There are parents who go riding bikes in rainstorms with little children in tow, not even wearing helmets, and there are those (increasingly numerous-) parents who feed their kids like pigs until they swell up like balloons and, when they finally start showing signs of morbidity, take them to the doctors only to get miffed when they are told that all that the kid needs is far less food of a far more healthy kind, along with a lot of vigorous and regular exercise. I am also thinking of all those parents – ‘loving’ ones, too – who frequently indulge in what to me seems gross physical abuse (only the other day a girl was telling me her mother throws anything at all at her, even knives and choppers, when she loses her temper, and I have seen children scalded on their arms and legs with hot irons) often for no better reason than that, being control freaks, they can’t bear to see that their kids sometimes won’t listen to some direct order, no matter how trivial the issue is (sometimes it’s like the girl wanted to wear the red frock instead of the white one). And also of all those tens of thousands of kids who die annually on our roads – one of my students did just two days before my own accident – because their ‘loving’ parents bought them motorbikes because they could not resist the importuning, or thought it important in order to keep up with the Joneses. Then there are those who are so obsessed with school examination scores as the sole determinant of a child ‘doing well’ that they hardly notice that the kids are either growing up into rote-learning machines totally deprived of intelligence, creativity, general knowledge and human sympathy, or falling prey to debility and diseases of weird kinds (hypertension, diabetes, gastric ulcers, breathing problems, migraine), or both. Add to that the recent phenomenon of more and more parents grooming their children like circus animals so they can all appear on ‘reality TV’ and perchance win some prize money. You think all these weirdos are sad exceptions? I beg to differ. Remember, I have been dealing with parents of youngsters all my life, and keeping notes. The saddest thing of all is that, if my experience is any guide, most of those unhappy kids, if they survive, grow up to be clones of the same parents…
There is a very broad presumption in this country that you need to learn a lot of things – music and painting and language and surgery and cooking and things like that – but there’s nothing to learn about parenting, or rather, couples automatically become qualified to be parents as soon as they go through the biological process of birthing (strangely enough, it doesn’t occur to anybody that you don’t even have to be human in order to do that: being four-legged suffices!). This is, of course, arrant nonsense, especially in a country where most people become parents only under the pressure of ‘social expectation’ or ‘accidentally’ – I apologize for stating this most unpleasant truth to all those ex-student readers who are still young enough to be shocked. There was a little saving grace when most children grew up in joint families, where at least there were grandparents who not only had the time and inclination but also somewhat more experience regarding the essential do’s and don’ts than most young, harried and impatient parents, and therefore could provide some sane guidance and counsel. These days, apart from consulting their own peers (who are as a rule just as clueless or misguided as they are), they have nothing except memories of what their own parents did, and the results are there for all to see. Oh yes, a few are beginning to look for advice on the Net or in glossy magazines, but I have seen some of that stuff myself, and alas, most of them encourage either hyperparenting or too little, apart from pushing the agenda of large companies selling every kind of expensive gimmick from ‘special’ soaps and shampoos to tablet phones and coaching classes aimed at toddlers below two.
I have been told that there are countries where you can attend classes if you are planning parenthood. There are three things I would like to say in that context: firstly, that first-time-to-be-parents should feel the need for such an education (remember, our society encourages them to feel they are know-alls, and most are really not interested in raising children well anyway, being far more involved in other things, including shopping and partying and beautifying themselves and chatting on Facebook); secondly that doctors, psychiatrists, good teachers and wise old parents should run such classes jointly; thirdly, that it would be a wonderful idea to gradually move towards a social setup where such classes are made mandatory, and failing the exams disqualifies you from having a baby.
Too draconian? I dare say it will sound like that to many, especially to those who are already good at it, and don’t want outside agencies to play nosey parker. Unfortunately, if a very large fraction (who knows but a majority) of the population cannot be trusted to do the job well, perhaps it has become necessary? If driving needs to be licensed following a test (and in some countries those tests are not easy to pass), shouldn’t parenting – beyond argument a far more important responsibility – be subject to similar checks? When it suits us, we proudly claim that we live in an ‘advanced and enlightened age’. Perhaps we need to do things to prove that to ourselves? Maybe instinct and tradition are just not good enough?