Parenting is a 24/7 job.
Once a parent, always a parent till the day we die. Our entire life changes
once we become parents, our priorities change, our perspectives change, and we
are not the same any more. There is this little being so utterly dependent on
us for her survival. We feel extraordinarily protective about her and want to ensure
that she is cared for in the best way possible.
As the child grows up, many of us forget to keep up with the pace. Even long after the umbilical cord has been cut, we keep our children close to us, fiercely protected. Technology complicates that equation further. Most parents want to keep a tab on the whereabouts of the children and for good reasons.
Back in the good old days, the community kept watch on the children and parents knew what we were up to from ‘well-meaning’ neighbourhood aunts and uncles. But now, big cities do not offer that luxury, where most people barely know each other in the first place, let alone have each other’s back. So, I imagine, parents resort to technology to keep track of their children.
A generation ago, were our parents this involved in our daily lives? Quite clearly, no. What did we do during our summer vacations? Plenty of robust activities. Did we attend camps? Absolutely none! What we most certainly did was to visit our cousins and grandparents, roam the countryside, climb trees, invent games, fly kites, run through paddy fields, eat whatever summer fruits we could get our hands on, play till our limbs fell off, or simply while away time. And amidst this flurry of activity, we saw our parents only at meal times and much later in the evening, long after the birds had gone back to their nests.
Did we turn out fine? Most of us did!
So, cut off television and gadget time. Let our children out and let them be. Let our children roam places with lots of trees, let them climb them, let them run around freely without their days being structured ever so meticulously all the time. Let them make friends with other kids, get dirty, and play as much as they want to. Let them visit their grandparents, cousins, and get to know our extended families.
These experiences shall inhabit their lives as enduring memories. Let us give them good, happy memories. It costs little. But it makes for lasting relationships with the extended family, and when we are no longer around these bonds will give them what has become increasingly elusive — that essential sense of family and rootedness. A shared history is no small blessing.
Visiting extended family or trusted friends once the children are old enough to take care of their basic needs is one way of teaching them how different families work. It would be their first introduction to how the outside world works, even as they continue to nestle in the safer zones of family or trusted friends.
INHERENT SENSE OF ADJUSTMENT
Children learn to adjust to new surroundings, culinary diversity, ways of life, different house rules, and newer ways of how families relate. I remember when I sent my two children to spend a weekend with a friend from my school days three years ago, I asked them what they liked the most about staying with the family. My 15-year-old son replied that he liked the way aunty and uncle “looked at each other and understood each other” without having to utter a single word. He had experienced the strong underlying vibes of love of that family. Trust children to observe even the subtlest interplay of feeling and emotion.
Such visits also give parents a break from parenting and let them recharge themselves, giving them some meaningful couple time.
Above all children are best left on their own, playing or simply being with other children. It teaches them to build relationships with peers, be creative, solve problems, sort out differences, make decisions, find their own means of entertainment, and be largely independent. This may not be feasible for all parents, especially when both parents are working and there is no one to keep an eye on the children.
Summer camps make for an engaging outlet for children. Find one that is of interest to your child. Sport, art, music, and theatre give children the space to be creative, disciplined, and focused. But too many activities crammed into a day can tire them out. The ideal would be to let it suit the child’s pace. Whatever they do, that need to drink plenty of fluids, eat well, and sleep enough. Let them also have some quiet time too, everyday, on their own.
Children can also be trained to make meaningful use of local heritage — libraries, museums, parks, performances, festivals, or beaches where children can imbibe a variety of experiences outside their textbooks and classrooms. It would be time well-invested.
Parents can also teach children to use public transport so that they start commuting on their own and are able to appreciate and respond to vital aspects of civic life. What age is appropriate? I see 8 and 9-year olds travelling on their own by bus on their way to and from school, government schools, to be specific. If we are worried about their safety, then high school would be a more comforting stage. Accompany them in buses a few times, familiarise them with the routes, and then let them venture out on their own. Public transport is a huge life skill. It builds their confidence and makes them independent.
Vacations would be the best time to get children to do household chores. Let them pitch in and contribute their mite. They can lay the table, wash their own dishes, do the laundry, clean, and even cook. Of course, it takes some effort to get them to do these things. That effort is the investment parents make to teach them basic life and survival skills.
These skills will stand them in good stead when they eventually need to be on their own. Of course, they may not do the chores exactly as we do it or the way we want it done. That is alright. We just need to tell them how we want it done, the results we expect, and explain how and why in time they will learn it, and perhaps improvise! It teaches them discipline and responsibility while strengthening family bonding.
Vacations are memory-making machines. Some of our best memories are forged and rooted in our childhood vacations. Let them be colourful and happy for our children too.