I have grown up hearing and seeing. There is no punishment, “good girl, bad girl”, or consequences in gentle parenting. There is respect and patience to sit and hear your child out, understand what she is trying to say and move away from the need to control her every move. It is about respecting your child as a human.

We live in a world where a 6 month old baby is going for classes. Mothers can’t wait to enroll in mother-toddler programs. “Hands-on” fathers are taking control on weekends. Notes are being compared on how babies learn to feed themselves (which fruit? which vegetable? what size? how many times a day?). Sleep training is a must. Leave the babies when they cry for you and they will eventually learn to console themselves. These are actual milestones. Instead of free play, toddlers and young children are being introduced to Alexa. Instead of allowing them to wonder, question and figure out answers themselves, we rush to our phones to explain everything they ask us. We enroll them in coding classes and download learning apps on the Ipad. Ask any technology friendly parent and they will swear by how much their children have picked up with these apps. In this Google frenzy world, we fail to see that we are giving them everything they ask for and nothing that they actually need. I won’t be surprised if in the future, Alexa puts babies to sleep.

This is a prickly topic. I have often found myself at the receiving end of horrified faces, eye rolls and the occasional rap on the knuckles for disagreeing with all of the above.

I did not have a child to have her grow up and be independent from birth. I did not feel like my freedom and my sense of self was taken away when I became a mother. I want to sleep next to my daughter, to console her when she wakes up at night, to have someone to hug after a bad dream — the same way I hug my husband on bad nights. I want to feed her, bathe her and read to her. I want to marvel at her stories, not her proficiency in letters, numbers and words. I want to hear her singing softly when she’s playing by herself. I want her to make a mess because she’s a child and her mess is her play. I want her to ask me a hundred questions so that we can both wonder together. I want to be around when she has a tantrum or meltdown; because she will need someone to help her with these “big feelings” once she’s calmed down. I want her to know that there is good & bad in all of us. I want her to know that I can be wrong and when I am I will say sorry. And I need her to know that no matter what, she can always come to me.

I do not want her to grow up quickly at all. But she is going to nonetheless.

Childhood is so precious. And the time window is so small. If I could change one thing about parenting today, it would be to let our children be children for as long as we possibly can — to allow them to experience a free childhood, not a facilitated one.

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