I went to a friend’s (mother of two, 5 and 1.5 yrs old) place for Navaratri. I met a couple of women, one of whom had two boys (5 plus).
Conversation centered around raising children. I had left baby girl at home and taken kutti boy with me. He was playing on his own checking every now and then to make sure I was around. We were chatting and the two moms with school going kids talked about different schools in the area. I asked my friend if her 18m old had started sleeping through the night. She told me it was a huge struggle but finally he had started doing so. The other person said “ You don’t need to feed your child at night once they are 6m old, that’s what my pediatrician told me”.
My friend : Well, I just lie to my pediatrician. If he asks me about night feeds, I just lie. If not he pressures me to train my child to sleep through the night.
Second woman: I never lie to my doctor. But I can’t afford to wake up at night. I have to work from 5.00 am. So they had to stop the night feeds. But luckily they did it on their own.
Me: Well, my son certainly did not do it on his own. I didn’t want to stop night feeds. But he would wake up so often and in the morning neither of us felt rested. Each time he woke up to feed his sleep got disturbed.
My friend: You are the modified Ferber type of mom right?!
I said after mentally thinking about this quickly. Am I that? Or am I an AP-er? I had not planned to be one or the other.
Me: “well, I do what works. For the child”.
This made me think about it later. I had read about both styles. At some level I felt every parent is an attached parent. Your method may vary but you are attached to your child and you want to do what’s best for your child. Being a parent is what defines me, not the style. Yes, I am the modified-Ferber type of mom. But I am also an AP mom. I am a mom who cares for her child. Period. Which is why despite being an AP mom I became the modified-Ferber mom!
As far as parenting style goes, I would like to adopt B's parent's way of parenting - not exactly, but a milder/modified version of it – “benign neglect” parenting. They did not adopt that style after reading parenting books. But did so naturally. Did they raise perfect adults? No. They have imperfections. But is there such a thing as perfect adult? Isn’t it subjective anyway? Well yes, a murderer is clearly imperfect. But we are assuming normal adults not in the extremes. Within limits of what is considered normal, no one is perfect. We all have our faults.
B’s mother was an amazing mother in my opinion. (This is not to say I think any less of my mom. I just like B’s mom’s style of parenting – my mother worries/d way too much and I am afraid I will be the same way if I don’t watch out). She gave them love and nurturing in abundance. She made sure they moved to an area close to a good school. Neither B’s mom nor his dad sat with their kids all the time questioning them or helping them with their homework. If they needed help, it was given every now and then. My MIL was a religious person to some extent. So is my father-in-law. He believes in astrology and numerology. B on the other hand grew up to be someone who questioned it a lot, who did not believe in it at all, is agnostic in some sense. But they let him be. They gave him his space to think. And be his own person. Did not force their ideas on him. If at all his mother would joke about it
Well yes, if your child did well you don’t have to worry at all I say. True. But say if B had not been doing well in school, she would have only given what is adequately needed to get him on the right track – she would not have micro managed his entire life. They really were classic practitioners of benign neglect. They gave their children the best they could give in terms of nurturing them. Beyond that it was up to the children to make the best of it.
I don’t think it is practical for me to emulate that fully – the world now is way too competitive. I can’t sleep in peace if I let my children completely do what ever they wanted to do. At the risk of sounding pushy, at the risk of seeming like I am micro managing their life – I do think I have to expose them at the least to different options available to them and nurture their interest in a few of them. I do think if B’s parents had been a little more attentive, there are some things he would have learnt – like singing vocal music for example – and enjoyed it very much. He did not know then nor did he ask for it. He was in his school choir and did some radio programs. But they did not give him voice lessons because he didn't ask for it. But considering how good his voice is and how much music sense he has, he could have benefited from proper training in the formative years. So I feel benign neglect to the extreme is not good – for me personally. I feel children don’t always know what they will enjoy – initial reactions may be negative – but one has to give them a chance to find out. If my child has a natural talent in music I consider it my responsibility to nurture it. If it means forcing him to practice his lessons even if he is bored sometimes, I have to do it. When he gets good at it, he will not need me to prod him, he will enjoy it himself. You have to know when to push and when to sit back and give space.
This is not an advice post. Am just writing down my thoughts about how I think I should be as my children grow up. I am wary of putting too much pressure on them – I don’t ever want to do that. I don’t want to compare them with other kids. But I also don’t want them to later regret that I did not give them certain opportunities for learning. I want to give them the right dose of exposure and let them figure it out.
I feel like I need to sit down and be honest with myself as to what I want for my child. And is it my right to say “I want this for you, child” ?. Yes and No. I am the mother. I have a huge responsibility on me to shape this child as best as I can. But it isn’t just me shaping this precious mould. It is the environment too. It would be foolish for me to think I can control life forces. That being the case, I have to give my child the tools to shape himself based on his experiences. What tools? How? I mean every (normal) parent loves his/her child. They all still turn out to be different. Even siblings raised under the same roof. Proof enough that it is not just the parents who shape the child. I cannot plan now and say I will raise an assertive child and start following a regimen for that. I can’t have an image in my head and force this mould into that shape. I have to yield to the child’s natural temperament and work with the child. I sometimes feel this tug in my heart because I see my son to be a very affectionate, gentle, sweet child. I worry what if kids take him for a ride because he is so sweet and gentle. I don’t want him to get hurt. But I cannot force him to be an aggressive child – I have to trust that he will learn to survive as he grows up and learns to deal with the environment around him. And the world needs gentle sweet souls! If every one was aggressive and cut throat it would be a miserable world!
I don’t want to orchestrate his every move. Yet I worry I may do this if I don’t watch myself. Why? Because of peer pressure. It takes a lot to withstand this these days.
“Oh my god, you have not put your child in any play gym yet?”
He will get a lot of stimulation and fun if he goes there.
Does he need more stimulation that what he gets in his own surrounding?
Does he have to socialize every week for sure? He has a couple of my friend’s children come home every week and they play on their own. Together in the same room.
And eventually he will go to pre-school.
He seems happy the way he is. He may get bored every now and then. But as long as he is fed and happy, he finds his own way to entertain himself. He asks me for three cups and a spoon and some water. Keeps himself occupied transferring water. Feeding the butterfly helium balloon with his spoon. Pouring it from way up. Creating a mess and proudly declaring at the end of it all “Messy!”. I enjoy seeing him do this.
Do I have to give him a play gym stimulation in addition? I don’t know. Sometimes we as parents don’t have “correct” answers. We have to go with the flow and with what feels right/adequate.
I actively avoid sitting next to him when kutti boy is playing by himself. Just so he can be. Do his own thing. I tell myself I need to do this even when he is an adult. Give him (goes for my daughter too) his space to grow up. Not decide right now that I will raise him in XYZ method. I have to only take it by the day and see what works for him. I pray for courage and the grace of God (even if it is my own version of God of course) in raising my children. That divine grace has to protect my children from negative forces.
I want KB to learn vocal music. Very much so. Only because I can see he has a great voice for it and he is keenly interested even now. But I cannot build my dreams and force him into it. I have to take him to class and see how he responds. I worry that I will pressure him into choosing a field of study I think is good for him. I want him to be really good at what he chooses to pursue for his education. That is my hope. Because Kutti Boy likes shapes so much, B asks me jokingly, “what will you do if he wants to study geometry?”. I will be glad if he is passionate about it. Of course I will worry that he wont’ have a comfortable life unless he gets lucky – jobs in that field are not easy to get, he may not make any money. Is it my responsibility to tell him all this. I think so. If he still chooses to study it, it is his life, his decision. As someone who cares for him deeply, I think I have the liberty to at least have a discussion with him about all this. I don’t consider this micro managing. If he is able to articulate his thoughts and is clear about what he wants, I will be happy. That I did really raise my child. Into a confident adult with a thinking mind.
P.S – A lot of these are my thoughts – thinking aloud. And letting you hear my random flow of thoughts too. In case you are interested. I do vacillate a lot about these issues – I may think one thing today but they will come up with something that alters my thinking (about the way I raise them) entirely at some point.